There’s a Scam Waiting for Us All

Unable to stop thinking about The Cut’s scammer essay, I wondered what parts of my life (and my friends’ lives) would be the most vulnerable to grifters.

There’s a Scam Waiting for Us All

On Thursday, The Cut published an essay by their financial advice columnist, Charlotte Cowles, detailing how she was effectively scammed out of $50,000. In short, a person claiming to be a representative from Amazon called her about fraudulent activity on her account, dispatched her over to a (fake) CIA agent, and, throughout an afternoon, convinced her that her and her family’s identities, financial security, and overall safety were in imminent danger. The way to safeguard their livelihoods, he explained, was to withdraw $50,000 in cash from her bank, place it in a floral shoebox, and hand it over to a man in an SUV. Cowles, under distress, obliged.

The internet lit ablaze. “You couldn’t waterboard that out of me” was the resounding response to Cowles’ incredibly vulnerable essay. Though Twitter remains divided into two main camps: those who feel that Cowles is an absolute fool and those who think we’re all one Bad Luck day away from being scammed. Of course, as is the natural development of online backlash, nuance has crept into and splintered the conversation…and I’ve found myself agreeing with the more middle-of-the-line “takes.” While Cowles’ career as a financial advice columnist should have probably (??) made her a bit more skeptical of Amazon transferring her to a CIA agent, she also explains the psychology behind the gradual power of coerced confessions.

All this is to say that last night, I laid awake in bed, still thinking about the horror of what I’d read and how it was not even a fraction of a percent of the agony that Cowles has had to sit through since giving away tens of thousands of dollars so quickly. I texted multiple friends a selfie of myself, distressed at the thought of losing that sort of money. (Though I did also enjoy an embarrassingly good, schadenfreude-ic laugh over some of the crueler memes.) Perhaps I’m naive to think I wouldn’t give away $50,000 cash (an amount, for the record, I have never once possessed) in an afternoon. But I am humbled enough to know that I am not above ever getting scammed. The FTC reported that 2.4 million fraud cases were filed in 2022, resulting in $8.8 billion lost. The scammed, if not already us, walk among us indeed!!

In fact, I have been scammed! When I moved to New York City as a bright-eyed college graduate, I put down a deposit and one month’s rent on a Hells Kitchen room that, despite seeing it with my two eyes and shaking the hand of the landlord, was rented out from under me after I said I’d move in midway through the month. When the landlord gave me the address to the realtor’s office to sort things out, Google Maps led me straight to the Empire State Building. It was a humbling and cruel welcome to the city.

But Cowles’ essay made me wonder what scams I would definitely be the most susceptible to. Despite the mortifying apartment scam of 2012, I am still convinced I can detect an untrustworthy landlord or that I’d immediately know an under-budget apartment listing in a prime location probably isn’t real. On a much smaller scale, the amount I troll Facebook marketplace and Craigslist considerably raises the chances of paying a hefty amount for a full-size couch that is actually meant for a dollhouse. Also, unlike my Gen-Z cohorts, I answer every phone call from an unknown number with a laughable amount of curious optimism—perhaps a long lost (rich????!!) relative is trying to get a hold of me?! And, over the course of five years, I paid thousands of dollars to take improv comedy classes taught by men who didn’t know women peed out of a “different hole than their vaginas.” You can easily sell me on a delusional dream. 

I asked some friends and co-workers about the areas in their lives and psyches vulnerable to grifters. (Note to scammers: Because we are all consciously admitting that we’d be susceptible to these things, we are ON GUARD!) Editor-in-Chief and lone Swiftie on staff, Lauren Tousignant, told me: “I’m willing to admit that if I got a ‘text’ from ‘Tree Paine’ asking for my social security number and bank info, I’d be very quickly scammed out of my entire life.” Staff writer and NBA superfan, Kylie Cheung, said she couldn’t laugh along with the 2021 meme about Jayson Tatum DMing a fan asking for help because he lost his wallet. “I couldn’t help but ponder whether such a message would work on me—whether from Tatum, or perhaps Ben Simmons asking for help with therapy bills or Devin Booker seeking donations for his groin injury last year, or James Harden seeking $50,000 in cash for an emergency strip club jaunt. So much of my basketball fandom is blind belief in the impossible and I genuinely fear that said blind belief makes me vulnerable to a scam…”

Contributing writer Susan Rinkunas is convinced that a scammer could leverage her love for her fraternal twin sister and lie that she is in danger. Though she admits, she would easily just call her sister and ask if she was OK. Another Jezebel contributor, Alise Morales, admitted that it’s “unfortunately not that hard to convince me that some outside entity wants to give me money or an award.”

There are many terrifying, funny, and humbling ways to be scammed…and whether or not Cowles was foolish or just unlucky will never be fully agreed upon. But ultimately, we are all richer in spirit for the return of the divisive confessional and vulnerable personal essay. 

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin