On Being a Victim of Fraud

As I walked away I knew something wasn’t right. I think I knew deep down that what had just taken place wasn’t normal or didn’t quite sit well. Within a small chunk of grey flesh there was a screaming light, but a light that knew it was too late to do anything. The deed had already taken place. So the remaining 95% of my brain ignored it and instead focused on either fighting off train travel exhaustion following the London Paddington to Swindon commute, or pumped me full of feel good endorphins to convince me otherwise.

As I entered my house I felt relief at being back after a two hour journey across capital and country. I also felt a little niggle grow bigger and bigger, a small light turning into a flame that turned into a small voice. Stupid girl, stupid girl.

But it was only once I’d made my tea, unpacked my bag and lowered myself to my king size bed that I suddenly realised what had happened thirty minutes prior. A cocktail of emotions poured from my mind and into my exhausted body, filling it with hollowness and shock.

“I’ve been scammed.”

Since moving to London I’d been on my guard so much with criminals and scam artists. Working and living in some of the biggest tourist hot spots, the central location comes with it’s warning labels. But Swindon? A small town I’ve lived in for almost four years. Swindon? How? How could it be possible? How could I have been so foolish?

Stupid girl, stupid girl, stupid girl.

But she came up to me in a real flap, she said she needed the money to get a train to Reading to collect keys to her house she’d lost. Stupid girl. She said her name was Sarah and she needed to borrow my phone to make a call. Her Aunt was old so no surprise she didn’t pick up. She said she didn’t know what to do or where she could go. I offered her £10 cash but she said she needed more and suggested we go to an ATM to get more funds. Stupid girl, stupid girl. So I offered her £16, all I had in my purse. Stupid girl. She asked for my bank details but I said no, because I’m not stupid, and instead exchanged numbers. She then took her phone out and called me, despite claiming to not have a phone. I was so caught in the moment of it all, so overwhelmed with tiredness and her stress, how was I to spot this at the time? Stupid girl, stupid girl, stupid girl. We then parted on good terms with her telling me to text her in a few hours as a reminder to get details for the money transfer. Stupid, stupid, stupid girl.

I sat on the bed, texting my family and friends in rage that this could happen. I then lay awake all night feeling nothing but irritation and madness at myself for being so easily fooled. Conned by a middle aged lady with a pathetic dramatic act that must have been used before. Curiosity welling inside me, at 2am I Google searched the Reading-based number of the relative she’d called earlier. The search results came up with one place, The Thames Valley Probation and Rehabilitation Centre. The sour taste of bile in the back of my throat kept me awake until dawn accompanied by a gritty squawk in the front of my mind.

Stupid girl, stupid girl, stupid girl.

The bile taste lingered until noon when, on calling the probation office, they told me there was nothing they could do and the voice quietened down just recently after I made an appeal on social media and discovered I wasn’t the first, nor worst, affected by the middle-aged scam artist. I logged my incident with the non-emergency police line 101 and hung up knowing there was nothing more I could do. Providing the police with new information such as her mobile number and age (she’d stated she was 36 when previous victims thought she looked mid 50s) made me feel I’d contributed towards the effort. Still a stupid girl though. The voice gets quieter as the 95% of the skull-imprisoned decides to reassert its authority over the pessimistic portion. 24 hours is long enough.

Sitting here now, typing this piece to a backdrop of classical music and my friend practising her violin I realise for the first time in my life what it must feel like to be a victim of fraud. I look around my room and it’s a mess, as if the moment I realised what had happened to me became the moment time temporarily stopped. My suitcase is half unpacked, by bedding scrunched up from where I’d been tossing and turning in the night. The money taken off me was trivial compared to what someone people go through and it could have been a lot worse (at least I don’t have to face cancelling my banking cards or worrying that I could have my identity stolen at any moment). If this Sarah reached out to me now would I happily send my personal details over via text so she could supposedly transfer me the money? Would the risk really be worth the price of a rail ticket?

