Monday, January 17, 2022

I Survived a Nigerian Scam Part III: Disaster Mode


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.

Part II: Raising the Stakes


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.

I didn’t reply.

C: Dec 8, 2021, 11:07 am. Can i ask you for a favour please. I wanted you to help talk to the doctor on my behalf because he feels i don't want to make the payment like he advised me to become i told him i already raised the advance payment and he didn't believe me because i told him i was going to make the payment this week. Why i want you to talk to him is because i told him my friend in the US is the one raising the money for S’s surgery and secondly the only uncle i have is not educated and he lives in the village and can't speak correctly apart from my local language so since you are educated and  expose, talk to him that you are the one raising the money for the surgery bill and you had difficulty transfer the money to Nigeria because of the bad reputation Nigeria had in the international community

Commentary: There was no way I was going to talking to a Nigerian “doctor.” I had not the slightest doubt that I’d be speaking to an accomplice who would pressure me into a commitment to send the money immediately in untraceable cash. In checking C’s FB profile, I saw his nickname as “C Billion” and memes saying, “Billionaire Values.” His occupation was listed as motivational speaker. I wondered how I had never noticed these things before. I also searched for GoFundMe scams and discovered that persuading someone in the US to set one up for a beneficiary in a non-eligible country is a known strategy.

Returning to my story, C wasn’t done trying.

C: Dec 9, 2021, 11:26 am. Hi, i hope you are good? I'm really depressed right now and i need someone to talk to. I don't know if you can be of help??

Me: I've decided to not go forward with this. I've contacted GoFundMe and the donations are being refunded.

I blocked him on FB.

A few days later, C messaged me on Instagram:

C: December 15, 2021 10:46 am. Please don't be upset. We have know each other for years now and have come a long way. if i have wrong you in anyway i am sorry all am asking is for you to tell me where i went wrong please for the sake of our friendship over the years. Why don't you tell me what i did wrong and hear from me?

December 16, 2021 1:30 am. Even if you don't want us to be friends at least just tell me what i did to you that you got upset and never want to hear from me. If probably i have wrong you, don't have deserve the right to find out what i did wrong?

December 18, 2021 3:08 pm. Please just tell me what i did wrong and i promise not to write you again. I just want to say am sorry to you and i promise to say away from you

December 21, 2021 10:36am. S is dying  Why do you have to abandoned us at this time? You would have heard from me before taking any action but rather you choose not to which i think was wrong considering our friendship over the years. My sister is lying there in the hospital with no one to help. Life has been so difficult for us this few weeks but i believe God has a plan for us and whatever we are going through right now will all be history tomorrow but i won't stop being greateful to your family for all what you did for us, thank you so much!

Commentary: By this time, I knew better than to respond. I wondered how S had gone from hospitalized on dialysis to dying, and decided it was yet another attempt to push me into crisis mode. I saw the final sentence as a way of “leaving the door open” to further manipulation. 

I blocked and reported him on Instagram.

While I was preparing this blog series, I unblocked C on FB to refresh my memory. He messaged me with Merry Christmas greetings without any reference to his last messages. Keeping the door open and pulling for renewed engagement, indeed!


A few parting comments. I’ve become much more suspicious about new requests on social media. Social media creates the illusion of a relationship (C’s reference to “our friendship over the years”). Wanting to be open-minded and kind opened me to manipulation. Finally, scammers can be very, very good at what they do. They know how to exploit openings and push through them.

I am incredibly lucky to have lost such a small amount of money and to have discovered the GoFundMe scam in time. I wrote to all the donors, apologized, and returned their money. They were amazingly understanding. I also contacted our mutual FB friends and explained the situation. One told me that he had “hit on her for marriage.” Others said they were immediately suspicious of him. I said their instincts were better than mine!

As embarrassing as this entire episode has been, I’ve been given the chance to make things right. One part of that has been to make financial restitution to those who have been so generous and who have trusted my judgment. Another has been to share this story, with details and analysis I wish I had known before. Perhaps in the future it might help somebody else.


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