It’s over a week since I last talked about scams and I can’t believe I’m bringing it up again. Today in 51 short minutes, I cut ties with a former high school classmate who attempted to scam me on Facebook Messenger. The scam is a quarantine version of ‘Distressed Stranger‘ in which a stranger (in my case, a long gone classmate who I didn’t even talk with much during school) pretends to need cash for petrol or other urgent personal needs. They bait the victim by coming up with an elaborate, seemingly convincing story. Then, they’ll ask the victim if they can lend a reasonable sum of money with the promise of a high interest return upon repayment.
I never seen this scam play out in my life before (let alone a version that I believe may be emerging thanks to quarantine). Nevertheless, I think it is important to share my personal experiences so that others can be aware of the scam and how it might play out. Let’s use the redacted chat log to reflect on this real world example of the ‘Distressed Stranger’ scam and some of its red flags.
The first message read like it came from a former classmate attempting to pull together a reunion. They used my last name to grab my attention. I responded with a bona fide remark noting how long it was since high school. So far so good, right?
Then, the classmate quickly made it obvious she wasn’t there to reminisce about high school. By asking for help, she elicited my sympathy for the possible issue she might be facing. I became curious and probed for more information.
Story has it that the classmate allegedly broke down on the motorway because she was running on fumes. This is what I consider to be the ‘rising action’ of the scam. The story is elaborate but apparently distressing. The immediacy of the situation is such that I would not have otherwise had the time to question whether it is a hoax or not.
Given my experiences with and on public transport, I knew more than the average car driver about what to do if I got involved in a situation on the motorway. The Washington State Patrol gives advice in that regard, and I mirrored them in my above remarks.
The classmate then told me she did not contact the highway patrol. In the same breath, she asked me for a small sum of money that she will pay back with 67% interest on the original amount. This is what I consider to be the climax of the scam. It was the critical moment where I had to decide whether to believe this person or not.
Immediately, there were two problems with the scammer’s response. First, I questioned how she was going to get to the petrol pump from the motorway. Second, if the classmate left her gas money at home, how does she still have the means to pay for petrol in a manner that is legible to the petrol pump? Of course, safety was my number one concern, so I attempted to confirm whether the classmate actually contacted highway patrol.
The next two messages confirmed what I believed to be red flags. The scammer insistently refused to contact someone who is reasonably more competent to handle the situation she allegedly faced. She also didn’t convince me she understood the gravity of the situation by giving an illogical response to my motorway concerns. At that point, I knew I simply had to close up shop and walk away.
Now, you may be wondering: why did I not ask for photographic proof or even got on video with the scammer? In all actuality, I could have—and given the demographics of people who use social media, I would not be surprised if a reasonable person in my position asked for photos or videos. In this case though, even if the classmate provided me with legitimate photographic proof, I would have continued to be concerned for her safety on the motorway. Also, my experiences prove it is a good idea to keep an electronic paper trail and a record of what happened so I could escalate to authorities if things got bad.
I also wondered whether I was too harsh with my language and therefore an asshole to a classmate I knew and talked with on occasion during school. I kept reminding myself that I’m not an asshole, and talking with a close friend helped confirmed that for me. I blocked the scammer for my own safety and so that I can share my experiences of what happened in hopes of letting others know about a scam that might be circulating in the community. The lesson to take away is: 1) Always ask questions, 2) Take your time, and 3) It’s okay to walk away if something doesn’t feel right. That’s it. See you.