Until yesterday I assumed all con artists now operate online, that they’re all pale-faced, digital savvy youths who live thousands of miles away in cellars with banks and banks of computers. Until yesterday I assumed that victims of fraud fell into older age brackets, that young people didn’t fall for such silly tricks. Well now I know I was wrong and if nothing else I’ve paid a middle aged woman £16 to teach me that lesson and quite possibly make me a more understanding and empathic human being.

Stupid girl.

8 thoughts on “On Being a Victim of Fraud

  1. Sorry to hear this happened to you

    I travel on UK public transport a lot and scammers with these kinds of stories are, unfortunately, not uncommon. They’re actually pretty good at drawing you into ridiculous webs of lies involving sick relatives, false identities and, somehow, being stuck at the wrong railway station

    Experience has taught me to not talk to strangers on public transport. This upsets me at some level because I know that, eventually, I’ll dismiss someone who’s genuinely in need of help but it’s a protective measure I’m willing to take

    Treat this as a learning experience…

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  2. It doesn’t make you stupid, it makes you human! I had a ‘pregnant’ lady come up to me and ask if I had any change to help her get a taxi as she needed to go for a check up.

    Probably was a scam but with all these things they could very well be legit so no point beating yourself up about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It can happen to anyone, don’t be too hard on yourself. I gave the ‘crying boy’ £2 once, not knowing at the time he was a well known scam artist. Same story needed to get a train to Reading. It was only £2 but I felt so stupid that I’d fell for it, especially as prior to that I had been adamant I wouldn’t give money to anyone.

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    • I have heard about this ‘Crying Boy’ a lot in recent days. When was he doing the rounds? I’ve been living in Swindon for almost four years now and I felt that when it came to my own town I knew when to spot a scam artist when I saw one. I think the frustration stems from that more than anything.

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  4. I thought I would never fall for something like this, until 2 months ago. It was outside Borough tube station on a normal commute to work. An upset woman with black curly hair approached me. She said she had just been to a job interview but had lost her credit card and needed to get home to Reading. At the time I was thinking this sounds a bit like a scam, but what if it’s true? I wouldn’t want to turn down someone in need. I ended up giving her the full amount she asked for, £30 😕. I walked on to work none the wiser and it was my colleague who told me it was a scam. At first I was defiant, determined that she would call to pay me back. But obviously the call didn’t come and the overall feeling was embarrassment. This is the first time I’ve told anyone beyond my work colleague. Mainly to save face.

    I do wonder how she avoids repeat sightings. She has a very memorable appearance so surely couldn’t do it more than once at a particular station. She must be known to police given the number of victims, maybe it’s too small an amount for them to care, or she works across boroughs so it’s hard for an individual police force to pursue. I personally would be very interested to see her again. Observe her act and maybe catch it on camera. Then her profitable career may come to an end.

    Looking back it’s not a terrible loss of money, maybe the cost of a fraud awareness course. So that’s what I try to see it as.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Will for sharing your experience, especially as it sounds like this is something you’ve previously been very guarded about. It’s for similar reasons of embarrassment that I debated whether to publish this post after I’d written it, that it opened up the wound further. But in many ways exposing myself to a wider community gave me solace that I wasn’t the only one, so I hope sharing your experience here has helped given you at least some closure that you’re not alone.

      It may be a bit late for you now, but after some locals pointed me in the right direction I eventually reported my incident to the police. At the time I thought I was wasting police time by giving a statement, but it has since transpired that this woman has ollectively stolen hundreds of pounds from taking £20 and £30 from people here and there. Do it enough times and it mounts up to a lot. The police also knew this women, she’s a known criminal (make of that what you like!) so every account helped put a case together. I’d be surprised if the police didn’t know your scammer, particularly if she was positioning herself in such a busy public area.

      To end on a humourous spin, why do they always need to get a train to Reading? Is there a book of scams circulating that they base their act off?

      AEB.

      Liked by 1 person

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