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