A BIG Next Step

#keeplearning

This is, of course, a HUGE time of transition for all of us as we figure out what the “new normal” is going to look like. Well, I started working on my new normal about a year and a half ago. It just so happens that my major adjustment is coinciding with massive societal upheaval.

I do love a pen and a notebook for note-taking. But, yes, I’m going to try using a stylus & tablet for a while. * Image by CQF-avocat from Pixabay

This weekend, I am transitioning out of being a bookstore owner and focusing on my preparation for my first year of law school. I will begin my legal education at the ripe old age of forty-one-and-a-half, and will graduate just after turning forty-four. So, yeah, I’m pretty excited about that!

#keeplearning * Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’m not excited about letting go of the bookstore, but I know it’s the correct choice at this time. I had been contemplating all sorts of ways I could have kept it going through my three years as a full-time student, but all of them would have involved TRULY Not-Good Ideas. So, one small blessing to come from the government-mandated shutdown of non-essential businesses was that it gave me the kick in the pants I needed to just cut my losses and close the store down. <sigh>

Many, many customers (strangers, too) have been supportive of my decision to go to law school. Truly excited for me, even. Some others, though, have said the oddest things: “That’s going to be so hard!” Really? Why would anyone say that? That’s not 100% helpful. “How are you going to do that?” You want me to run through all the details of my finances and child care plans? Or do you think I haven’t thought through the many, many effects this will have on my family and life?

I know, I know. This is how these people are expressing their concern for me and my well-being. I get that. I think I’m uncomfortable with these questions because my responses to them are so far from the expected script that I’m then in the position of making the initial ask-er uncomfortable. However, I can’t just respond with “I know! Its going to be tough, but we’ll make it work.” That’s way too passive a response to expect from me. No way, man. So, my answers of “Probably not much harder than holding five jobs,” or “I’ve got it all worked out (followed by a blank stare indicating I’ve no intention of sharing details),” tend to lead to uncomfortable silences. Ah, well. I haven’t really followed the expected script since I graduated high school — ironically enough for someone who spent over a decade as a professional stage manager. C’est la vie.

I’m very excited to start school, though. There’s a little introductory, skills-building class online in three weeks. Then orientation begins in person in mid-August. And then we’re off to the races! I don’t really expect to come up for air until mid-October, and then again in December. But then I’ll have a solid six weeks for winter break. I don’t remember having THAT much time off between semesters in college, but I’ll take it! Maybe it’s a grad school thing… Anyway, that’s my latest big step. I don’t think it falls under the category of “Not Good Idea”, though. It’s certainly a large idea, a significant one. It will change everything. But, I honestly think it’s a Pretty Good Idea. Sometimes I have those, too. Sometimes. And sometimes they even work out as well as my Not Good Ideas do.

Reining It In

When does a Not Good Idea cross the line and become a Decidedly Bad Idea? When the actual, real-life consequences are potentially so much worse than the fun and adventure to be had. I’m willing to take some hits in order to gain experience and understanding of the world around me. That’s the whole theory behind my embracing of Not Good Ideas. BUT…sometimes the potential downside to my actions is just so potentially harmful that it breaks through my headlong rush into the unknown and brings me (momentarily) to my senses.

It helps, too, when I have a more attractive option — maybe even a Good Idea — to choose instead of the Decidedly Bad Idea. Because, knowing myself as I do, I know I’m more likely to choose a Decidedly Bad Idea over No Idea any day. And that’s Not a Good Idea.

A Brief Note on a Not-Good Idea: Relapse

You know how you’re not supposed to get drunk and text your ex? Yeah, well, you also shouldn’t get bored and text an ex-scammer. I have fallen off the wagon, and relapsed into contact with one of my latest targets. I tried to ghost him, but, you know what? He keeps coming back! I’m just too soft-hearted to be able to actually ghost someone, I guess. (Take heart, all future exes of mine.)

But, this also proves what I said before about the parallel between scammers and their targets: we’ve all got boundless optimism that clouds our critical judgement of what all of the evidence shows us to be true. This guy has more than enough reason to think that I’m having him on. But I’ve also given him enough almost-acceptable-explanations for the obstacles he’s faced for him to convince himself that I’m for real. THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS TO TARGETS!!! We want so badly for the scenario to be true that we can overlook inconsistencies and tells. I’m just saying: we’re not stupid to fall for a scam (or a counter-scam, for that matter). We’re just hopeful and optimistic, and desirous of something better (be it money or love).

