I don’t consider myself naïve about scams. I know to never give out any my bank or credit card numbers, Social Security number, or date of birth to anyone who phones me out of the blue. In fact, when I am in a cranky mood, I might lecture the caller about how what they’re doing is fraud. I read articles about romance, grandkid-in-jail, phony arrest warrants, and other scams. As 2021 drew to a close I realized that I had fallen into a scam I hadn’t heard of: befriending a person on social media and then inducing them to set up a GoFundMe for a medical emergency. Fortunately, I came to my senses before I sent any money from that campaign. Until then, it had never occurred to me that I had been manipulated over a year and a half. As embarrassing as the experience was for me, I’m going public in the interests of educating others.
It all began in July 2020 with a Facebook Friend request from a young man in Nigeria. I didn’t believe that all Nigerians were scammers. Some very fine science fiction writers are Nigerian Americans. I accepted his request. Here’s his response.
C (the Nigerian): Where are you from? I’m from West Africa. Nigeria precisely! I know not every white lady likes comunicating with a black man and i hope in your own case it’s different. I have had couple of friends here on fb and when ever i tell them i come from Africa and Nigeria they see you as an asshole and stop talking to you because am black and i come from Africa. I still have good white friends that has influence me positively and i respect them so much. I wish every white lady out there can see things the way you do.
Commentary: From the first, C tackled the issue of Nigerian scammers and put me on the defensive about his race. On face value, this seemed to be reassurance that he is not a scammer. In actuality, he was fishing for a response of, “I’m not racist, so I will trust you.” Then he added another layer of what an admirable person he is. This will be a recurring them. He used praise as a manipulative tool.
Over the next couple of months, C sent messages like these:
8/3/20, 10:59 am. You stopped writing
8/16/20, 2:29 pm. Hello
9/2020: Things are really deficult for i and my family right now and i was thinking about starting a frozen food bussinss here but i don’t have the capital to start with. I discussed it with a friend in the US and he said he was going to help me. So, he helped in set up a gofundme campaign and here is the link. He’s name is M a very good friend of mine i met on fb.
C: Life over here in Nigeria is really not easy. I’m a graduate of civil engineering but ever since i finished school no firm wants to hire me for my service. It is more political over here searching for a job because jobs are only given to relatives, family members and well wishes. If you don’t have someone who has connection to help you, getting a job becomes difficult.
Commentary: First, C demanded my attention. He elicited reassurance as well as the commitment of my timely responses. Then he segued into how hard life is for him, what an admirable person he is, and how an American friend is trying to help him. (This was one of C’s tactics to convince me that it was okay to act on C’s behalf because others have done it.) This GoFundMe ended before reaching its goal.
Later in September, 2020, came the first request for money.
C: Please I’ll like to talk to you for a while if only give me few minutes of your time, it will be appreciated. I’ve searched for help from everywhere i know i can but all to no avail. I have contacted institutions that gives loan but none wants to help and right now things are really difficult for i and my family and my Dad is sick with stroke and can’t go out of his room. Can you help me access loan of small interest rate and i can pay within 2, 3 months if i get this new business running [Note: the GoFundMe was for $1,500.]
C: I’m scared might Dad condition might get worse because of lack of treatment. He’s been taking care by a herbalist through local root and leaves. The reason i want to start this business is to enable me help take care of the family bills and take care of my Dad and siblings. We already lost mom some few years back and dad is the only thing we have left. My family means the whole world to me because they are what i live for
C: There’s no much progress in my gofundme campaign. Please, can you help me with a low interest low i can pay back within 3 months time
Me: Sorry, we’re not able to do that.
Commentary: The emotional manipulation of this request is obvious, including the father’s illness, C’s devotion to his family, and their desperate plight. I said no but didn’t think further than that. The first request for money should have been a major red flag.
C: M is the only friend who believed in me and stood by me during my difficult times. He paid my rent few months ago when i and my family was kicked out from our appointment. You have no idea how many people, organizations i have cried for help just to achieve my dream in life.
C: I know you can help me talk to friends about my gofundme campaign, you can as well help set up one for me with and try to communicate in a compelling manner.
Commentary: When I said no to a loan, C shifted from a direct request for money to promoting the existing GoFundMe and setting up a new one for him. He coupled it with how much this friend, M, had done for him. This built on a picture of C as someone whom kind people will go out of their way to help. I failed to recognize the renewed attempt to get money from me (indirectly). I ignored this red flag, as well as the initial request. Watch what happened next.
