It is easy to believe that everyone who falls victim to a scam is uneducated or foolish until you are trying not to cry while informing your parents that you have lost $4,000 in your first year of university.
I received a call from the Montreal Police Department as I was leaving the lobby of the Carrefour Sherbrooke residence, and, astonished, I picked it up. Claiming to be the police, they told me that someone had accessed my bank account and that this person was using the funds for illegal drug purchases. They also said that they would move my money into a protected account while they were investigating the case. I asked them whether I should tell my parents, but was told that I would put anyone I informed in danger of conspiring with me in possible illegal wrongdoing should I be found guilty. And so, I could not. I did not want anyone else to go to prison for something I did not do.
After a visit to withdraw funds from the bank and an Uber ride to the address the scammers gave me, I transferred my assets, in cash, into a bitcoin machine. It took two hours of waiting for the bitcoin transfer receipt to arrive for me to realize that I had been scammed and would not be getting my “safeguarded” $4,000 back.
When I recount this story, the plot holes appear, and I am overcome with the feeling that I should have known better. However, it was not my naivete that led me to become $4,000 poorer; rather, it was the circumstances I was put in. I know to tell people when I need help and had little understanding of bitcoin at the time. But once I thought that I had been caught up in a deep, legal mess, fight-or-flight mode kicked in. Judging those who have fallen for scams is unfair. Some people are simply more susceptible, and some may believe that the world has more saints than evil-doers.
Those who fall victim to scams are not just grandparents targeted for their lack of understanding of newly developing technology and criminal methods, but other individuals who are vulnerable in different ways. This includes many first-year students, who have, in many cases, been sent out into the world to live as liberated, functional adults for the first time. Receiving the gift of independence was a heavier burden than I realized, and I was perhaps not prepared for the consequences of my actions to be as large as $4,000.
A few things I have picked up, although too late, have equipped me to defend my financial assets should scammers attempt to abuse them again. Caller ID is not a reliable source of whether the call is a fraud: I had been called from what was stated as the Montreal Police Department, but it was only after I spoke to the real police that I found it was a fake ID. More importantly, in dangerous situations, sometimes it is not enough to trust one’s initial judgement: Stopping for a moment to breathe, thinking through the situation, and talking about it to someone you trust could spare you from tumbling down a rabbit hole of irrational choices. Scammers sometimes isolate their victims, rushing them in the hope that they will not realize that they have been robbed until it is too late. Besides financial judgements, first year is a time in which many students are outside their depth of experience and must adjust to making decisions that result in serious consequences. Consulting others is not a sign of weakness—it is a step to adjusting in an unpredictable society.
Being wary of these low-profile scams could save you from paying a hefty price. Trust me, the non-refundable knowledge was not worth it.