OK, this is going to sound like one of those Snopesy things that circulate around Facebook every so often but honest to goodness, it isn’t. It happened to me this morning and I’ve screenshotted it all to prove it. It’s a clever scam and I damn near fell for it.
If you know me, you’d probably say that I was clever but mean. Nicht so! Turns out I am actually stupid but nice, which makes me an ideal target for this kind of scam. A few things that also make me ideal – I never properly synced my contacts on this phone, which means I often have messages from unknown numbers that are actually people I know (and should have in my contacts). I tend to just start conversations until I can figure out who it is. In the case of one person from church, it took me six months to get it. It’s kind of a game. But that would explain why my reaction might differ to someone with a well-sorted phone book.
The other factor is that I’m always multi-tasking. When I was dealing with the messages this morning, I was wrangling Eva and running a series of errands at the same time. I don’t have the spare mental space to be suspicious or to even think too much about who it is. I just answer and carry on. The third thing is that by nature, I’m a *fixer*. I see someone with a problem, I want to help them out. I see someone jobhunting, I offer to look at their CV. I see someone who needs time away from their kids, I offer to babysit. I’m not saying this to make myself out as some kind of saint, just so that you understand that fixing people’s problems really motivates me and leaving something unfixed bothers me a lot.
Also, I’m stupid. As mentioned above.
The first set of messages came last Wednesday, when I was busy watching “The Apprentice” on catch up. Who would get those hottubs?? Why was Daniel being so mean to lovely Felipe? Gosh, it was tense. So I didn’t really want to give any of my attention to my text messages, but this was the kind of message that demanded attention:
“Hi it’s Sarah. I had a fall this morning and broke my leg in 2 places. Can you do me a favour and text me back once you get this message? x”
Well, it’s not overly spammy is it? It sounds native English, plausible and – most importantly – appeals to my sense of needing to help. But who was it? My phone didn’t know the number but that wasn’t unusual. My first thought was my sister Sarah, who is prone to the kind of pursuits that break your legs but she’s not a texter at all. I don’t think I’ve ever had a text from her. A far more likely proposition was Sarah the Cheery Decorator, who might not have meant to text me for help but would definitely have my number in her phone. And she also spends a lot of time up a ladder. Worried that SarahtCD was lying in hospital awaiting a reply from a friend called Kate, I replied and the conversation went like this…
I think I played that quite well – some concern, but also not taking any responsibility. I was surprised when Sarah B didn’t text back again, but her surname ruled out any Sarahs I actually know and so I thought it was just a wrong number and poor painkiller-addled Sarah B was just a bit embarrassed.
All normal until a few days later when I had another message thanking me for agreeing to help out tomorrow. Again, this sent me into a panic – what the heck did I agree to do? Who is depending on me tomorrow? Was I likely to agree to something and then forget about it? Well, yes…but no answer to this one either made me think that it was another wrong number. By now I was pretty sure that someone somewhere had got a new phone with a number similar to mine and had given the wrong number out to their entire friends list. Whoever this new phone owner was, she really was a saint. Always helping people!
(edit: as if to prove my point, I’ve done some googling and it seems the middle message really was from someone I knew and just hadn’t saved the number for. See, I told you this happens to me all the time!)
When I got another message this morning, I didn’t immediately connect it with the others. Because this time there was a difference – they used my name. Of course, looking at the messages all together you soon realise that I’d given them my first name. And stupidly, I was about to give them my full name. Like I said, I was really busy this morning. The first message simply said “Are you busy Kate?x”. I instantly assumed it was one of the interns at church – I don’t have all their numbers but they all have mine and they always need favours from me. So the next message “Can you do me a favour?” was hardly a surprise.
Then I started to get suspicious. Money was involved. I might be nice, but I don’t give over money easily. And who the heck uses phonecards still? I played along for a bit:
Our Emma? Which Emma? I frantically googled while in the queue at the post office and found that I wasn’t the only one to have been contacted by Sarah in hospital. But not before I’d given yet more away (and apologies to my friend Ruth – just plucked a name out of the air):
Conclusion? It’s a scammity scammity scam. But it’s a clever one – they sound genuine, they subtly play on your conscience and they learn things about you. I generally want to assume the best about everyone but this has made me pretty suspicious of any unknown numbers. Sure, it was just phone credit that “Emma” was trying to scam but what would it be next? I’ve blocked the numbers but obviously they have a lot of different ones they use (07970941717 and 07971329371 are the two they used on me and I think 07980329562/07980175063/07773077125/07773077105 too). Beware folks!!