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.
Donations to the GoFundMe I had set up for C’s sister came in as I promoted it on social media and directly to friends and family. C ramped up his emotional manipulation and shifted to urgent/disaster mode.
C: Dec 3, 2021, 10:57 am. The doctor called today and i went to see him. He said he’s going to help talk to the financial department to allow us pay part payment so they can schedule S’s surgery but he said the surgery will likely be January because of the Xmas break and that there are many patient awaiting sugary who has completed all payments. So he asked me how much we have to make deposit and i told him and he said the financial department will only accept a part payment of $7000 and we should make available the balance before the surgery will be carried out
C: The reason why he gave the suggestion is because he said if we make available the full payment Sarah must have to wait because other patients have already been scheduled for surgery and it might take a little bit long. He said it is better we have a date fix for the surgery why will raise funds instead of raising the full payment and still wait for the hospital to fix a date for the surgery
Commentary: C sent a phone photo of a one-page statement with a flat fee for dialysis and surgery. That struck me as odd, given the itemization by American hospitals. The other dubious thing was that the statement was signed by the nephrologist. Do Nigerian doctors handle hospital financial arrangements? And what hospital closes for the Christmas break? I wasn’t yet suspicious enough to try to verify details with an internet search. When I did that, I was unable to find the hospital (the name was a for-profit chain, but I didn’t see this specific location or specialty). The nephrologist was a real doctor who practiced in India. I found no mention of S in the entering classes of her medical school.
What happened next was indeed fortunate. In the midst of C’s increasingly frequent and importunate pleas, Western Union declined to process the transfer twice. I went through two phone interviews, since apparently they flag all transfers to Nigeria, and as I answered, I could see the warnings go up, one after another. C began urging me to send the money through another, cash-based service, but I had to wait for Western Union to refund the money to my account. Then, almost by happenstance, I spoke with the manager and one of the tellers at my local bank. I do mean, “local.” We’re a close-knit community, and I’m on a first-name basis with the manager. The teller, upon hearing the situation, got very emotional about it being a scam. It turned out that a relative of hers had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to a romance scam. I wasn’t thrilled with her warnings, but her words caused me to step back and ask myself, “What if this really is a scam?”
Once I started questioning, the red flags went up everywhere. Most of them are mentioned above in my comments. What clinched it was this email from C:
C: Dec 7, 6:18 PM. Please, don’t allow anything happen to my only sister please am begging you with the name of God. The hospital management agreed to accept part payment which is not their policy but it was the help of the resident doctor who plead on our behalf because he saw how things was really bad for us and the expenses of keeping S much longer at the hospital. Please take it within yourself to go to the MoneyGram so we can at least add the money you want to send and the one we already have with us to at least get a date for the surgery while we still look out to raise the remaining balance for the surgery, thanks and God bless you.