When Amy’s Twitter account was hacked, she learned she was just as vulnerable to cons as everyone else.
You might fallaciously think, as I did, that you’re too smart to get scammed. After all, I’m well educated, have a high IQ, and have lived a life fit for a Hunter S. Thompson novel. But despite being an intelligent, streetwise woman with more than ten years of sobriety, at my most vulnerable time, it happened to me.
When I got hacked, I couldn’t let it go
My verified Twitter account (old school, pre-Elon verified) got hacked. I received texts and emails notifying me about unrecognized log-ins from another state and then an email that my password had been changed. And I was locked out. Cartoon apes and weird crypto-gaming things started appearing on my feed. I feared what was happening in my DMs.
I can hear you saying, “Hey, it’s not the end of the world. Move on with your life.” But my Twitter account had 14 years of my articles, interviews, podcasts, book reviews, and what I felt were hilarious or insightful tidbits. And more than that, it was mine. At this time, I was having seizures. My dad’s cancer was back. I was broke. My mother had died seven months prior. My cat was living on borrowed time. And I just thought, “No. I cannot bear to have one more thing taken from me.”
Getting hacked was just the start
Somebody referred me to a “legit recovery tech” who might be able to get my account back, and I messaged him. The initial fee was only $65 and I thought, “What the hell.” He seemed nice and knowledgeable. And Twitter Support wasn’t doing anything.
But then he asked for another $90. And then it was another hefty payment in Razer Gold gift cards that I had to send to myself, and then open and screenshot the serial ID. Looking back, of course, this made sense. This way the money I was sending him was untraceable.
In the meantime, he would send me videos of him hacking my account. He asked for personal information that had nothing to do with social media … and I’m embarrassed to say I gave it. It was like I was in a trance.
This man and people like him are con artists. They’re like pedophiles who groom you. They know how to earn your trust and how to get it back when you start doubting them. It was like being brainwashed. I don’t know how else to describe it. I believed him. All the while my friends were screaming, “Stop sending money! Block him. Only Twitter can give you your account back. He’s scamming you.” But he had me. Because only desperate people contact him and he knew how to prey on that desperation.
He pulled me in bit by bit
I want to explain why I kept sending money when I saw no results. (Thankfully it was only three days before I got smart.) Amy Alkon, author of the “science-help” book, Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence, explains: “Human psychology is particularly bad at helping us detach from lost causes, motivating us to lead with our ego and emotion rather than reason. For example, we’re prone to keep putting time, energy, and/or money into something based on what we’ve already invested—what we’ve already “sunk” into it. This is called the sunk cost fallacy, and it’s irrational behavior because our initial outlay is gone. The rational approach is to base any further investment on how likely the thing is to pay off in the future.” In short, I’d given him this much money now, I couldn’t bail out. Maybe he would get my account back. If I stopped now, I’d never know!
I’ve learned that a key in scamming somebody is “incremental commitment.” They get you to give just a little at a time so you don’t realize you’re being seduced or how much money you’re giving them or how deep you’re in.
He took advantage of my emotions: desperation, fear, shame
Also, who doesn’t want somebody to fix it for them? Who doesn’t want to be saved? Who hasn’t trusted the wrong person sometime in their life?
Dr. Luis Vega, Professor of Psychology at California State University Bakersfield whose professional interests include methods of persuasion says in an article for Kiplinger, “While no one is immune from becoming a victim, it is a myth that only gullible people get taken.” Vega says, “There are several psychological elements that unite to make a person an ideal scam victim, beginning with a lack of knowledge about the subject matter of the scam.” I am no techie and I believed what my scammer was saying regarding the hackers who had originally taken over my account.
Vega also says, “Under conditions of stress, you feel intimidated and your rational mind literally goes to sleep. You are in a state of shock.” Secondly. “Realizing something is amiss, shame and embarrassment prevents you from seeking help.”
All of this was true in my case.
Sometimes my scammer was nice. He’d send, “How are you feeling?” with a heart emoji and “swearing to Almighty God” that he was legit and would never take what was not his. Other times he was harassing, demanding. “Send it now. Do it now.” It reminded me of being in an abusive relationship—that inconsistency that can literally make you confused and doubtful of your own take on reality. It’s a type of gaslighting, really.
I got out
Finally, friends did an intervention. I called my sponsor and she told me that she, too, had been conned in sobriety. In her case, she decided to just let it go and move on with her life.
That’s not me.
I filed a report with the Cyber Fraud unit at the FBI and Federal Trade Commission. I called my bank. I froze my account with all 3 credit bureaus. I contacted the DMV and Social Security. And I told Twitter. I blocked him on Twitter, and then he emailed me and then he hit me up on Google chat. I blocked him again and again.
Dealing with the aftermath
And guess what? Who got my account back from Twitter? Me! And now my scammer’s Twitter account has suddenly been renamed, has a new logo, and his Paypal email changed. Super fishy, right?
The bank provisionally sent me back the money I had sent him, but eventually took it back. They explained that they believed me, and that this happens hundreds of times a day … but that they offer fraud protection and not scam protection. This was a horrible lesson, but one I won’t soon forget.
I remember asking my scammer how he lived with himself, how he slept at night. But scammers don’t believe societal rules apply to them. They don’t have empathy for other people. They can be narcissists or sociopaths, and think, “If she’s dumb enough to fall for this, it’s her own fault.”
I’ll close with this last bit of science. There is something called the “optimism bias.”
Amy Alkon explains, “’Optimism bias is our predisposition to project a rosy future for ourselves: silver linings all around; hold the clouds.” In short, bad things happen to other people, not to us.
I’m sharing my story so that you can be warned: we are all susceptible. If it’s too good to be true, it is. And trust your gut.