Hook, Line, & Sinker

Seven Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed

Part One—Introduction

In this five-part series, Hook, Line, and Sinker—Seven Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed, I will give you seven strategies to avoid being taken in by scammers. I will share my experience with my scammer and show you the red flags I didn’t see or ignored. I will discuss the importance of doing your due diligence before getting involved with any person or organization. I will help you become more informed and make decisions based on facts rather than feelings. I will also offer Seven Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed.

When I finally realized I had been scammed, I was thousands of dollars in and felt more stupid than I had ever felt. How did I let myself get sucked in? I’m smarter than that, aren’t I? After all, I’m halfway through my seventh decade of life. I survived widowhood, remarried, raised six children, completed my Bachelor’s degree, wrote and published two books, and have a myriad of life experiences under my belt.

But I fell for it—hook, line, and sinker. And I was embarrassed and ashamed. I wanted to slink away in the dead of night. But then, something a private investigator said hit me like a brick, “Listen, Charlene, she’s duped way bigger than you.”

You see, intelligence and stupidity have nothing to do with being scammed. Victims of scammers come from every demographic, including bankers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, law enforcement, work-from-home parents, students, government agencies, and university graduates, to name a few.

In my case, the woman who scammed me had asked to be a presenter at a widow’s retreat a friend and I were hosting. She introduced herself through emails and phone calls and sent her bio for us to include in the programs. Her bio said she had been “a successful leader in Healthcare and Business Development.” She was “an accomplished International Medical Advocate . . .” It also stated that she “is the CEO and Founder of 3 multi-million dollar companies, . . .”

Her accolades included honors and awards from magazines and various organizations. Her bio went on to say, “With humor and grace, [she] recounts lessons learned through infancy loss, cancer, and betrayal in divorce. She is a friendly face and fierce advocate for the hurting and broken-hearted.” And she didn’t want to be paid for her services. How could we refuse?

At the widow’s retreat, we weren’t disappointed. She was dynamic, well-spoken, and approachable. She brought lots of bling and swag for our widows and encouraged them to look for ways to become entrepreneurs. During one of our breaks, I told her I was writing a book, and I hoped to finish it before the beginning of the summer. She encouraged me to complete it because she wanted to work with me to create online teaching materials and workshops for widows.

A few months after the widow’s retreat, the woman read my manuscript at my request and said she planned to write the Forward for my book. When I told her I couldn’t afford to pay her, she assured me she would write the Forward, and that was that. There was never a question of money.

A couple of months before my book, Devotion Deception Deliverance—Isaac’s Story, was published, the woman called with an offer to represent me and help market my book. “I believe in you,” she told me. “And I believe in this book. I want to do everything I can to help you get this story out there.”

She explained that she had connections, including being “a contributing author and launch team member for several New York Times Best Selling authors.” She said she could get my book listed on Amazon because that was an important market. And she told me she would introduce me to podcasters, broadcasters, reporters, videographers, and others who could help get my name out there.

She said she didn’t come cheap when I asked what her services would cost. But she knew my budget was tight, so she offered me her friends and family discount, approximately 50% off the three-month contract price.

After much thought and discussion with my husband, I signed the contract and wired the money per her instructions. Her promise to get my book on Amazon never materialized. She promised tickets for me and three guests to a fundraiser gala where I was to be the guest author, but when my husband, son, and daughter-in-law arrived, no one knew who we were. And aside from three podcasts, the interviews and introductions never came to fruition.

She did place my book on a seller’s platform over which I had no access or control. She explained that the money from book sales during the first 30 days would be paid from her account to my PayPal account after the 30-day interim period. The seller’s account would then be turned over to me to “cut out the middle man” and make her tax guy happy. Approximately 50 books, give or take a few, were sold through that platform. She forwarded the shipping information to me but no money, and I shipped each book.

When I asked about the money, the woman gave me reason after excuse with the promise that I would get the money as soon as this or that happened. To date, however, I have never collected a dime of the money she received for the sale of my book, Devotion Deception Deliverance—Isaac’s Story.

In Part Two of Hook, Line, and Sinker—Seven Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed, I will discuss the red flags I didn’t see or didn’t heed.

Part Two—Red Flags

In Part One of Hook, Line, and Sinker—Seven Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed, I shared a little of my story. As you read, you may have wondered if I had seen red flags along the way. . . . The answer is yes.