Counter-Scam Post Script: I Won

I’ve got just one more observation about my recently abandoned hobby. There was one real benefit that I gained while role-playing to reel in some of my recent targets. For a couple of these guys, I really pushed the single mother aspect. I laid it on thick about working too hard to support my daughter and myself, that I’m tired and need a man to take care of us. To support and protect us. I mean, really thick. But this let me inhabit a mental space that I specifically avoid in reality.

Usually, I’m full-steam ahead, doing my own thing. I just do, right? I don’t let myself wallow (very much) in complaining about what has to be done, preferring instead to get it done. But for a couple weeks, I was able to play the damsel in distress in need of a rescuing knight. And it was kind of nice. It was freeing to let down the wall a little bit. Not to the point of actually emotionally needing to be rescued, but just typing the words did allow me to pretend for a little bit. I got to pretend that there was someone I could trust to have my back and help me carry the load, and they had to pretend that they would be there for me forever.

That’s what’s so attractive about romance scammers. They give you exactly what you want, with none of the downside of actually having to negotiate a relationship with another person. They give attention, support, and love at a level that is near impossible for a real person to sustain because a real person has his own life: a job, family, responsibilities. Scammers love you like it’s their job, because it is.

Being the recipient of that kind of devotion feels really good, but only as long as you can pretend it’s real. And, to me, pretending to be a damsel in distress feels much better than actually being a damsel in distress. It would be so uncomfortable for me to be that reliant on another person, to be that vulnerable. But pretending to be helpless can scratch that itch, without the stress of actually being helpless. It’s like a release valve. A very important release valve. Bad things happen when I have to be strong and stay focused on my responsibilities all the time.

“All work and no play” is what started this whole adventure in the first place, after all. In March, I had been so focused on working and caring for my daughter that I needed a break and a distraction. That’s why I started conversing in the first place with the man who would turn out to be My First Scammer©. But that’s a whole ‘nother story. And boy is it a doozy.

The Wooing Words

A HUGE part of each online romance scam is, of course, the romance. Some scammers are more successful at this part than others. A very few take it nice and slow and put in the time and effort to actually try to gently reel in their targets. Mine did, sort of, but very few others have. Most use a more blunt, frantic approach that is rather startling. I recently had one guy who, in under 24 hours, made contact on Words With Friends, moved us off to Hangouts, and then asked me for a gift card. This guy had no time to spare. Too bad for him, I deployed my usual tactics (including Blessing’s previously-redeemed Steam card photos), and wasted his next two days.

0 to 60, way too fast.

What I want to share today, though, are some of the most fantastic attempts at wooing that I’ve had flung at me. “Clovis Joe” was definitely the champion in that he had some really delightfully flowery messages, and he had one or two great one-liners. But he was astoundingly bad at sexting. I mean. REALLY bad at it. So bad that I didn’t even know he was doing it until he was about done. I mean.

Before we got to that, though, we had to wade through the buckets and buckets of dreck:

I am unconvinced.

As you can probably tell, the hardest aspect of this part of the counter-scam is coming up with appropriate responses to each and every volley to keep him engaged. I’m also unwilling to venture too far into the realm of lies. I’ll type some encouraging tepid stuff, but I’m certainly not going to use the “L” word. I save Love for when I mean it. The same cannot be said for “Clovis Joe”.

Can we get to the scam already? Please?
Oh, for crying out loud.

You can see why I appreciated receiving the long email from “Roy Haskins” so that we got all of this out of the way in one fell swoop. It’s REALLY slow going when the chatting version is the MO. The juxtaposition was top-notch, though, when I received my favorite one-liner from “Clovis Joe”: “Without you, my life can be compared to a broken pencil: it is totally pointless.” He’s the champ.

But you want to see the really bad sexting don’t you? Ironically, it was the sexting that ended our time together, but not because it was so bad. It was because, even though I’m messing with these guys and their finances, I can’t mess around with sexting. Maybe it was some residual guilt about Blessing and his pictures. Maybe it’s loyalty to someone else. But “Clovis Joe” went too far, so I bailed. There also wasn’t much to stick around for:

Yes, this is his version of sexting. No, this is not the part that made me feel guilty.

