Black Girl Done Gone and Got Scammed

Warning: The following contains some appropriately vulgar language.

I’m not sure if this has come across in earlier posts. I’m not even sure I was clearly aware of it until earlier this happened. But I’m an idiot. If “idiot” offends you, feel free to refer to me as a dummy, foolish gal, stupid head, whatever you prefer.

Remember back when I almost got scammed when looking for an apartment in Amsterdam? Relying on online research led to nothing but mystery and heartache. I learned my lesson from that…or so I thought.

Immediately after I nailed down a place to live, which I’ll move into on February 1st, I set my sights on finding a place for my first couple of weeks in Amsterdam, during which time my Mom and her husband will be joining me. We were looking for a place with enough space for three people, ideally located in central Amsterdam. Hotels are great. But they’re pretty pricey. Especially considering that we’ll be staying for two weeks.

So, as I always do, I turned to the internet. I researched short-term rentals to find a number of websites advertising apartments throughout Europe – with most of the companies based in London. The system seemed to be that apartment owners work with agencies to rent their space out to vacationers. The agency does the leg-work, receiving a cut of the rent received by the owner. Sounds like a good idea. And it may actually happen.

I found a website with a cute place – two bedrooms, nice bathroom, centrally located. Comparing it to the other, similar websites, the prices were pretty much the same. So I was happy with this choice. I submitted an inquiry form, providing my name, email, and dates I would need the apartment. I received an email not too much later. The place was available. And after a bit of back and forth to clarify the cost, deposit, contract and payment process, I sent the deposit and 50% of the rental fee via bank wire transfer.

Receipt of payment and signed contract in hand, I checked this item off of my to-do list – until several days later when I received a message from the rental guy. He was sorry for the inconvenience, but the owner of the place changed her mind and now needed the full payment for the apartment in advance in order to hold the place for me. If I sent the remainder of the rent, it would confirm my reservation. No way. And what kind of business would be irresponsible enough the change the terms of an agreement so casually?

I told him I would take a refund. And I also wanted a refund for the $35 wire transfer fee. At the same time, I started researching other places to stay. Strangely, the website for my place was no longer working. But I found another one that also looked really good – same price. So as I was going back and forth with the first guy, I was making an arrangement to send a deposit to the second.

But now there was a problem. I couldn’t send the second deposit until I received the first deposit back. And the first guy was giving me problems. I was starting to worry. But the fog really started to lift when he told me his accounting department wanted to get the money to me as quickly as possible. And since wire transfers can take a few days, they would prefer to send it to my credit card. All I would need to do is send him my credit card information. Oh shit, goddamn motherfucking asshole.  At this point, I knew I had been scammed.  And not only that, he was trying everything he could think of to get as much money out of me as he possibly could.

So this goddamn motherfucking asshole thought I was dumb enough to pull out my credit card, send him all of my information, and expect to receive a deposit ?  I’m sure I was a perfect candidate for being »cleaned out: friendly, excited, bank account.  Yup – I guess I deserved it.

I’m thankful for one thing: the fact that I waited before sending money to scammer #2. His responses were eerily similar to scammer #1’s. And when I checked several days later, that site also no longer existed (though it had been up for a couple of weeks). So it’s clearly a thing. They’re not all necessarily the same person or working together. But they have at least established (and regulated) a clear process for scamming people.

My first action was to get in touch with my bank to see if there was even the slightest chance that they can track down the bank account I sent the money to and get it back for me.  But since people lose thousands of dollars everyday to assholes like this, my loss wasn’t likely to be an exception.  And sure enough, the bank reported back that the scammer’s account had insufficient funds to refund my money.

In spite of the crime that has clearly been committed, no one seems to care. I’ve reported it numerous times, in numerous ways, in numerous countries. No one even responds.

So there you have it. $850. Gone.


Savings: Status Check

It’s been awhile since I’ve given an update on my savings strategy. Mostly because it’s embarrassing.

I set the goal to save $10,000 by the end of this year, which will provide me with some cash to help me survive the student life while in Amsterdam. I started out pretty well, cutting back in various areas of my life and regularly adding to my savings account. Though it’s only ever been small amounts, the steady progress I was beginning to see was comforting.

But now, a few months later, progress has come to a screaching halt. After an expensive July, including car repair and travel expenses, I had an even more expensive August, with more car repair and unexpected medical costs. And September hasn’t allowed me to catch up. It seems like the more I lose control over what I’m spending money, the more I feel compelled to spend it voluntarily on things that are nowhere in the budget. My logic goes something like, “well, the budget is already shot. So I may as well buy these platform shoes with fish in them.” So as much as I’d like to blame my derailed spending solely on the cruel universe that doesn’t want me to succeed, I must take at least 10 percent of the blame….or 60.

Nonetheless, I’m still trying. And if anyone has ideas about how I can make some extra cash, I’m wide open.

Here’s the latest.

Savings: Status Check

A few weeks ago I decided I would start saving money for the purpose of living a decent life while in Amsterdam. No matter how I do the math, I’m going to have to take out some loans – at least for the first semester (before tons of miraculous scholarships and grants come through). So accepting the seeping-further-into-debt scenario, I want to at least be grown up enough to pay for my basic monthly expenses on my own. If I can put enough money away, I might actually be able to live like a normal person while I’m there. The alternative will be to live on crackers and Ramen. And I won’t say I’m too old for that…but I’m definitely too tired.

So anyway, I officially started on my savings plan a little over two weeks ago. The first few days were just warm-up. I was paying closer attention to my spending habits, but not really curbing them. Each day went something like: “okay, it’s crazy that I’m spending $9 on lunch today. I’m gonna have to cut this out.”

Last week was the first full week of what I now see is an entirely new lifestyle. It was like I started on a new workout plan after never having done so much as a stomach crunch in my entire life. Each day felt like I was doing chin-ups. It became harder and harder to sustain. And sure enough, by Friday, I fell off the bar.

I started out the week by making dinner on Sunday and packing a sandwich for lunch on Monday. On Monday night I made dinner again (and please keep in mind we’re already over my typical cooking capacity for a week), expecting to have enough leftovers to create lunches for the rest of the week. Not quite – I barely had enough for Tuesday. So there I was on Tuesday night, cooking again. This lasted me through Thursday. While all of this cooking and lunch packing was going on, I was also actively resisting all urges to make impulse purchases throughout the day. Small stuff calls me more than I realized. A lemonade here. A used book there. A delicious cookie on the way…you get the gist. But come Thursday evening, between smarter eating habits and partaking in only free events, I had managed to avoid pulling out my wallet once all week. Not once! (Never mind the fact that I treated myself to a couple of very cheap happy hour drinks on Thursday night to celebrate my accomplishment.)

Despite my hope to make it through the entire week without buying my lunch, I couldn’t do it on Friday. My savings muscles were simply exhausted. My compromise was to buy a relatively inexpensive sandwich without any frills in the form of juice or dessert. I didn’t feel like I had failed by any means. But it was made clear that getting through the rest of this year on such a tight budget is not going to be easy.

This week has actually been a bit easier. Perhaps because I now know what to expect. So far so good on lunch everyday. And thoughtful grocery shopping has also helped, though I still need to work on the coupon thing. I opened my wallet a few times for some essential purchases – like cat food and a cupcake from Cake & Shake. But I think I’ve almost hit a stride.

Slowly, but surely, my savings grows. Here’s the latest.