Why I Won’t Ever Get Taken By A Door-To-Door Scam Artist (Again)
Last week, my friends, on the afternoon after I had to euthanize my cat, I fell victim to a scam artist. I know! Me. I cannot tell you how humiliating it is to admit this to you guys, but I figure that if I can fall victim to a scam, then anybody can, given the right circumstances. And if that isn’t a personal financial issue, then I don’t know what is. I only hope that you can continue to take me seriously as a personal financial blogger after I cop to this idiocy.
So here’s what happened: I was at home with Mini in the afternoon, and there was a knock on the door. I hate it when people knock on the door, by the way. It’s almost never something I want to deal with. But there I was, the only adult at home, so I had to deal with it, and the person at the door is a guy who is maybe in his early twenties, he looks harmless enough, and I open the door, remaining suspicious, but no longer fearing that the individual was going to attempt something malicious. Which was, of course, my first mistake.
The kid was selling books, the proceeds of which were to be used to send himself and some other of his college classmates to England. Naturally, I wasn’t interested in any of the books he was selling, but he had an answer for this, too — his mother was a nurse at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and they would donate the books to the hospital. Perfect! Because as it happens that’s where we got Mini’s ears fixed! And not only that, but if we donated a certain amount of money, then his uncle would come out and detail our cars! The story just got better and better! And today, as I recount what happened and pare it down to its bare bone facts, I realize that it sounds so stupid and absurd that I bought this crap hook line and sinker, but naturally his delivery was much more impressive in person.
Here’s the thing about scams: right now, you have a set of ideas in your head about what suggests legitimacy in solicitations. You don’t realize it, but you do. These things include:
- Detail. The right details can make an otherwise absurd story believable. In this case, the scamster told me about a program with Children’s Hospital, where my son had an operation. He also used the real names of people who live in this neighborhood as his parents, and described somebody who actually lives near me as being his mother. He had to have known enough about this neighborhood to know that I would not actually know this woman personally, that I might know her by sight, but not well enough to know if she had a college aged son or not. He might have even known about my son’s operation, if he had been looking at mail or something. He also added superfluous detail in places where you would not require it, and strangely enough, this makes us think a story is legit, when in fact it should suggest the opposite.
- Context. When I am headed into the grocery store, I am expecting to be solicited. I am expecting somebody to try to sell me something. I have my guard up. At home, it’s not up. I might be annoyed by having to deal with the doorbell ringing, but am not expecting a scam necessarily. And having had a childhood where I was routinely sent from door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions and the like in the name of charity, the whole thing seemed plausible.
- Charity. For some reason, somebody selling something is often far more suspicious than somebody trying to get money for charity. I have to assume it is because we have a sort of default setting of guilt when it comes to charity — if we don’t give, we feel bad. Or if we don’t, we are aware that we are supposed to feel bad. So someone soliciting for charity seems less suspect, when in fact they maybe should be more so.
Now, if I hadn’t been overly emotional on that day because of my cat dying, perhaps this never would have happened. But it did. And not only did I give this guy money — this is where it gets REALLY embarassing — I told him to come back when my husband was home because I thought he’d be interested in donating stuff that would end up going to Children’s Hospital, too. Oh yeah, and he did come back, and Mr. Right-Click sat him down and demanded the money back, asked him for his ID and the phone number of the guy’s mother (who supposedly lives in our neighborhood). Conveniently, the guy said both his ID and the money I had given him were in his car, and so he left “to get them” and never came back. Mr. Right-Click of course didn’t fall for any of it, and if we hadn’t been juggling getting Mini to bed at the time, he probably would have followed him to his car and/or called the police. As it was, I guess it was a good reminder about stupid tax for me.