And so I left him. Told him, “Nope, I’m done. It’s been real.” He was baffled. He got over it. Or he didn’t. I don’t know.

I’m coming to the end of my time in this occupation, though. The stakes have gotten higher recently, and yesterday I got passed up to deal with the boss. He asked me why I’m doing what I’m doing. I came up with about 7 answers, but none of them were good. None of them were enough to justify the amount of time and energy that I spend on this. So, I’m going to tap out now and return this blog to its regularly scheduled programming. I’m done. It’s been real.

My Blessing: The Counter-Scam

And so it begins…

Once Blessing got in touch with me, we were off and running. Chat, chat, chat. We traded a couple pictures. He told me I was sweet, beautiful, the woman of his dreams, etc., etc. And by the end of our first evening chatting, he was expressing his love for me and asking whether I loved him too. I said, “I just met you.” He sent me some lovey-dovey .jpgs to say good night:

Shmoopy pictures.

And then he sent me one that I think he completely misjudged:

I do not think that means what you think it means.

We chatted for several more days, with a couple of voice calls sprinkled in. He sounded very young, like maybe 22 or so. A young ‘un. Finally, he triggered the scam and asked me for a Steam gift card. (Did I tell you about the different types of gift cards? You know how you can buy gift cards for different merchants, like Amazon, iTunes, or Cabela’s? Well a Steam card is used to buy games and tends to be favored by these scammers, because it has a relatively high rate of exchange.) So, I didn’t bat an eyelash; I just told him that I’d go to the store later in the day. And then I crossed a line.

Just to see how far I could push him, I asked him for photos in return for the Steam card. I asked him for photos of a particular part of his anatomy that many men seem to enjoy sharing with little prompting, but which this poor guy seemed to be quite shy about. He offered a video call instead of photos, but I cajoled him. I pressured him. I did precisely what women hate for men to do to them. And I feel really gross about it. Really gross — mostly because it worked. He did ask for comparable photos of me, but I told him not to be greedy, that he had to choose between a Steam card and pictures. That was when he first surprised me. He proved himself to be less of an amateur than my friend and I had thought: he chose the Steam card. All right then, kid. Let’s dance.

I had a Steam card that had already been redeemed, but which was still sitting in the glove compartment of my vehicle (because I don’t throw anything out.) You see where I’m going? No you don’t. I took a picture of the back of the card. I loaded that photo into Photoshop. I carefully added back in some of the grey stuff that had been scratched off the code, in order to cover the last digit. I saved another version of the photo. Yeah.

Scamming the scammer.

On what would be the last day of our relationship, I “took three tries” to send the doctored photo of the redemption code. When I was finally successful, he was delighted. We chatted throughout the day, while I waited for him to figure out that it was a digit short and a dollar late. By the time we got to that realization, he had asked me for money for his passport and visa, and he asked me to buy a plane ticket to visit him and bring him back to the States with me. The major issue here (aside from the obvious) was that he knew neither how much his passport and visa would cost, nor how I should get the money to him. I almost suggested Western Union, but then I just offered to send him a check (knowing full well that that’s an absurd idea).

Delay is the name of the game. Waste his time.

I “searched for” the card and groveled some more; I know the groveling is pretty pathetic, but it helps to keep the scammer invested in my cause. It makes me seem like a truly needy woman who will do anything to make it up to my man, which makes it so much easier to reel him in and waste more of his time. See? They are as gullible and susceptible to manipulation as we targets are. Finally, half an hour later, I sent him the picture with the full code. We then chatted throughout the rest of the afternoon, while he cooked and ate his dinner (he sent me pictures of his food), and he finally signed off with declarations of undying love in order to go take a shower and go to bed, a little before I closed my store at 6 PM. Jump to almost 9 PM my time, which is almost 2 AM his time. That’s when he discovered that the code was bad.

WHAT?!? I’m shocked! Shocked, I say!

This is another indication that he’s a bit inexperienced in this line of work. I have never known any other scammer to admit frustration at this point in the relationship. Normally, they are very stoic and incredibly supportive. But this poor kid is just in over his head. He just wants his money and for the whole thing to be over. So, after a few more protestations of my ignorance and some apologies, I put him out of his misery. I said, “Oh wait. I know what happened”:

“Yeah, you know what? This is the card that I gave my boyfriend. My boyfriend in Lagos. Yeah, he redeemed it in May. Then I must have photoshopped some grey stuff back on it to cover the last digit before I sent it to you the first time today. Then when you finally had the full code, of course it didn’t work. Yeah, that must be what happened. Be careful who you try to scam.” (Again, the bit about the boyfriend in Lagos may or may not be true. It was used for effect.)

He tries so hard.

And Blessing tries to live up to his name. He does an admirable job…until he brings up the personal pictures he sent me. That’s when things really go south. He said, “I’m not the first right?” “You were the first to go this far, yes. You were the first to be foolish enough to accidentally send me a photo of yourself.”

That sounds…ominous. And, yes, I did actually lie a bit.

I later asked my friend what “Jaja house” means, and he told me that it sounds like voodoo. That’s when I realized that I’ve probably got a voodoo curse on me now. Damn. Oh well…whatcha gonna do? Anyway, Blessing and I went back and forth some more: “You’re messing with other people’s lives. You don’t get to dodge that responsibility just because you ran up against someone who could fight back.” But, by the end, it seemed that it was most important to him that he convince me that the photos he sent were not of himself. That they were photos he had found online and sent to me. I told him I didn’t care. Poor innocent. Better not play with fire then, kid.

Those were the last words we exchanged. And he probably never saw my retort, judging by where his little avatar sits. As bad as I feel about dragging an amateur through that, and for sexually harassing him, some part of me is holding on to hope that he might be turned off from this line of work. I know, he probably won’t be, mostly because there are SO FEW OPTIONS for gainful employment in Nigeria, but I do hold out some hope. But, for now, that is the story of My Blessing.

To twist the knife a little, I messaged Roy Hawkins to thank him for introducing us. I have since used the same Steam card photos on a number of other scammers, to great success. But, I feel that my career in this pastime is limited. It’s not much of a challenge anymore, though I am now trying to see if I can get another one to drop the fictional persona and reveal himself to me. I haven’t succeeded yet, but I might try a few more times. Next post will be shorter — just some choice quotes — but I thank you for going on the Blessing ride with me.

Quickie: Specific Requirements

Just a little post because I had to share this message that I got this morning. One of my scammers asked me what I found attractive in men, and he then responded with his list of requirements for women:

“I like persons with the following: little or light body hair, a nice clean smell, direct eye contact, smiles, appropriate polite adult behavior, a pleasant demenor, a symetrical face with a cute button nose, and good hygiene in general.”

Wow. That’s…very specific. And not at all attractive.

My Blessing; The Hook

And now to Blessing. Ah, Blessing. He’s a special scammer. Our conversation started like so many others, with a game on Words With Friends. My initial contact was with “Roy Haskins”, former US military man currently serving with a UN peace-keeping force in Syria. We eventually moved on to my dedicated account on Hangouts and continued the conversation there. But then things got interesting.

As scammers tend to do, “General Haskins” soon bombarded me with a number of photos to establish his identity. Except, that “General Haskins” made a very foolish mistake. He sent me a photo of a mature, Caucasian, decorated military man. Then he sent a photo of a young black man staring at a cell phone. Then came another photo of an older white man in uniform.

Oh, honey. Oh, no you didn’t!

This fool sent me a photo of his actual self, sandwiched between two photos of his fictitious persona. I couldn’t believe it. That was just unimaginably careless. How could he have done that? I stared at my screen for minutes, literally, trying to understand what had just happened. But he made no mention of the mistake, so I followed suit. We just continued on chatting as if the sky hadn’t just fallen on his head. I did, however, send his photo to a certain acquaintance of mine who is dialed into this community and said, “Please tell me you know him. Please!!” Unfortunately, my friend didn’t recognize him, but we did agree he was a rank amateur. But what to do? Oh, so many possibilities!

