Fool Me Once

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There’s no easy way to tell you this, so I’ll just spit it out. I was recently a victim of internet fraud. Up to now, I had considered myself cynical enough to spot those “too good to be true” propositions aka “scams.” Charlatans and hucksters be forewarned: I was raised a city girl. We city dwellers earn our cynicism in the trenches, the honest way. But I forget, I am also human. And so I was scammed, hoodwinked, or bamboozled; words which make it sound way more fun than it really was. It was one of those mortifying incidents where the very last thing you want to do is talk about it because you are so shocked, so ashamed, and so doggone mad at yourself, why in the world would you want anyone else to ever know what an “IDIOT” you were ? Except, shame will only keep me paralyzed and someone else may benefit from my story just as crooks benefit from your quiet shame. That is what I’ve told myself, so keep quiet and let me continue here. 

Sometimes, I think of my life is swell-e-swell and then, in the same week, I can be down again. Apparently, I was in the downward swing when I became the victim of this internet fraud scheme. I was feeling unglamorous, underprivileged, larger than necessary, and long, crooked, and yellow in the tooth. I was surfing home decorating sights online (my feel good distraction) when I saw the ad. It was a testimonial of some woman who claimed to have paid a dollar for a promotional deal on tooth whiteners from two different companies and then called and cancelled any subsequent subscription they had signed her up for. One was Celebrity White and the other was Everbrite. My ego was all in. 

I was actually good about canceling “the subscription” within the allotted time. I was pleased with myself for playing by the rules as I began using my teeth whitening pen. Then my bank account was dipped into for a total of $127.47. One of the deductions was made by a “company” boldly called Ibuildwealth. I couldn’t con the cons and I had neglected to consider that once you give someone a direct path into your bank account, they’re in and may sell your information to their greedy friends. 

When I went to find the phone numbers of these companies to inform them of the error of their ways, I found the consumer site called Complaints Board on which numerous people from around the world were citing their experiences of being ripped off by these same companies. Complain to the Attorney General one person said. Good luck with that. I had truly known better. Friends have told me how they maintain a couple hundred dollar savings account with a credit card attached specifically for internet purchases. I was so angry with my own vanity, with the greed of the world, and with those Indian telephone operators for receiving a paycheck for taking my call to “cancel.” My husband only said, “What a shame,” and I realized I wanted him to be mad at me too. I went to the bank the next morning and closed my checking account. The bank manager was extremely kind and I held my sense of humor as a shield against losing any more dignity.

As I dropped off my kid at daycare that morning, I remembered this was one of many occasions I’d been conned, suckered, and ripped off due to my fear, greed, or vanity. Allow me to air out my shame closet completely and let some light into the dark recesses of my festering lack of self-respect. There was that time when the well-dressed guy knocked on my door and said his wife and child were waiting for him in his broken down car and he needed gas money. He was a pretty good actor because I gave him my last $20 and he promised to pay it back soon. Here’s my address and see ya’ later bye. I was infuriated when I figured out what had happened. And then, twelve years later, my husband answered our door to find some guy with the same story. As I handed my husband a ten spot from my wallet, I told him I was giving it to him so he too could learn what I had learned. He learned. 

There was the time, once again in my broke twenties, when a guy offered me a winning lottery ticket and said, if I cashed it, I could keep $600 and give him the rest, which might have been $20,000. Dumb thing was that the $600 was just enough to pay taxes on “my winnings” later, after I had already spent it of course. The good and bad news was the Lottery detectives showing up at my door six months later. A very nice man and a woman who complimented me on my family pictures and then got me to give them the information they needed on the guy who gave me the ticket. I was so nervous but then I felt exonerated. I’m sure Mister Lottery fraud was not so lucky. 

While I lived in the big city, I also had my wallet stolen. I worked in an antiques store and two women came in asking about rocking chairs. One lured me into the back room while the other went behind the counter and fished my wallet out of my purse. You’d think I would have read their furtive glances toward the door and the getaway car. But I never knew until the manager of a supermarket called me the next evening with suspicions that the woman writing a check with my name on it using my check cashing card wasn’t me. Why she hadn’t asked for ID, I don’t know. She apparently suffered the lack of good judgment I keep showing. That same day, my debit/credit card filled up numerous tanks of gas in the same west side area. You need a pin number for the debit option but nothing for the credit option. After a go-around with the Supermarket management and a filed police report, I found out none of those video surveillance cameras are ever running. There are no tapes in them. Apparently, the criminals already know this.

Lastly, there was that pyramid scheme in the eighties. If you don’t remember these schemes, the idea was pay-it-forward wealth. I give someone $100 that I can’t afford, in the hopes that the magic beans I buy will grow. After four other people cough up their Franklins, I’ll see my money double or quadruple as I continue to sell people on the future of magic beans. I saw my bean money disappear along with that of the guy who’d convinced me to kick in my money so his magic bean money would grow. My sister admitted she had lost a lot more than I had back then when I told her about the internet fraud thing. 

I felt the shame of my recent bad decision would start to grow like a fungus if I didn’t talk about it. Maybe that’s what the con-people of the world hope; that you will keep your shame a secret and consequently keep them safe. I know my ex-husband figured I’d keep his abuse a secret but I blew that for him. My lesson has been to never give out my bank or credit card information over the internet unless it is one of those secured cards my friend had. And to carefully watch myself as I make choices from fear or shame.. Yes, I am afraid to lose my beauty and youth and if I choose to value myself only for these qualities, I will continue to make bad choices. The smartest choice is to call myself out, know when to cut my losses, and show myself the same amount of compassion as I would give to anyone else who has made a poor choice and lost their money or dignity. My teeth will gleam when I’m done with these products. I may end up the winner after all.


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