I didn’t know how bad off I was — until I was fooled.
This is a story about desperation. Mine, and maybe one day yours.
If you ever get this desperate — if you ever, as I did, think you’re okay, think you are handling things, think things are under control, and then discover through the tiniest, tiniest crack in the armor that you’re in danger of losing everything — I want you to stop, and to think, and to remember what I say now: You’re really not okay, and that’s okay.
I’ve written about the day a small-seeming roof repair showed me how very fucked-up my finances are. That roof leak awakened me, and set me on the path to get out of debt somehow, to do better.
But I did not tell the whole truth in that post, and here’s why: I was ashamed.
If you ever get this desperate, I want you to remember what I say now: You’re really not okay, and that’s okay.
It started like this: I had listed my resume on Upwork, as one does. I have a demanding full-time job, but the salary alone is not making a dent. I was looking for work as an editor, a writer, anything having to do with my special talent with words.
I’d been trawling the site tirelessly, responding again and again to requests for qualifications, getting nowhere. Then one day an email arrived in my inbox — not at my inbox at UpWork, but in my personal email account, which should have been my first tip-off.
The company was seeking remote workers, offering a very good hourly by content-mill standards — plus benefits.
It seemed too good to be true, so I checked out the company — and I was relieved to discover it was real. Michel Dreano was also real, though he seemed a little high up to be hiring temps. I glossed right over that weird dr.com return address and the Gmail account for the recruiter — after all, the company was moving fast, and I’d worked with startups before. Sometimes their email addresses were a little temporary like that.
Just to be on the safe side before scheduling my chat with the special code they’d given me, I wrote:
The reply was stiff but professional, even soothing:
The interview, done by Gchat, was pretty polished. Questions good, interaction pleasant. I didn’t once ask myself why it wasn’t conducted on camera, or by phone. I was wincingly vulnerable in my answers.
The next day, as scheduled, I “showed up” for a morning chat, where they told me I got the job. The requirements were three nights a week, four hours a night. The compensation was $85 per hour. Soon, I’d be able to almost double my salary with a little part-time work. They’d even offered me benefits.
They sent me my contract — was it a red flag that the logo of the company was a little stretched, a little off? Was it odd that they did not collect any identification paperwork, like my Social Security number? No, it was a relief. In fact, I remember thinking to myself, “Well, if this were a scam, they would have collected more information from me.”
I discussed each step of this with my husband. We were skeptical, but I kept going. I saw every sign that I was being scammed; I just wanted to be out of debt more than I wanted to acknowledge the truth. I kept the morning chat appointments with my “recruiter” for a week, during which the requirements of the job were never discussed, only the arrangement for obtaining and shipping the specially designed computer they said I’d need.
I discussed each step of this with my husband. We were skeptical, but I kept going. I saw every sign that I was being scammed; I just wanted to be out of debt more than I wanted to acknowledge the truth.
This was the heart of the scam: I was to be sent a special workstation that would enable me to work remotely for them. Initially, they asked me to find out which local UPS or FedEx store it could be sent to. Then they told me they were unable to send it to me, and asked that I purchase it according to the specs they would send me. Then I would be reimbursed.
(Had I continued, I have no doubt that it would have been some variation on the fake check scam, whereby they would offer to send me funds — inevitably more than I need for the equipment — and then request that I send a “refund” for the difference to a third party).
On Thursday, our entire morning chat was about how much I could transfer out of my bank that day using my bank’s phone app. I actually pursued the conversation even then. I so badly wanted this salvation to be true. But a cold, sick tingling had crept down my throat into my gut, and I hung up knowing I could not avoid the truth anymore. This was a fraud.
No magical opportunity had landed in my lap.
No one wanted to pay me premium money for a few hours of nightly editing.
I would not see the end of debt this year, or the next, or even the next.
There was no way out.
There was no way out, but if I could stay awake and not give in to this longing for salvation, there would be a way through.
The next day, I did not keep the chat appointment. A few minutes after the appointed time, my cellphone lit up . It was a text from the “recruiter,” reaching out to me on a cell phone number I’d never given him.
I typed back: “You have been reported.”
I never heard from him again.
No magical opportunity had landed in my lap. There was no way out, but there would be a way through.
I took all the proper steps to protect my family, blocking the scammers on social media and on my phone, reporting my experience to whatever authorities I could, freezing my credit reports (you should do that, too), warning my bank, filing a report with the nearly toothless FTC. I also contacted poor unsuspecting Relief Therapeutics to give them a heads up.
After the fear wore off, new emotions took over.
I was disappointed. I was so disappointed.
I was desperately sad. And really ashamed.
The work of forgiveness is messy. It involves, first, understanding.
The work of forgiveness is messy. It involves, first, understanding. To forgive myself, I had to understand that I did not “have this under control,” that I could not fix my debt through sheer innovation and luck, and that I was not, currently, making clear-headed decisions. That last was perhaps the most important for me: To recognize that I was not invincible, that my strength did not derive from any flawlessness or ultimate power, but from something more essential, tender, and prone to damage. It emerged from my love for my family.
It was love that had driven me to this desperate measure, to accepting, even if just for a week, this devil’s bargain. In fact, it was love that had driven me into debt. See, I was in the habit of saying “yes” to every request from a loved one I could. My overspending was not frivolous, but it was avoidable. And, too, there were plenty of debts that couldn’t be helped: life-happens debts for medical care, humane pet care, car repairs, home repairs, and necessities. So much of this burden of debt that I carry is love, made manifest in ciphers and cents.
If I want to get out of debt, I will have to work at it day in and day out the hard way, using my salary and maybe a handful of other change I might earn along the way, plus my husband’s salary once he gets out of school. And if I want to have a life while carrying that debt, I will have to start by seeing who I really am, and loving her just as much as I love everyone else in my life. She is a flawed, overly vulnerable, sometimes laughably gullible beauty of a human. She is the only me, and I do love her.
So much of this burden of debt that I carry is love, made manifest in ciphers and cents.
So my first moment of true freedom in a long time — freedom from lying to myself, freedom from assuming “everything would soon be okay,” freedom from the self-delusion that all it took was one lucky break — was the moment I realized that I’d let some stranger own me because I wanted an easy answer.
The hangover of that moment is with me now. I cannot punch my way out of this corner. I have to move, slow and steady, and never let up. I have to stay sane, stay safe, and never let anyone else tell me they have the solution. I have to just …not lose my nerve.
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