The expression “raise a red flag” comes from actual red flags being raised to signal danger and can be traced back to the 18th century. A red flag raised on the beach indicates hazardous water conditions. In auto racing, a waving red flag indicates conditions on the track that are too dangerous for the race to continue. A red flag in a wilderness area indicates hazardous fire conditions.

In today’s slang, a red flag is a term that refers to someone or something that may be problematic or dangerous and should act as a warning. For instance, you read negative reviews for some gadget you want to purchase. Those reviews are red flags to help ensure you don’t waste your money. If you shrug off those red flags and go ahead with your purchase, you shouldn’t be surprised when your gadget falls apart soon after receiving it.

However, the problem with red flags in today’s slang is that we generally aren’t looking for them. We treat people how we want to be treated and take for granted that everyone else is doing the same. And if we don’t act on our gut feelings or reactions when the red flags appear, it is easy to talk ourselves into believing we’re being silly, cynical, or overly cautious. Rather than trust ourselves, we doubt our doubts.

In my case, the red flags showed up from the beginning at our widow’s retreat. With no courtesy call or heads-up, the woman walked into the conference room fifteen minutes late for our first session. She made no apologies. She told us she never apologized for being late because she was worth the wait—red flag.

As she spoke and answered questions, she seemed to be an expert on almost everything our widows talked about—red flag. And she shared fantastic yet vague stories about herself—red flag.

She talked to me later about branding myself to sell my book, Devotion Deception Deliverance—Isaac’s Story, and told me repeatedly what a great speaker I was, although she had only heard me give a three-minute introduction of myself before she left to take her children to Disneyland—red flag.

I called her on our way home from picking up my books from my publisher and asked if we could meet to give her a couple of copies. I asked for her business address, but she said she would meet us at Maverik, a combination gas station and convenience store—red flag. She was 45 minutes late and made no apologies—red flag.

She didn’t send me a contract to sign for about a month after starting to work with me to market my book—red flag. When she finally sent it, I signed it and wired the money per her instructions. (I would later find out that her wiring instructions were to her personal account rather than a business account. Before wiring the funds, a check with the bank or credit union would have thrown up a bright red flag.)

Amazon book launch day, 2/15/2023, came, but my book wasn’t there—red flag. She told me Amazon wanted to see a contract between Isaac and me—red flag. Then, a week later, she told me Amazon wanted to know if I could get some other information for them—red flag. Two weeks later, she told me Amazon had shut down two of her business accounts because of my book—red flag.

She told me I had been invited as a special guest author for a fundraiser gala, and she had gotten four tickets for me and three guests. No one knew who I was when I arrived at the gala with my husband, son, and daughter-in-law—red flag. When I gave them this woman’s name, no one knew who she was—red flag. We eventually got in, and she took all the credit, telling me it was only the best for her clients—red flag.

After nearly three months of selling my book through an account over which I had no control—red flag—I asked her for the money. Excuses were made, and the run-around began in earnest. By now, there were too many red flags to ignore, and I no longer doubted my doubts.

Around this time, someone I had met at the gala a couple of months before asked how long I had known this woman and whether or not we were friends. She explained that this woman wasn’t who I thought she was and I needed to be very careful. I spoke with a private investigator who filled in some of the blanks. Looking back, I could see every red flag I had ignored—and a few others I hadn’t noticed.

In Part Three of Hook, Line, and Sinker—Seven Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed, I will discuss my lack of due diligence in this scam.

Part Three—Due Diligence

In Part Two of Hook, Line, and Sinker—Seven Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed, I explained the red flags I ignored or didn’t see as I got involved with the woman who scammed me. Although I was scammed, I do not consider myself a victim. I was not helpless to her schemes. The fact is that I didn’t do my due diligence to protect myself.

When the woman first approached my friend and me about being part of our widow’s retreat in Disneyland, we should have checked her business license and credentials. We should have scrutinized her bio and sourced her claims. We should have asked for references.

Upon further investigation, I learned that her bio was a babbling bundle of doublespeak with visions of grandeur tossed around to impress anyone who read it. As I combed through her bio with the private investigator, he explained that people often capitalize bogus titles to trick the reader into thinking they are legitimate positions. “Healthcare and Business Development” and “International Medical Advocate” were not official titles, and there was no reason for capitalization.

