Today I was the victim of a scam, to the tune of $400.
There’s so much emotion and judgment around this. Yes, of course a part of me feels stupid and gullible. Isn’t it odd that in our society, we have such disparaging labels for those who are taken advantage of, when in fact those who prey on the gullible (or honest? trusting?) are the ones who deserve our collective disgust.
In fact we shame people for being taken advantage of. We should question that.
I’ve been running over not just the circumstances that led to a $400 charge on my credit card, but more to the thoughts and feelings that led up to it.
It started with an email that appeared to be from my boss to my work email address. Because of how my viewing panes are set, the actual email address was partially hidden and failed to catch my eye.
“She” said she needed me to do something for her right away, could I give her my cell phone number so she could text me.
My thought was, she doesn’t want this on the company email. I certainly didn’t think illegal, but I did think she was about to ask me to do a personal favor for her. I felt irritated, and the adrenaline kicked in. It’s a new job. My boss can be demanding. And I don’t feel on solid ground with her. Ever.
I emailed my cell number, and soon after got a text message. We started communicating. I managed to create logical context to fill in the gaps. She was in a meeting. She wasn’t able to get away, or get on the phone. She needed me to do this thing for her, which I guessed was a late birthday gift or some such.
Because she can be intense and demanding, I found this simultaneously outrageous and believable.
A few back and forths. Can’t this be done online? Couldn’t *I* do it online? I drove to the store, as instructed. This is when I was told to purchase $1,000 worth of gift cards.
I put my foot down. I can’t put that kind of money on my personal credit card. Did she have no clue how most of us live hand to mouth? Bad enough to have me buy something for the office on my own credit card, worse that it seemed to be something personal, and WOW that it was so expensive. I was seething.
She said $500, then. Surely my card would allow that. Angry all over again. It wasn’t about how much credit I had, it was how inappropriate and presumptuous this was for her to ask.
I said I couldn’t do it.
She said to buy as much as I could, then. Missing my point again.
In order for this to work, I had to believe it was possible for my boss to be like this. I was liking her less every moment. But I didn’t doubt it was her. After all, it originated from her work email.
It was coming in the midst of weeks of stress – about my job, my desire to buy a home, anxiety about buying a home locking me into a job, having reached an age where ageism can make finding a new job difficult.
It was decision time. Tell her flat out, No, or do it. Do it but let her know as soon as she could talk that I would not do this again – that next time, I needed to have a corporate card, or she’d need to ask someone else.
Don’t do it, and risk – what? Those of us raised to be good girls struggle with this. Risk my job? Maybe, although if fired for this I’d certainly be eligible for unemployment. Risk disapproval? ABSOLUTELY. This is huge for me. Risk further straining an already stressful relationship? ABSOLUTELY. I still haven’t figured out how to separate interpersonal struggles from the actual mechanics of doing a job. I’ll let you know if I ever do.
Capitalism. The power imbalance that always exists between employer and employee. Even in the best companies, with the best working relationships, that power imbalance exists. And ultimately, we employees’ ability to shelter and feed ourselves and our families lie in the hands of our bosses. In most states, they could fire us without notice, for any reason or no reason at all. In all states, discrimination and harassment are not illegal unless they are against a protected class, and motivated because of that protected class: I’m a lesbian. If I’m harassed or fired I would have to be able to prove that it was motivated BECAUSE I’m a lesbian. Trust me, I’ve been down this road. Boss abuse is for the most part legal.
So even though I was having thoughts about being fired, whether I’d be eligible for unemployment, etc., all of those thoughts came as fragments within wave after wave of EMOTION. All my personal history, and that of people I love, around the threat of losing a job, losing our means to support ourselves; the struggle around making ends meet, trying to get ahead; the worries about becoming older and having next to nothing to prepare for the years after I leave the workforce. Emotions around being pressured. Emotions around bosses whom I don’t click with, around whom I always feel like I’m uncertain and guessing.
EMOTIONS around compromising my ethics and personal integrity.
Very early in my work life, I worked at a small woman-owned company that considered rules as things to bend or ignore. I was instructed to learn one of my boss’ signature so that I could pretend SHE was signing letters intended to be personal. I was instructed to make phone calls pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I hated it, but I don’t recall if I ever protested. When I left that job, I vowed never again. That if I was asked to compromise my values, or myself, I would draw a line very clearly.
But drawing a clear line. That is really hard for those of us raised to not make waves and to placate and appease.