C: 9/29/20. You can also help me achieve my dream by doing this for me and i and my family will forever remaining greatful and hold you in a very high esteem
1:38 pm. You didn’t reply me message
7:01 pm. Hello
12:05 pm. I never heard from you again and i was just wondering. I hope am not asking for to much?
Commentary: Here he returned to demanding both my immediate response and my reassurance.
Me: Yes, you are. I said no. I don’t know if this is a cultural difference or a gender thing, but as a woman, I get annoyed when I say no and a man ignores that I have set a boundary. I was happy to do what I have already done for you [a small donation to the GoFundMe], and I told you that was my limit. Please respect that.
C: Please i don’t mean to offend you. I’m sorry ok. You can forget about sharing my gofundme. You have already done so much. Once again am sorry. My sincere apologies
Commentary: I didn’t handle this well. I offered explanations instead of ending the FB relationship. A few months had created an investment in the conversation that made it difficult for me to walk away. We chatted about food and culture, creating the illusion of a mutually beneficial relationship, yet another ploy to keep me hooked. My willingness to keep talking encouraged him to follow up with more demands for money.
In November, C tried again: I want to talk to you about something. I know it’s not proper asking a stranger for help but when you face the challenges of life you just tend to keep pride away and seek for solution. Please bear in mind that you are not doing this for me but for the love of humanity.
C: Since every effort i made to start up a small business failed i have not give up on myself. Please assist me $100 so i can look for something doing to help myself and my family even if it means Hocking on the street. Consider it to be a loan and i promise to pay back once i start making sales. A friend in need is a friend indeed. I really need you help now than ever.
11/26/20., 9:11 am. Can i we talk
11/28/20, 1:00 pm. You stopped talking to me why?
Me: After I was VERY CLEAR I would not give you money, you ignored my boundary and asked AGAIN.
C: Please don’t get me wrong ok. I just lost a brother and you know how hard things has been over here
Me: If you EVER ask me for money again I will block you. I understand you are in dire straits and I have been encouraging you as a friend. It’s fine to share how hard it is, and I am sympathetic. But it’s a HUGE issue that I set a boundary and you ignored it.
C: Ok, i am sorry. I was only trying to reach out to you as a friend. Sometimes i just don’t know what to do and believe me when i said am trying to help myself. I promise i won’t ask you for help again.
Commentary: I thought I was being firm in holding a boundary. Actually, my continued engagement was a green light for the scam. As it turns out, eventually I did give him money, so keeping me in the conversation paid off.
This is the first and only mention of a just-deceased brother, by the way. In other conversations he mentions one younger brother, still living.
In December, 2020, C changed tactics, returning to earlier strategy. He said: I felt so bad because when i needed people i called friends they all left me in the middle of no where. I have a whole lot of questions i want to ask you. Those being a black man make me an evil person? Being a Nigerian make me a scammer?
C: I saw how angry you were when i asked you for help and you said you were going to block me. Though i felt bad not because you refused helping me but because you also have that mind set that am also part of those Nigerians who takes advantage of people which within me i know am not. Please bear in mind that you are not doing this for me but for the love of humanity
Commentary: Here C returned to the question of race, linking denial of being racist with his not being a scammer. Then he reiterated how hard things were for him and tied helping him with saintly altruism.
C went on: When i was kicked out from my apartment and i need just $100 to complete my rent these back lady i don’t even know or chat with helped me and was part of the reason why i have a roof on my head today. If she had the same mind set most Americans have, consider every Nigerians to be a scammer she would not have help me and for her generosity i remaining debited to her.
Commentary: This was one of the first of many glaring inconsistencies. Earlier he’d said that his friend M paid his rent. Now it was a woman he hadn’t even chatted with. The other contradiction was how many brothers he had. One, R, was supposedly a law student.
In January, 2021, C came back to the rent issue. He said: Please this is very important to me and i don’t want you to be upset about it. Please i need your assistance, I need you to help me with a loan of ,$50 so i can pay someone i borrowed money from, she has been on my neck for days now. I promised her i was going to pay back this month end, and the month is ending few days from now and i don’t have it.
Commentary: In a video call, he described being scammed at the ATM by another Nigerian, thus losing his rent money. By this time, I was invested enough in the relationship to believe his story. I sent him $50. This was another huge mistake!
In Part II I’ll show how the scammer upped the pressure even more.