Her claim of being “the CEO and Founder of 3 multi-million dollar companies” was vague, not mentioning companies’ names. As for her accolades and honors, we never checked with any of those organizations to verify their authenticity.

So, why didn’t my friend and I check this out before allowing her to be part of our widow’s retreat? Simply put, we were in awe that someone of her caliber would want to help us. We couldn’t believe our luck as she told us about her accomplishments and connections. We were just simple women doing our best to do a good thing for other women walking the path my friend and I had each walked. We didn’t have anything to offer the widows but our experience and compassion. But this woman was larger than life, and she was willing to help make our retreat a success. She had excellent ideas and guidance regarding social media and spreading the word. And she brought lots of bling and swag for our widows. In short, we couldn’t believe our luck. And we never dreamed someone would con us with such ingenious cunning.

For my part, I published a book that had taken four-and-a-half years of my life with interviews, research, writing, and re-writing. I had been a writer for several years, but had never written a full-length book. When I finished, I was proud of my work and excited to share Devotion Deception Deliverance—Isaac’s Story with the world. Isaac is a wonderful man who is a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). He was raised in a polygamous family and had been married to two women when FLDS leader Warren Jeffs kicked him out of the church. His courage in sharing his story touched me, and I couldn’t wait for others to read it.

But I knew nothing about marketing besides word-of-mouth with family and friends. My publisher didn’t provide marketing, so I couldn’t rely on that. I had to figure it out myself. And that is where this woman came in. Her claims of being “a contributing author and launch team member for several New York Times Best Selling authors” and helping several authors make it to Amazon’s best sellers list convinced me she was my best choice for marketing my book. And she was willing to do everything she could and give me full access to her A-team for a discounted price. What luck!

But I didn’t do my due diligence. I didn’t ask for the authors’ names or the books’ titles. It would have been so easy, and I could have checked with those authors to find out about their association with this woman. But I didn’t slow down long enough to take a breath. Instead, I let her choose the pace, and she gave me the run-around without my even realizing it.

I signed the woman’s branding and marketing contract in January. But I didn’t verify her business licenses until the middle of May, after realizing I had been scammed. It took minutes to learn that the contract I had signed was for a business that didn’t exist. I then checked several more businesses she claimed to own, only to find that none were licensed through the state. She did have one expired business license for her nonprofit. I also learned that she had applied for professional licensure as a registered nurse four times, and had been denied all four times. So much for her claim of being a nurse practicioner.

I stared at my computer screen for a few minutes. Then I purchased those business names and licenses so she couldn’t one day back-date them and legitimize businesses that never legally existed, including the one whose contract I had signed. Admittedly, that may seem extreme, and I am not suggesting or encouraging others to do the same. But a quick check of a person’s business license could help you decide whether or not to get involved with them.

The fact that she scammed me out of thousands of dollars is on her. But I take full responsibility for not doing my due diligence before being scammed. Knowing what I now know, I advise anyone who will listen to trust no one and maintain skepticism. Ask for references. Check claims. Verify business licenses. Hire a private investigator. The truth is that the more elaborate the story and claims, the more apt we are to get pulled in—hook, line, and sinker.

It has never been easier to do your due diligence. It may save you from turning over your hard-earned money to a scammer. And it may very well save your sanity.

In Part Four of Hook, Line, and Sinker—Seven Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed, I will share some steps you can take to become more informed.

