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I never thought it would happen to me. I always try to be careful, too careful, and skeptical in every situation. I see the downfalls, pits and valleys, roadblocks, lapse in common sense and logic, or whatever else there is to see to make me doubtful of a successful outcome in every situation. It’s the way I have always been. Low-risks for me. Slow and steady. Don’t take a too great of a risk, won’t get hurt too bad if it fails. Always be protective of myself. A recent situation, however, has changed my outlook on taking risks, even small ones. I was recently a victim of fraud. A scam is more like it. Whatever terminology one wants to use, I was the victim of it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I took a risk that I ended up on the losing side. I feel ashamed and embarrassed. Mostly, I feel anger. A lot of anger at myself for sure. A lot of anger, though, at those that scammed me and my financial institution’s response towards me in this situation.
I was separated from my job in early October. I had been steady fully employed for over 20 years, with the last 12 as a salaried manager in the restaurant business. My patience, and sanity, was at its limit dealing with the same nonsense repeatedly and not getting any different results (the very definition of insanity?). So, there was a change. I stepped away/mutually agreed to part ways (in the sense that my employer at the time did nothing to change my mind, consult with me on my reasons, etc.). I had a rarity in the hospitality industry: October through December off from working!! It was almost like a god-send. The busiest, most hectic time of the year, and I (cough) missed it. That part was a relief for me. I kept up a job search on websites and went on a few interviews. Problem was, all the interest I was receiving in the job market was for other restaurants. Something I was not keen on doing again. I figure I am still somewhat young enough to transition my skill, knowledge, and experience into another industry. An industry where I don’t have to work nights, weekends, or holidays anymore. A guy can have dreams, right?Hopes, even. Well, after two months of sitting around the house, I was approached via online what I had hoped was a good opportunity. Not only for myself, but my family. An opportunity to live a comfortable life and not stress about money too much. Working normal hours, with the option of working from home from time-to-time as well. These hopes of mine turned into a nightmare scenario. As the adage states, if it seems too good to be true, it is. Shame on me.
I was contacted by a “representative” of a company named Point Audit. She claimed to be the hiring manager for the company, who was looking to build an office in my area and was looking to hire. The position I was to be interviewed for was to be a project manager. Since I had never been one, I did figure my skills from the past 12 years can transition into the role, with a little guidance and training as well. After a few back and forth emails and phone interviews with two individuals, I was told I was to be hired on a probationary period of three weeks. After those three weeks I was to be hired with compensation of $2,000 for the successful completion of the training period. I was even sent a contract through email which I signed!! So far, so good, right? Everything seemed on the up-and-up, official, legal, and on the straight and narrow for me. I was so wrong.
Soon after I was “hired,” I was contacted via email by their training manager. The gentleman listed out what the training entailed, which was me reading their training manual and answering the questions he provides for each chapter every day. There were 12 chapters in the book, so we were communicating with each other daily. I felt good about this situation. I read the training material, took it seriously, and answered back as thoroughly as possible. Every day he would email me with glowing reviews of my work. There was communication and official letterhead emails from the company. I thought this was legit, and I was doing well!! After the 12 chapter reading assignments/answers, I was given a final 10 question test that encompassed the entire training manual. After a few days, I was assured I had passed all the testing phases and the training manager was waiting for final confirmation from his bosses on when to move forward. A week went by and I heard nothing back, so I sent few reminder/hello emails to the gentleman to stay on track for this position. He never returned any of my emails. He had ceased all communications with me and he had disappeared into the wind. I was hurt and saddened. Shame on them. However, this is only part of my story, the more of an inconvenience section. The next part of my ordeal hurt me much more, both emotionally and financially. It is in the next part that I lost some of my faith in myself as well as in society.
Concurrent to communicating with the training manager daily for almost three weeks, I was in contact with their “project manager.” His job, in connection to my daily reading tasks, was to perform projects or tasks that were related to my upcoming job. Again, I was communicating with this gentleman daily through email, and even by phone on occasion. His responsibility was to get me familiar with practical project functions in real world applications. He would email me guidelines on how to perform projects and make it applicable in an actual setting. As a few days went by, he had given me the task, seemingly based on my competency so I thought, of visiting three separate Apple stores in my area and making purchases in preparation for the new office that was to open in my area. I was to be compensated $2,000 with the successful completion of this phase (that’s $4,000 bonus money promised to me altogether). Here is the kicker: I was to purchase Apple gift cards with my personal credit card up to my allowable limit, and I was to break the purchases up into smaller denomination gift cards, not just one large denomination gift card at each store. He had sent me “official company guidelines” on the reasoning for the use of personal a credit card instead of using an official company credit card. He asked me what my purchasing limit was for my card, which should have been a warning sign to me in retrospect. I guess I was too enthused in getting this job that I was partly blinded on some of the details. He even sent me guidelines on what type of computers I was to purchase once all the gift cards were collected. Again, all the emails and guidelines and so forth were used with official company letterhead and graphs and documents. It looked legit to me and felt it. I was then to send the gift card information over to him through email, then I would be reimbursed the amount of purchase from bank-to-bank transfers from their financial institution to mine.
After I made the first round of purchases, I received the guidelines for making the bank-to-bank transfers. After the initial failure of the transfer (in part, I was told, due to their bank and mine being the same and it wasn’t allowed), I received information about another account from a different institution. The transfers worked, and after a few days, I went out to make the second round of purchases. After the second round of purchases, and another transfer to cover the credit card debit, I started receiving emails from my financial institution about failed transfers. After a few back to back communication (again, we were communicating daily), I called my bank to try and resolve the outstanding debit. After a few more back and forths with the representative and my bank, the outstanding debit was fluctuating. It was at a point where I could make the final round of gift card purchases. After I mad the final round of gift card purchases and sent the representative the gift card information via email, I continued attempting the bank-to-bank transfers. After about a week, I was finally notified that all the transfers had failed, and my credit card had been closed. I had alerted the representative of the situation of credit card debt, but he never responded back. Just as the other representative, he had ceased all information with me and left me dangling in the wind. Worse yet, liable for the outstanding balance on my closed credit card. The outstanding balance is now sitting at $19,000. Shame on me.
I do feel ashamed by what had transpired. I was pursuing a desirable job and allowed that pursuit to cloud over my better judgment. I have never been a victim such as this before. I do blame those scam artists for prying on me, allowing me to work and believe I was working towards a beneficial goal. I also partly blame myself for falling into a trap that should have been obvious to me. Even worse, it seemed as if my bank doesn’t really care what happened, just if I pay back the outstanding balance. I reported what had happened to my bank, and they constantly reminded me that I would be the one liable to pay back the debt. All $19,000 of it. The scam artists who preyed on my vulnerabilities make off with $19,000 worth of merchandise thanks to me. My multi-billion-dollar operation of a bank only cares that I, and apparently, I alone, pay back their money. Which I have no way of doing. I have contacted the Better Business Bureau, my state’s Attorney General Office, local news stations, and anyone else willing to hear my tale. As of this writing, everything is still pending, as I am trying to figure out how to pay back the bank the $19,000.
This has turned out to be a cautionary tale for me and others that I can educate. Always keep your guard up. Always be skeptical. Ask as many questions and seek to get firm answers, as often as possible. You alone are responsible for yourself, as when all is done, no one is going to care about your situation as much as you. Banks and other financial institutions only care about their bottom line, not their customers.
And, of course, if something sounds too good to be true, it just may be.