*While I agree the story about Manti Te’o and his internet romance with an imaginary woman has been overrated, it serves as a cautionary tale that shows what can happen when you replace physical interaction with texts, tweets and emails. Of course, technology has its place, but when it comes to judging a person’s honesty, their true physical appearance and – most importantly – their existence – nothing beats face to face confirmation. I’ve learned from experience that some people will lie to your face and not bat an eye.
The fact that some people forsake personal interaction to pursue internet “relationships” with someone sight unseen and trust what that person says to be the truth is a red flag in and of itself. Even if I see you everyday, still, it takes some time for me to trust you. I’ve learned to trust, by verify. Clearly I’m in the minority, though. Why else would programs such as MTV’s “Catfish” show so many people willing to spend so much of their time and energy engaged in faceless and baseless romances with people they’ve never met.
And when does discernment – kick in? According to the people on “Catfish” they had a feeling something wasn’t right but they didn’t pressure the other person to fill in the potholes. Years later they end up on television bamboozled and embarrassed. SMH. I can see how it might start innocently enough. For me it started with a Craigslist ad.
His name was David. He posted an ad for a part-time companion for his mother who would be moving to Dallas with him in the coming months. According to the post, David was retiring from the military and would be relocating to Dallas with his elderly mother. The ad said he wanted someone to keep her company a few hours a day, three days a week for $100 a day while David took care of other business. It seemed easy enough. For $100 a day a few days a week to keep some old lady company I was willing to make myself available. I worked from home at that time so my schedule was flexible. I applied for the position via email. And he emailed me back telling me I had been selected for the position.
That was red flag number one. I know how to sell myself and my writing skills can be impressive, but choosing someone to spend time with your elderly mother is like choosing someone to babysit your child: any ole’ body just won’t do. And while this occurred to me from the beginning, I was glad to have been the chosen one. So I accepted the position with no hesitation and few questions. When were they moving to Dallas; on what side of town were they moving and when would I be starting? The typical questions. In subsequent emails David asked me for my mailing address and other personal information so his financial advisor could create a personnel file for me and start to pay me in advance.
That was red flag number two. I don’t give my personal address to anybody. And my social security number is out of the question. I receive mail at my post office box as an extra layer of security. Still I wanted him to trust me. After all I would be the person spending time with his mother! Payment in advance sounded good too. So I gave him some of the information he requested.
Then came his response, which was the third and final red flag. It was all I needed to know this David person was up to no good. And just in case he used my personal information in any way or I needed to show our email exchange to police or a judge I kept it. This is the email David sent me:
I just heard from my financial adviser, he just confirmed that all arrangements to make the payment had been perfected by him that the payment has been made and sent out to the supplied information.
Right now, my Account Personnel who was directed to make the payment to you had just informed him that the advanced sum of $180 had been sent to your address based on the supplied information against the agreed sum. The reason behind the issuance of the said sum is because my Secretary had ordered him to make payment for the total sum of $300 to you for the payment of the job and one other payment of $1820 to the Travel Agent who is making arrangements for my travel document/Ticket , as he (Account Personnel) had thought the total sum $1820 was to be sent to you, hereby swapping your funds for the Travel Agent.
And since the payment is on the way to you now, I believe in you that you are an honest person and I believe I can be assured in you that you can handle this matter with trust and understanding and have the remainder of the money sent via western union money transfer or money gram international transfer to the Travel Agent who I will supply you with the information when you notify me that you’ve received the payment.
The (Financial adviser And Account Personnel) all seems so worried about your return of the overage when the agreed cost of the job might have been deducted but I had assured them that you will definitely treat it according to their directives when you might have gotten the payment.
Hope all is well? I have already informed the Travel Agent that the remainder funds are in safe hand and will get to them. All I need from you right now is to have me notified when you receive the payment so I can supply you with the information of the Travel Agent so they he can proceed with the arrangement.
Will be glad to hear from you soon.
Although I can’t find the original, my email response to “David” went something like this:
Just to be clear: So you accidentally sent me $1,820 instead of the $300 as we agreed on for the advance payment. And let me guess: You want me to cash the $1,820 check, deduct my $300 and send the balance to you via Western Union? If you think I’m stupid enough to fall for this you are mistaken. If you truly retired from the military you should be able to tell me what branch of the military you’re in, where you completed basic training and at what base are you stationed right now. And if you can’t answer those questions it confirms for me that you are a fraud. If I don’t hear back from you I’ll know why. And if you use my personal information in any way I’ll turn your information over to police after I contact Craig’slist to let them know about your fraudulent solicitations.
Needless to say I never heard from “David” again.
Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. To book her for speaking engagements or to send questions or comments email her at firstname.lastname@example.org