Overnight, “Roy Haskins” sent me quite a long email expressing his desire to find a special woman to spend the rest of his life with, blah, blah, blah — standard scammer fare. I don’t usually encounter it in email form, so it was a nice change in this case; it’s tough going when it comes across piecemeal in chats. (More on that in a future post.) But the lengthy email did give me a clue as to how I could make my scammer’s life more interesting:

The bait and switch

Then I sent him back his own photo. You can just imagine what happened then.

Long story short, later that day, “General Haskins” had been abandoned (with thanks from me for playing matchmaker) and Blessing and I were chatting away on Hangouts. By the time we had signed off that night, I had his English and last names, his email address, several photos of him, and the approximate area in Nigeria in which he lives. By the end of our conversation, I would also have his cell phone number.

The moral of this story? Scammers are as easy to scam as some targets are, if not easier. The common trait that we share is unabashed optimism. We want to believe the lovely words and promises are true. They HAVE to think that this target could be the one that works out. They HAVE to follow all leads in the hopes that this one will be the big pay off. But the one trait that they seem to lack utterly is skepticism. I have only had contact with one scammer who seemed to push back at all on my counter-scamming. All of the others have just followed along, seemingly trusting that everything that I was typing was completely sincere. I’m very curious to know whether there is any awareness on their part that there are some people who will intentionally waste their time. I’ll do some research and see what I can find out.

But, back to Blessing: yes, there is much more to this story. I really ran this poor kid through the wringer. I call him a “poor kid” because he was completely out of his depth. There were scams he tried to run on me that he just had no idea how to go about it. Also, I am highly skeptical that we has anywhere near 33 years old. And, yes, there was one thing that I did that I am ashamed of. I did cross a line. It has nothing to do with whether he deserved it. I shouldn’t have done it; I certainly won’t do it again. But, that story will have to wait. Be sure to follow my blog so you don’t miss out on “My Blessing; The Counter-Scam”.

The Rudest Scammer

I know that by now you may be thinking that this blog has wandered far from its original purpose of examining not-good-choices of my past and how they have affected my life. But, no, I’m still on track. It’s just that I’m now examining not-good-choices that I am making in my present life. This hobby of mine (baiting online scammers) is certainly not a good idea, because it takes up a lot of my attention that I could be devoting to other projects. And it may have succeeded in getting a voodoo curse placed on my head (I promise I’ll get to that story.) I continue with it, though, for a few reasons. Yes, it’s fun. Yes, it’s a little vigilante justice. But it’s also a bit of a creative outlet that allows me to clear my head as I move among the various other projects that I have going on.

When I get into a scam to harass the scammer, I have a couple different methods, depending on how the scammer plays. My over all purpose, though, is just to waste his time. Any time and energy that he devotes to me is time and energy that he’s not devoting to a target who might actually give in. If he is especially keen or foolish or interesting in some way, then there is more fun to be had, like with the voodoo guy. (He was a doozy…it’s probably going to take a couple of posts to do him justice.) But that’s why I’ll sound very tolerant and patient with most of my responses — I’m not answering like a real person. I just want to keep him on the line so that he thinks I’m worth his time.

Anyway, as promised last time, here is most of a conversation that I had with one of my more persistent scammers. Unfortunately, the thing ended “not with a bang but a whimper” in that I eventually got caught up in another conversation and just stopped writing back, but I did have a little fun along the way. Especially since this guy was so…not good at his job. Firstly, we had some language difficulties. Secondly, most scammers will try to be charming, and if they can’t quite achieve charming, they will err on the side of fawning. They’ll call their targets “dear” and “love” and “honey” and say how beautiful and sweet the women are. This guy had trouble with that.

I especially like how the “Dear” was such an afterthought that it got its own message. Also, as he moved through the “getting to know you” portion of the script, he really couldn’t have cared less how I answered. He was just going to proceed to the next question, regardless of what I said. In that sense, I suppose, he was quite similar to some actual dates I’ve been on.

My response below, though, did throw him a curve-ball. It took him five and a half hours to come up with his favorite color once I blew his scripted answer out of the water:

You can see why I tired of playing with this one to the point of just not typing back to him. It didn’t even register with him when I told him my favorite hobby:

Yeah. He was good for a couple days’ entertainment. But the next scammer was in a category all his own. From making a spectacular mistake at the beginning of our conversation to falling head-over-heels for my counter-scam, he will go down in my hall of fame. Next time: A Blessing All My Own.