'When I asked the scammer to tell me my car registration number, he started to fumble'

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By Joanne Reid Rodrigues

WE’RE hearing so much about people losing money to scammers. In fact, I was targeted a while back. One Saturday morning a man called to tell me I’d been caught speeding in a residential area. He sounded professional and convincing, and he insisted that I pay the fine there and then, over the phone. My instinct told me it wasn’t right. When I asked him to give me my car registration number, he started to fumble. I hung up and he never called back.

When people get scammed, they often feel foolish. They lose their pride as well as money. They frequently don’t tell anyone because they don’t want others to think they’re foolish. They’re judging themselves and they’re assuming others will judge them likewise. They punish themselves for the other person’s crime.

Not everyone in this world is nice. And the scammers have their art skilled to perfection. One woman told me, in a state of utter disbelief, that the person who scammed her had been absolutely charming. This is usually the case. But we have to remember that charming is a verb as well as an adjective. Scammers charm. Charming is what they do, not what they are. There’s a difference. Scammers are often slick, and very well practised.

Every scam artist or assailant has on their side, the element of surprise. They know exactly what’s coming, while their target doesn’t. Those few moments when the target is stunned are the time frame when the assailant makes their move.

About 20 years ago, Zak, my husband, and I were in London. A thief stole my bag while we were in a restaurant. My phone, cash, credit card, house keys, plane tickets and Gatwick Express tickets were all in that bag. Normally, we’d never put all our eggs in one basket, but we’d been to the US Embassy for our visa interview, so this was an exception. Most of our important documents were also in my bag. The Embassy had kept our passports, thankfully.

We stood in Oxford Street, both very well dressed, but without the price of a phone call between us.

As the day had started so successfully, it never occurred to me that we’d be getting a ride in the back of a police car – the one and only time we’ve ever taken this mode of transportation, I might add – to Victoria station. We had to persuade and push somewhat to get police assistance to catch our flight back to Jersey. But fortunately, we did. As the years have gone by, we occasionally remember that day’s high drama – and now we laugh at our misadventure.

According to a Buddhist proverb: ‘There are no friends, no enemies – only teachers.’ On that occasion, I’d been more interested in my lunch than in watching my bag, which was tucked under the table. That was a lesson.

We should never punish ourselves for other people’s bad behaviour. But we do need to be aware of our surroundings and aware that there are people who steal without conscience, or who harm others. In Scotland we say: ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’ Since that experience, I’ve always paid attention.

Somehow, it feels even more devastating when the scammer is someone we know – or think we know – and trust. Dating and romance scams are common. I would caution anyone to trust their instincts if a new romantic partner asks for money. No matter what the reason, it almost never ends well. Whether they’re asking for money to pay a bill or a debt, or for any ‘emergency’, it’s a red flag.

Another common trick in romance scams is asking for a reasonably small sum of money with the promise to pay it back by a specific date. The romance continues and they do pay it back in full, by a specific date. That’s the set-up. Then, a while later, they ask for a larger amount of money with the promise to pay it back by a specific date. Only this time, they don’t. They disappear. And it’s only then the individual realises they weren’t romanced – they were groomed.

It’s constructive to highlight the common dangers and for us all to be aware of different types of scams happening – I haven’t even scratched the surface. It’s also important to assure any reader who’s had a bad experience that they’re not alone.

It’s most helpful to speak to a confidante – and to tell the police. If we just suppress our emotions and convince ourselves we were foolish, we engender feelings of hurt and shame. We lose our self-trust. Fear thrives in the darkness. Once we throw a little light onto the situation, fear begins to soften and loosen its grip. Speaking to a confidante and getting the support we need helps us accept what’s happened, and take any steps we possibly can to recover money or material items lost. And more importantly, to recover our inner balance.

On that occasion in London when I’d had my bag stolen, as we entered that restaurant, I actually felt an intuition that the energy there wasn’t good. But I’d been wearing killer heels and we’d walked a few blocks. My feet were throbbing and I was in much need of a seat. My intuition didn’t let me down. I let myself down by not following my intuition. That was another lesson.

Whenever we feel that ‘uh oh’ moment, we’re wise to listen. Our intuition is our soul’s guidance. It never lets us down. We let ourselves down if we ignore it.

If we allowed fear to possess us to such an extent that we trusted no one, our lives would be miserable. We can’t predict the future, or fathom how some people turn rogue. It’s ourselves we have to trust. In this unstable world, I know for certain that humanity, goodness and kindness greatly outweigh all the wrongdoing. When we trust ourselves to handle whatever happens in life, we uphold our confidence.

  • Joanne Reid Rodrigues is the founder of Slimming Together and the creator of The Authentic Confidence Course. She is an author and therapist in nutrition, CBT, and stress management. Joanne can be contacted at JoanneRR.com

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