What do all these things have in common? They should be featured on American Greed. All three are scams.
The Harvard Fellow
Circa 2011, I was wondering if I was good with kids. As an only child, I did not have much interactions with people younger than myself. My friends were generally my age and my cousins were significantly older than I was. I was single and bored so I created a profile on care.com to see if I could try my hand as a weekend nanny. I was aging out of partying hard and needed something to fill my weekend. That something would presumably make me money, rather than cost me money the way going out with my friends and turning my body into a graveyard for frozen margaritas was doing.
There was a surprising number of inappropriate single dads who were looking for step-mothers for their children if you know what I mean… In any case, the most serious, not sexually-filled request for services I received was from a woman who was going to give a weekend lecture at Harvard to kick-start her PhD program. She said she was from Spain and would be traveling to the USA at Harvard’s expense for a weekend of academic stimulation prior to starting her coursework. I was relieved because, while there was not yet a hashtag for it, I was saving my future 2018 self from becoming a #metoo woman by working for this seemingly well-mannered and intelligent woman who is just trying to make her mark in the world with a fantastic education.
I responded to ask her about the kids and a few red flags popped up immediately:
- I thought it was very strange how I had more questions for her than she had for me. While my lack of experience in working with kids might have made me overzealous in my questioning, it was odd that she would be seeking so little information on the stranger would potentially be spending an entire weekend unsupervised with her 2 young, influential boys.
- Her story was unusually elaborate. She sent pictures of the kids (not odd) but she started to go into details about the story behind the picture, which vacation they were on etc.. Things that I thought were a bit frivolous for a busy mom of two getting ready to travel to Harvard.
- She began answering questions I never asked. For starters, she felt the need to explain why there was no husband in the picture she sent me and why he would not be available to watch the kids. I never inquired, assuming that he was the photographer and that he would be attending the lecture. She claimed she was a widow and went into this drawn out story about a hard-fought illness. *yawn*
- Her English was questionable at best, which while possible as a foreign learner of English, seemed like an insurmountable challenge for Harvard standards, particularly for a PhD program.
- She asked for an address where she could mail my check, agreeing to pay me weeks before even arriving in the country, before meeting me and before I could perform any services.
At this point I am in it for the entertainment value despite all of my alarm bells going off. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am very cautious and even if I decide to pursue an endeavor out of curiosity, I am not one to let my guard down. So I provide her with the address of my company, a large private firm with armed security and electronic key card access. If she was legit, I’d get my check anyway, and if she was crazy, she’d never find out where I live.
When I finally receive the check, there is a number of irregularities. For starters, the return address is not international. It is from a town that’s maybe 10-15 miles north of the city. Second, the name on the check doesn’t match the name on the return address or the name used in the email. Finally, the check is for triple the agreed upon rate. I promptly send an email to Becky with the bad grammar letting her know that there was a mistake because the check was for too much money. She was apologetic and asked that if I could just send her the difference it would be lovely. But I needed to send it posthaste! Because she needed that money to buy her plane ticket from Spain to America.
Well Scammy Amy (let’s be honest, at this point I know it’s a scam) should have checked with people who know me. I do not take my money lightly. Money never flows out of my pockets to anyone besides my creditors, no matter how legitimate the story seems. And if there is even a remote possibility that there could be suspicious activity, I become particularly guarded. I would rather err on the side of caution and run the risk of you having a terrible day than lose a penny, even if you try and make me believe said penny could alleviate your burden. This is a very strange thing to admit as someone looking to build a readership. I’m sure I run the risk of making myself unlikable to openly admit that I put my money above people, but we live in a world where scammers, liars and thieves have eroded our trust and I am allowed to protect myself. There is a reason why I have never been taken for a ride, and while we know never to say never, someone would have to be pretty crafty and get up pretty early to snag me in the future. With that said, I told her I was terribly sorry but she would have to take her check back and send me the correct amount if she wanted to have enough money to pay for her flight.
After being harassed for days, I made her a deal. I told her I would cash the check and once it cleared, would send her the excess funds, but not before it cleared. Pandemonium ensued. The emails devolved into a desperate attempt at extracting cash from me. First with begging and guilt tripping me into thinking that I was costing her a trip to Boston by holding on to her check, and subsequently escalating to threats of “You don’t now (sic) who your (sic) dealing with. Harvard paid for this and they want there (sic) money back.” I would be “sorry and in grave danger” because nothing is scarier than blue blood middle-aged white male academic elites who are short $3,000 out of their $30 billion endowment fund.
After getting a series of nasty emails threatening my life, I told her that I was going to take the fake check to the local FBI office and turn over the emails so they can trace her IP address back to her real location and arrest her. 7 years later, I haven’t heard back but my guess is she hired a different nanny, her kids are probably in high school and she is a proud Harvard grad. Either that or she went on to find a much easier target with their heart on their sleeve and a less of a backbone so she could get a $2,000 payday. By the way, I dropped off the check at my local bank and they confirmed it was fake. Printed on a home computer and lacking all security features.
The lesson is: fear and greed are the enemy of your financial security. If you can be intimidated or plied with the promise of easy cash (getting paid before doing work) you are setting yourself up for failure. Your priorities should be to work hard to earn what you want and work even harder to protect it once you get your hands on it.
To Be Continued…