Ultimately, that final motivation that pushed me over the line, was believing that my boss was in a bind. There she was, she’d screwed up and forgotten someone’s birthday (remember, this was the story I’d created to explain what I was being asked to do), she was in a meeting with a client and just needed someone to take care of this for her.
Ultimately, I did it because I could relate to that feeling of being in a bind, of being stuck.
I deliberated about how much to spend (remember, we hadn’t landed on an agreeable amount). I’m glad it was $400 and not $1,000. I’ll be even gladder if my credit card company returns those funds to me.
I groused to the cashier about this inappropriate thing my boss was asking of me. I was so angry as I was doing it (then revealing, photographing, and sending the codes to access the gift cards), I determined to start looking for another job immediately. I was so pissed off, I sat in my car afterward and felt self-righteous about sitting there longer than necessary, and not hurrying back to work.
I realized I’d been scammed almost immediately. I got to my computer. My boss called me. I’m not sure how I sounded, but she actually asked me what was wrong. THAT pissed me off. So who knows what tone I used next, when I told her how uncomfortable it had made me that she’d asked me to make those purchases for her.
A long call to the credit card company. A talk with the police who, while sympathetic (and actually empathetic, having experienced exactly this with their teenage son), said there was zero possibility of tracking this person down given a bogus phone number (my word) and bogus email address.
For a while I continued texting this person. I described how my trailer doesn’t quite get warm enough from my space heaters, since my furnace recently broke and it’s too expensive to get it fixed. I described how, even though I live in a trailer and I’m desperately trying to buy a home, when friends tell me they’re struggling I send them a little bit of money to make sure they can eat.
I asked them how they felt about stealing money from people who were just like them, and how couldn’t afford it.
The exchange lasted longer than I expected, although from their end they continued to play act.
I canceled my credit card. I changed my phone number (which I figure was out there as belonging to someone who is gullible).
That word, gullible. Many in the general population will feel instant disdain. I suspect partly because of the underlying fear of it happening to them, gratitude this time it didn’t.
But we know what makes someone gullible. It is a trusting heart. A generous heart. It is trying to do the right thing. Trying to be a good person. Having compassion. Doing something extraordinarily outrageous for a boss you don’t like, because you can appreciate how it feels to be in a bind. Being honest. Believing others are honest.
My combination of life experiences has made me wary of things that feel off. It isn’t often as an adult that I am tricked. Part of that is because of a lesson I learned as a teenager that left a lasting impression.
I worked at the concessions counter at a movie theater during high school. It was a busy place, and customers were often horrible. One of my coworkers was tricked out of $40. She was someone who was extremely good with math, and more life-savvy than myself, so I knew this must have been quite the trick.
The fellow asked her for change, you know, like 4 $5s for a $20 or something. But then he changed his mind. And again. And again. And all of it happening fast, with some urgency. As it was, as the man walked away she said that she’d given him $20 too much. He returned it and left with $40 he’d tricked her out of.
The lesson, one I’ve relied on throughout my life, is to slow down when someone is pressuring me, insisting on urgency. The faster they go, the more pressure they exert, the slower I get. It has worked very well over the years, although I suspect that most of the time it wasn’t a scam I avoided, it was not allowing some asshole to wanted to rattle me just because he was an asshole.
I don’t know where that lesson was in my mind today, as the fraud texted, “are you there still?” “How long is this going to take?” It’s a good lesson. Guess it’s just time to slow down even more.
So sure. I feel like a gullible idiot. But those aren’t the thoughts and feelings that are most consuming. The difficulties that capitalism puts us in, how it often offers only bad choices, how it often compels us to compromise ourselves. The stresses that come with a strained relationship with the boss. With finding the right job. With job insecurity. The worries about what will happen when my age makes me no longer employable.
For sure, this person preyed on me, and took advantage. No doubt they have done this before, and will do it again. That’s disgusting. It’s appalling.
But at the end of the day I am left pondering my OWN circumstances, the stresses and pressures that made me vulnerable. It is so hard finding our way in this world. I am frightened about my future. Heck, I’m frightened about now. That’s what will keep me up at night. Not that I was tricked. But that the world can be so very hard to navigate, and it’s been a long time since I (naively) had confidence that everything would work out tremendously.
I’m not going to end this on a hopeful, upbeat note. And I strongly urge you to not comment with something hopeful and upbeat. The world is hard. And today, the storm of fears and doubts that have been occupying my subconscious and semi-conscious surfaced with thunderclaps and pelting rain. Sometimes we need to face our fears head-on. They won’t go away by being ignored. And we can’t try to improve our condition without listening to them, understanding them. So for now, I will listen.