You always hear "It can happen to anyone,"
but if you're like me, you probably thought, "I would see it coming." "Surely it won't happen to me!" "Scams are easily identifiable."
But despite the red flags, I didn't see it coming.
It did happen to me, and it was only obvious in retrospect.
A few weeks ago, I received a message from my site, from a person who said their name was Susan Boyer. They complimented my work and stated that they had seen their husband admiring my work on their laptop. Their grammar was poor, but I was excited by getting an encouraging message and brushed it aside. That was the first red flag.
Note: When you notice things, in person or online, do not brush them aside. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it's better to keep track of "little things" that you notice, that way you are more likely to be on guard if too many "little things" add up...
She said she wanted to buy one of my paintings for her husband for their anniversary present. Supposedly, they lived in Indy, but were moving soon, so she needed to keep things under profile and move quickly so that it could be a surprise. There was my second red flag: she was rushing me.
But I wanted to believe her, and so I talked back and forth with her as we made the arrangements and shared info. She told me she was going to send me extra money to pay her "personal shipper," and he would reach out and give me info for shipping the painting to her. She was very vocal about how "she hoped she could trust me to be responsible with this." (She said she was out of town and claimed she would have done things much differently if she'd been home.)
The third red flag: she sent me thousands of dollars extra to ship the painting.
I received her check in the mail about a week after we'd communicated and was shocked to see how much she'd sent, but I assumed she just wanted to be safe and didn't know how much it really cost to ship a painting. (Looking back on it, why wouldn't she find out how much it would cost before she paid the shipper?) I contacted her immediately to let her know I'd received her check, and I deposited it on my bank app on my phone. She pressured me to immediately pay her shipper, "Oluwatobi Adeola."But I gently insisted on waiting to pay him until her check had finished depositing in my account.
She told me to pay him half of what she'd sent me, which I thought was odd, why didn't she just want me to pay him all of the extra? I asked her, and she brushed it aside and asked me to send 2/3 of it. I waited for the rest of the day for the check to finish depositing, reminded of her haste by her other insistent messages throughout the day.
The next morning, it read as "finished pending, funds will be available by 9/26." I assumed this meant it was legitimate, even though it wasn't transferred in my account yet.
I sent the money to her shipper through my app.
Right after I sent it, I felt an awful sense that everything was wrong. I checked my account and another couple thousand dollars had been deposited and removed by an unknown sender without my knowledge or consent. This really scared me. I called the bank and talked with a specialist, who put my account on pause while they looked into the check, I also asked them to stop the payment I'd sent to the shipper. About 4-5 days later, I called the bank again and they confirmed that it was an altered/counterfeit check and reopened my account. I saw that the money I had sent the shipper was gone. This was most of the money I had in my account.
Trying not to panic, I called the bank again and talked with multiple people, the last of whom confirmed that since I had sent the money through the app (which was only meant for sending money to family and friends) the bank had no claim on it anymore. They suggested calling the police. I called the police who transferred me to the prosecutor's line. I waited on hold for about 5 minutes, then hung up. I didn't feel like I could wait for any longer for them at that point. The whole thing was an incredibly upsetting experience.
I called the police again, and talked to a woman who was so kind and sympathetic, and listened to my story. She called me back later and asked some questions about what had happened, and gave me a case number to give to my bank.
I also emailed "Susan Boyer" and "Oluwatobi Adeola" firmly yet politely requesting that since the transaction had been canceled, Oluwatobi send back the money I'd sent him. Susan replied and asked for confirmation that I'd actually sent the money to him, which I gave her (carefully making sure I didn't send her any more of my personal info) and I haven't heard from her since.
After going to the bank in person and speaking with a personal client banker, I found out there wasn't really anything else that could be done. The banker was very kind and patient as I shared my story, and seemed sorry not to be able to help more.
Throughout the whole process, my Mom and my friend Mrs. Childers were there for me and encouraged me. They assured me I wasn't stupid, and that this happens all too commonly. Their empathy and understanding helped me get through it, but what helped the most was knowing and being reminded that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and for His glory. After all, it was just money, and God has provided me with plenty of wonderful babysitting opportunities to help me continue to make money and save.
I can say that I'm thankful for the experience because now I know what to look out for, and what questions to ask in future transactions with potential collectors. Here is a list of some things I learned that I hope can help someone in the future!
What to Look Out For : RED FLAGS
1. Incorrect grammar in direct messages.
Though a couple spelling mistakes are normal, if the punctuation and
language seem more wrong than right, that's something to watch out for.
2. Being rushed.
If someone has a short deadline for you to work in, kindly explain to them
how long the process will take, and ask for their patience. If someone is
just rude and continues to pressure and rush you, the worst outcome is
that you won't make a sell that day.
3. If someone sends you more than you agreed on.
This was something the bankers, specialists, and police all told me.
It seems obvious now, but I wanted to believe her.
4. Foreign names.
That doesn't mean if someone has a foreign name, it is automatically a
scam. But it's just safer to double check.
5. If the check is from an address or name other than what the person says.
Something I only noticed afterwards was that the check was from a police
station in Arizona. I called them, and they confirmed it was not authorized
by any of their officers.
What to do to Help Prevent Scams:
1. Communication is key. Being open and honest with someone is so important, and it is going to help you so much in the long run if you ask them lots of questions in the beginning. Ask them everything you need to know about payment, shipping, and other info.
2. If you're confused about something, ask them directly about it.
3. When you receive a check, call the bank it's from before you deposit it and they will be able to check the account and make sure it's real and the funds are available.
4. Do not use Quickpay to pay someone you don't know and trust.
5. ^ Along those lines, as the artist, you don't owe it to anyone to pay for the shipping, unless you are sending work to a show or gallery. That should be something you communicate as part of the cost for the artwork.
I hope this blog post can help someone out there if a scammer tries to take advantage of you. Remember, they don't always sound like robots, if they're experienced scammers they will probably use kind and warm language to win your trust. "Susan Boyer" always signed "Warm Regards" before her name.
If you have been scammed, you have my heartfelt sympathy, it is a violating and terrible experience.
If you know anything else to look out for, or have any other examples of protective measures you can take, please share them in the comments! I would love to hear them.
Again, I want to thank my family and friends who helped me through this, comforting and reassuring me that everything would be okay. Their love and support meant so much to me.