You hear about people falling for Nigerian prince scams and can’t help but think ‘how?!’ You feel sorry for the older generation who pay hundreds of pounds to fix their computer when there isn't anything wrong.
You think to yourself, that’s unfortunate, but that could never happen to me...
I’m too savvy for that.
IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE
I used to think I was too clever to be scammed. You get scam emails all the time and can’t help but laugh at how bad they are. You delete the email, not giving it another thought.
Until you receive an email you think is legit. Then suddenly you are caught in a scam.
I had just started a new job, and when you’re in first few weeks of a new job, you don’t know how everything works. You’re still learning the ropes, and you want to please, to prove to yourself. It’s this perfectionism that caught me out.
I received an email that stated it was from my line manager. She was requesting my help by asking if I was available. I looked in her office and could see she was out, so I answered, saying I could help and what did she need. Because the email address was hers, I assumed it had come from her.
I was wrong.
‘She’ said she was stuck in a meeting with our clients, and that she urgently needed some gift cards by the end of the day. She said that we often give them to select clients to reward them for being loyal customers. She said she couldn’t phone me as she was in this meeting, but had access to her email.
She asked me to get the gift cards with my own money, and she would reimburse me. At this point my stomach was tightening, and I didn’t like what I was being asked. But because it was my line manager, I didn’t want to let her down. As far as I was aware, she needed me.
USING MY PRESSURE POINTS
Bear in mind, I don’t have hundreds to spare. Stupidly, at the time, I didn’t want my line manager to think I was bad with money by saying no to the task. I thought to myself, ‘well I’ve just been paid, I can go into my overdraft for a day, and I don’t want her to think badly of me.’
I wish I had just said no.
I even asked about using the company card, since this was a company task, but the scammer said that they didn’t have the card with them, which is why I was their only hope.
I went out and bought hundreds of pounds worth of gift cards for my ‘line manager’. I had to traipse around the city to find anywhere that would sell them, while the scammer kept emailing me saying ‘I’m waiting.’
The scammers are clever. Psychologically, they know they’re more likely to get somewhere with their victim if they apply pressure. This urgency makes the victim stress out, so that they have less time to think objectively about what they’re actually doing.
The scammer asked for pictures of the gift cards. With hindsight, this is a classic sign of a scam. But this 'person' had an answer for everything. They said that they were giving the codes to the clients in the meeting there and then, which is why it was so urgent.
Internally I was angry. But then the scammer acted all apologetic, saying how sorry they were for imposing on me. This human act caught me by surprise so that I no longer felt angry, and felt happier doing the task.
THE REALISATION BEGAN TO FORM
It dawned on me that I may be being scammed when a shop assistant in one of the shops asked me ‘are you sure you’re not being scammed?’ I was horrified. What if I was being scammed?
I realised my terrible mistake. In the haze of embarrassment, shame, anger, confusion, and fear, I went straight to a police station to report the scam. They recorded it but couldn’t do much, since its cybercrime. I figured that would be the case.
I also reported it to crime stoppers, and had a bit more luck. The awful thing about these types of crimes is that the scammers move so quickly that they will have shut down the email account once they have what they need.
Eventually they would tell me there was nothing they could do. However, they did offer me counselling, as I had been a victim of a crime. I didn’t need it in the end, but I’m grateful they offer it, as others may need it.
After a frantic call to the bank to cancel my card, there wasn’t much more I could do. I was mortified. I couldn’t believe how stupid I had been.
The story does have a happy ending. The scammers never got caught, but I didn’t face repercussions at work. My colleagues were very gracious, and sympathised with me.
Since then, I have been hypervigilant about scam emails, especially at work. Now I know the trademarks of a scam that actually works, I want to warn others so that they don’t fall for my mistake. Having told my friends about it, a few of them said they had received similar emails at their respective jobs.
Some of them said they would have done the same, but luckily didn’t follow through because they had heard about my experience. At least by telling my story, I hopefully managed to help others not fall for similar scams.
Here are some tips to help you suss out whether you are dealing with a scam or not.
Always double check the email with someone you trust. Whether that’s a colleague or friend, if you’re not sure about an email, get a second opinion. Two pairs of eyes are better than one, and you’ll be better supported.
Look out for urgency in an email – don’t panic and jump up straight to do it. This was the biggest reason why the scam I fell for was successful. They were banking on my good nature to complete the task quickly.
Check the email address – they can be spoofed to look legitimate. Even if it looks official, a phone call never hurts. Scammers can often call you by name, as they use LinkedIn for research and guess email address structures.
Interrogate the emailer – ask the emailer things only a colleague/friend would know. Scammers are clever, but they won’t know all the ins and outs. It will gently call them out, and if they feel they are being caught, they will quickly vanish.
WHAT I LEARNT FROM THIS EXPERIENCE:
Ask for help when you need it. If I had consulted one person before rushing off, then it wouldn’t have happened. Don’t take it all on your own shoulders.
How to spot a scam. I am now hyperaware of scam emails, and feel like I know how to spot them.
It can literally happen to anyone. I still can’t believe it happened to me, and I can laugh about it now, but it left me feeling really vulnerable at the time. I was so distraught, ashamed, and scared. If it happens to someone I know, I will not question ‘how.’ Instead, I will ask what support they need. We all make mistakes, and no one should feel laughed at when they’re down.
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