Part Four—Becoming More Informed

In Part Three of Hook, Line, and Sinker—Seven Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed, I told you about my lack of due diligence before getting involved with the woman who scammed me. Before I decided to share my story publicly, I had to deal with my embarrassment and shame. People who have been scammed are often afraid to tell family and friends. And I was no different. I worried they would view me as incapable of seeing what was before me. Or they would see me as someone too vulnerable to make an informed decision. When I finally told them, most were understanding and supportive. And I learned I wasn’t the only one in my circle of acquaintances who had succumbed to a scam. So, how do you protect yourself? Here are Seven Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed:
  • Forget about embarrassment or shame. Tell your family. Share with your friends. File a complaint with your state Attorney General’s Office. Scammers want you to keep your interaction with them secret. Without secrecy, their scams won’t work.
  • Keep personal information private. Your bank or credit union will never call to ask for your PIN. The IRS will send a notice by mail before attempting to contact you by phone. Amazon will never ask for sensitive personal information.
  • Don’t give money to unfamiliar people or companies. You don’t need tickets to the police or firefighters ball. Your niece, nephew, or neighbor isn’t in a foreign jail. Your student loan isn’t going to be forgiven.
  • Slow down. Don’t be rushed. Scammers require knee-jerk decisions because that impairs rational thinking and encourages people to act impulsively. Take a deep breath or three, then hang up the phone and block the number. If you are in an in-person situation, stop the conversation and walk away. Don’t stick around long enough for the scammer to work their con by continuing to talk.
  • Up your vigilance game. Remember the adage: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. No matter how intrigued you may be, repeat that line out loud or in your mind. It has never been more true. The promises this woman made to me regarding the marketing of my book, Devotion Deception. Deliverance—Isaac’s Story sounded good . . . too good.
  • Beware of love bombing. This form of psychological abuse, manipulation, and grooming can include showering you with excessive praise, special offers, i.e., the friends and family discount, wild promises, and gifts. Love bombing is one area where staying vigilant is vital.
  • Fully understand the offer and the one doing the offering. A simple internet search will often yield a lot of pertinent information, including legal reports, complaints, reviews, partnerships, affiliations, etc.

Bonus: Recognizing Charity and Nonprofit Fraud and Scams. Charity and nonprofit fraud and scams occur when individuals or organizations mislead donors about their purposes and where and how their donations will be used. When individuals or organizations embezzle or misuse charitable funds for personal gain, such as forged signatures, manipulation of financial records, and misappropriation of funds, this is an internal charity and nonprofit fraud. When individuals or organizations create false charities by using the name or form of the name of a legitimate charity to solicit donations, this is an external charity and nonprofit fraud. This type of fraud or scam can include online crowdfunding, phishing scams, telemarketing fraud, and falsified invoices, among other things. Whether internal or external, the sole purpose of these frauds and scams is to relieve trusting individuals of their money. After one nonprofit fraud was recently brought to light, several donors said they would think twice before getting involved with a charity or nonprofit again. And you can’t blame them. But there are many, many legitimate charitable and nonprofit organizations. Here are four strategies for doing your due diligence before donating money, time, or other resources:
  • Research the organization’s mission statement and history. Visit their website and check out any affiliations.
  • Ask what percentage of your donation will be used for overhead. Ideally, no more than 25% should go to overhead costs.
  • Donate using a check or credit card. That way, you have a record of what you paid, who you paid, and when you paid. Asking that you donate by wire transfer, or through the use of gift cards, or cryptocurrency is a red flag you should not ignore.
  • Do not take any charitable or nonprofit organization or individual at face value. Research everything you can about the individual or organization before opening your checkbook. Websites such as https://www.guidestar.org/search, https://www.charitynavigator.org, https://give.org/, or the IRS will provide you with the information you need to make an educated choice.

You may be wary of trusting your instincts if you have been scammed. But with some education and research, you can protect yourself, your money, and your reputation. In Part Five of Hook, Line, and Sinker—Seven Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed, I will share some of my takeaways after being scammed.

Part Five—My Takeaways

In the first four parts of Hook, Line, and Sinker—Seven Strategies to Avoid Being Scammed, I talked about my story with my scammer, red flags, doing my due diligence, and becoming more informed. Here are my takeaways:

As I recap all that has happened since meeting this woman, I can’t believe it has been less than two years since first meeting her at our widow’s retreat in Disneyland. During that period of time, I have experienced incredible highs and debilitating lows because of my association with her.

After our widow’s retreat, I signed up for a six or eight-week course with the woman and paid several hundred dollars to participate in the Zoom meetings. At week two, she asked that we fill out a budget sheet showing our income and expenses so she could evaluate it and let us know how we could tweak it to make it work more in our favor. Since I hate doing budgets, I never got around to it before she stopped showing up for our weekly meetings after week three. I didn’t see that as a red flag then, but I do now. There was no need for her to know such personal financial details.

The woman told me she wanted to help me develop online courses and workshops for widows. She told me that because of my age and my experience, I had a lot to offer and that translated into my ability to make lots and lots of money. And the more money I made, the more she would be able to help me. That venture had to be put on hold, however, so I could finish writing my book, Devotion Deception Deliverance—Isaac’s Story.

Because of her claims to have worked with and contributed to authors who had written New York Times Bestsellers or who had gotten their books on Amazon’s top ten list, I thought it would be a good idea for her to read my manuscript. When she did, she inserted herself into my work by writing the Forward.

