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.