I have shied away from telling the story of how I was scammed because I was ashamed. How did I get fooled that easily when I pride myself on being a digital native, having worked in digital communications since the mid-nineties?
Shouldn’t I have been immune to the same old tricks of the online scammers? Shouldn’t I have known better?
I’m swallowing my pride now, and I’m about to tell you what happened.
Maybe because I just finished watching Netflix’s The Tinder Swindler, and I was reminded of that sense of dread that took over me when I got scammed. That awful feeling of being violated. I felt I needed to tell my story so that others won’t fall for it. The story of how I was scammed for $1700 by online thieves who tricked me using the same sophisticated tools I frequently use from Upwork to Slack to Google Chat, and finally Zelle.
This story is not all doom and gloom. It has a happy ending, so bear with me.
It all started with a job posting on Upwork about a remote, flexible opportunity for Arabic-English translators.
I was looking for gigs as I was building my online content creation business during the early days of the pandemic. As a bilingual, translation is traditionally something, I always fall back on when looking for cash flow.
It never crossed my mind that I would be scammed while applying for translation opportunities on Upwork of all places.
A few days after I applied, I got a reply from someone saying the company hiring manager would like to set up an interview with me and that the job was with “Transperfect”, a well-known and respected translation company in New York. I looked up the person that responded to me on Linkedin, and her profile matched her name and picture.
The “interview” was done via “Google Chat ” which I thought was a bit strange but brushed it off as a millennial brave world thing.
The “manager” who interviewed me via chat asked good, standard industry questions, and I thought I gave them accurate, intelligent answers.
A few days after the interview, they contacted me and offered me a part-time remote translation job.
I was happy, especially as the pay was good and the work was flexible, and this gig would have provided me with the cash flow I needed to situation my content creation business.
The rush to buy
They invited me to join their Slack channel to attend my “orientation session” the next day.
I woke up early the next day for the orientation session, all excited. The session started with questions about what kind of equipment and translation software I had, and they immediately recommended that I buy a specific software and use a PC instead of a Mac.
The person chatting with me said the company would cover these costs and send me a “check immediately” to buy the software and the computer.
As soon as I got the checks and deposited them in my bank (and provided them with proof per their request), I was asked to buy the equipment from their “vendors” via Zelle, which I did quickly because I wanted to impress them.
Right after I made the second purchase, I started to feel uneasy. Why were they rushing me like that?
So I decided to call the company and speak to the person corresponding with me.
Someone picked up the phone and told me that the person I asked for was on vacation and that she was pretty much off the grid.
That was when I knew I had been scammed, so I went online looking for answers and found this article.: People who turned to Upwork to find freelance gigs say they’ve lost thousands of dollars to scams
I immediately called my bank and told them what had happened. They told me they would do their best to mitigate the situation, but they didn’t think they could get the money back since this was sent through Zelle.
I lost a total of $1,700. I didn’t have much money, and I sunk into a dark mood. How can I be so dumb?
Scam alerts to be on the watch for
Looking back at what happened, here are the scam flags I should have paid close attention to:
- The Gmail account.
- The “interview” via Google Chat without seeing anyone’s face on camera.
- The robotic-sounding answers to my questions.
- The constant pressure to buy the needed equipment immediately.
The thing that tricked me:
- The Slack channel with profiles of other “employees.”
- The stolen Linkedin profiles.
- The real name of the company.
- The” good” questions that were asked at the “interview.”
The happy ending
Six months after the incident, I received an unexpected email from my bank telling me that Zelle had managed to return the money. (Yes, I’m a forever huge fan of Zelle!)
I decided to do something unique with the money after getting it back. I didn’t want to spend it on something that I would forget, so I decided to invest in my health and mental sanity and got myself a Pelton bike that I regularly use.
Every time I look at the bike, I remember the story of how I got scammed and how eventually things were sorted out, and I ended up with a cautionary tale to tell.
As Philip Roth once said: “Nothing Bad can happen to a writer. Everything is material.”