We stayed in contact over the summer, and late in the fall she called to tell me she was taking me on as a client to market my book and help me brand myself as an author, speaker, and presenter. And she believed in me so much that she offered me her friends and family discount, even though I was neither friend nor family.

A couple of months later, I signed her contract and wired the money per her instructions. She told me I would have full access to her A-team of videographers, managers, designers, and others, including her.

My husband and I had spoken to another marketing firm before signing with this woman. The firm had a physical address and a brick and mortar office. They came highly recommended by several people we knew. But they didn’t have the connections or team this woman claimed to have, so we chose her.

The woman told me to put together a book launch team so they could help get the word out about my book. She would give them assignments and promised a book launch party sometime in the spring. I got my launch team together, sent them copies of Devotion Deception Deliverance— Isaac’s Story, and waited for her instructions. She sent one message to my team and then disappeared. She explained that she was busy with a special operation involving her nonprofit.

My Amazon launch day came and went without my book being available on that platform. I fielded dozens of texts, calls, and emails from family and friends asking when they would be able to purchase it. I told them the story of how Amazon had wanted to see my contract with Isaac, and then how they had wanted me to get the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) to sign off on it. When I tried to tell my launch team about the problems with Amazon, she told me not to let them know anything negative that was happening becaue it would dull their sense of support and excitement. Soon afterwards, she let me know Amazon had shut down a couple of her accounts because of the controversial nature of my book. Because of my naiveté of the publishing and marketing world as well as Amazon I believed whatever the woman told me, no matter how far-fetched it sounded.

When she told me my book was available through another platform in an account I would eventually have control over, I was happy to let people know where they could purchase it. But she never gave me control over the account, and she has never paid me the money for the books that were sold there.

After I figured out that I was never going to get control of the account or receive any of the money, I contacted the platform asking them to take down the account and stop selling my book. It wasn’t until I explained that continuing to sell it constituted intellectual property theft that they agreed.

One of the most embarrassing moments was when I showed up to a fundraiser gala for a nonprofit and there were no tickets for my guests and me. The woman had told me she had secured an invitation for me to be a special guest author and I could bring three guests. She told me to bring books and get ready to sign them. She also told me she would introduce me to several people, including the founder of the nonprofit, a private investigator, and cast members from the Netflix docuseries, Keep Sweet, Pray and Obey, who would be in attendance. The short version of the story is that no one knew who I was, and my guests and I weren’t on their lists of invited guests. It took 45 minutes before we were allowed inside, and the woman took full credit. But she didn’t introduce me to anyone. In fact, after dinner, she disappeared and I didn’t see her again until the very end when she wanted a selfie with me to post on her social media. I introduced myself to everyone I met that evening.

From the day my Amazon launch didn’t happen, I had an uneasy feeling. But I chalked it up to first-time author jitters. As the days and weeks passed, I had a niggling feeling in the back of my mind that something wasn’t right. But I kept trying to trust the process and move forward.

By the middle of May when a friend alerted me to this woman, all of the red flags lined up and I could no longer deny their existence. When I spoke to the private investigator and learned about the woman’s record, the niggle ceased and I was fully aware that I had been taken—hook, line, and sinker.

From that moment, I communicated with the woman through text or email, never by phone. And from that moment, I did what I should have done before our widow’s retreat. I checked her business licenses. I spent countless hours, days, and weeks researching her. I listened to podcasts she had done. I combed through her social media until she blocked me. And I eventually began working with law enforcement to do what I could to stop her from duping others the way she had duped me.

It is difficult to explain the emotional toll my association with this woman has taken. But I refuse to sit back, lick my wounds, and allow her to live rent-free in my brain. I ignored or didn’t see the red flags and I didn’t do my due diligence. I felt like a fool, and I didn’t want anyone to know. But then I met people who, like me, had been duped and taken for a ride. I met people who cared about what had happened to me. And that is when I decided to speak up and speak out. I share my story in hopes that it will help those who have been scammed. And I will do all I can to help educate so people like this woman are no longer able to do what they do.

If you have been scammed or know of someone who has been scammed, please contact your state Attorney General’s Office. It will take all of us to see and recognize the red flags, to do our due diligence, and to speak up and speak out. We can’t do this alone.