Thursday, April 22, 2021

Reflections on Being Victim of a Scam

Earlier this week, I bought a bunch of Lego sets that appeared to be on sale -- four "Star Wars" sets, and one "Harry Potter" set.

Yesterday, I realized that what I had actually done is fall for an internet scam. The website I bought from has already disappeared. I will not be receiving any Legos.

I've already disputed the charge and canceled the credit card I used. But it was an interesting experience, being a scam victim -- I think for the first time? -- and I wanted to share some of the thoughts I've been having.

To begin, I feel like falling for an internet scam is my decisive induction into being old. Even more than sore knees or a cantankerous attitude towards kids these days, there's no coming back from this. You get duped by an online sale, you're officially old. My only consolation is that, if I'm going to be the sort of old man who falls for online scams, at least those scams will involve Lego sets.

I found the (scam) site via a Facebook ad. I honestly don't know what to make of that fact. I admit that, perhaps naively, I assumed that ads on Facebook were from at least credible businesses, which is why I didn't initially harbor much suspicion about the sale. Was my assumption reasonable?  Did Facebook fail in its duties to me by putting that ad on its site? Or is it impossible for Facebook to effectively screen out the grifters and scam artists from its official, sponsored ads? I genuinely don't know. My instinct is that this reflects poorly on Facebook. I knew better than to click some banner ad on a random site that says "Lego sale!" For whatever reason, I believed that official, sponsored, promoted Facebook ads were more legitimate.

The site itself looked professional enough. The prices were pretty deeply discounted, but it looked like the sort of one day flash sale one often sees from normal online retailers -- that didn't actually raise any flags. If anything, I was more suspicious of the "base" price -- I figured that it was set artificially high so that the "sale" looked like a deeper cut than it was. In any event, it seemed like a good opportunity to buy a bunch of Lego sets which otherwise would be pretty expensive on the cheap, so I splurged. Type in my credit card number; give them my mailing address, and soon bathe in Lego.

I did get a receipt from the site, albeit a pretty vague one that didn't include any indication about when my items would ship or even what they were. It did tell me not to worry that the seller was listed as a person's name rather than the name of the website. These were my first red flags. Last night, I decided to log on to the website to check the status of my order, and wouldn't you know it but the website has disappeared without a trace.

That was the first point I thought "oh, I've been scammed." But that thought immediately pressed up against reflexive denial -- "no, this must be a mistake." What generated that thought? Partially, it was probably humiliation -- I didn't want to admit I'd been so easily duped. But the larger instigator, I realized, was something else: I really was excited about those Lego sets. If it was a scam, I wouldn't be getting the Legos. If I denied it was a scam, I could still think I would be receiving the Legos. Admitting I'd been scammed meant resigning myself to the fact that this thing I was happy and excited about would not come to be. And that was really, surprisingly hard. It felt like an affirmative choice to give up on happiness.

The power of that sentiment -- and the fact that it did have a hold on me even though the evidence that this was a grift job was overwhelming -- surprised me and made me pause to reflect. I suspect that something like this is true of anyone who's taken in by a con artist or a grifter, including a political con artist. One gets hooked initially because one likes what they're (claiming to be) selling. Bring back American jobs, laying low big business elites, draining the swamp -- take your pick. These goods get sold but are never shipped. And when they don't arrive, there is a strong instinct that it must be coming, it must be coming soon, it must be around the corner, because if you admit it's never coming -- oof. That's terrible, to cut the strings on hope. All the more so when what you're hoping for is something a lot more vital than a Lego set.

So yes, I can very much imagine people denying the evidence before their eyes; indulging in denial because it allows them to hold onto the happy, hopeful feeling that drew them to the grifter in the first place. It takes discipline and, in some ways, courage, to cut the cord and acknowledge "I was scammed. The goods are never going to arrive."
"There comes a point in every plot where the victim starts to suspect; and looks back, and sees a trail of events all pointing in a single direction. And when that point comes, Father had explained, the prospect of the loss may seem so unbearable, and admitting themselves tricked may seem so humiliating, that the victim will yet deny the plot, and the game may continue long after."

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