It’s hard to believe that any rational person could be taken in by a scam. From the outside, looking in, the red flags are everywhere, right? How could anyone be so dumb as to fall for one?
But I did. I fell hard — hook, line and sinker.
I’m a rational person. Actually, I’m one of those annoying people who makes a checklist for everything and religiously shops with a grocery list. I always follow the rules. Never in a million years would you have looked at me and thought that I was a good target for a scammer. But I was. And here’s how it happened.
Back in 2010, my husband, our young son and I were living solely off of my partner’s $17,000 annual income. We were living paycheck to paycheck and barely paying our bills. I didn’t want to leave the house for work since I’d miss my son, but also because my income after childcare wouldn’t be worth it.
My plan to bring in some more money was to start a small business: an in-home daycare. I charged $125 a week (six-hour days) per child. It was basically nothing, I know. But when you compare it to my husband’s income at the time, with just five kids attending my daycare, I would actually be out-earning him. That was my magic number, and so I sought out clients.
I found four great families almost immediately, thanks to Care.com and Craigslist ads. I had a solid interview process and had all of the right paperwork and everything. The kids were great and the families were great too. It seemed like a dream job for me.
Then, I got this email that should have sent me running, but didn’t. It was from a “woman” who had “recently immigrated from Africa” looking for daycare for her daughter. Nothing stood out to me as terribly off about the email. It was well-written and seemed to be just like every other email inquiry I’d gotten: just looking for childcare for their precious little one.
After following up with her, I got another email. This one was full of spelling and grammatical errors. She used the excuse that she was deaf and couldn’t type regularly. (Red flag No. 1: Why a deaf person would have trouble with grammar, I don’t know.) She then mentioned that she would pay me $700 in advance to hold a spot for her daughter. (Red flag No. 2: I never said that spots were limited or that she needed to do that. Plus, for a $125-a-week daycare, $700 is way too much money to reserve a spot.)
But … $700. That was more than my husband’s bi-weekly paychecks.
She asked if it was OK to send me the money and, of course, I said yes. I was expecting payment to come through Paypal or the mail, but no, she sent me an email asking me for my bank account information: my account numbers, routing numbers, bank address, home address, everything.
Most people in their right mind would see that and say, “No way.” That would be the end of the story. But nope, not me. I was so desperate for money that I gladly sent all of that bank information to a total stranger. Then I sat there and waited greedily for my $700.
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Thankfully, a day or two later, I was watching the news and a story was on about the now infamous “Nigerian Prince” email frauds. As I was listening to the report, the pieces started coming together, and I finally realized that I’d been scammed. Scrambling, I went to the bank, froze that account, got a different account, alerted them about what had happened and set up alerts for each purchase that I made on my phone (new tech at the time).
Shockingly, nothing has happened since. I don’t know if I was just lucky and got a scammer who didn’t save my info, or if they took one look at the $0.12 in our checking account and took pity on me, but whatever the case, I know now just how dangerously close I got to messing up my financial life. My identity could have been stolen, my bank account could have been overdrawn, leaving me with the tab. My family’s financial well-being for years and years could have been changed just in an instant — all because I was desperate.
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Again, I’m a logical person. I have a tendency to overanalyze and overthink. But, at that moment, the only thing I saw was a way out of my current financial situation. I saw a quick fix to my problem and instead of looking at it critically, I never questioned it.
My hope is that this is a lesson to everyone who reads this. I want to help you avoid getting scammed, and also help you realize that there is no situation that you can’t get out of — be it drowning in debt or something else. It’s just that the quick solve usually isn’t the right one.
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