UPDATE: (scroll down or click here for resources and more about Amygdala Hijack, which helps to understand how such scams work. If you have been scammed, you are not stupid or gullible. You are simply human and your evolving brain is trying to keep you safe in a world that has changed too quickly for it to catch up.)
December 8, 2023
It is three days now since I experienced the horrific trauma and pretty much every unpleasant emotion possible of getting scammed. I posted about the raw experience of it just a few hours after it happened as I tried to grapple with the idea that I had been completely put on autopilot, or rather, under the control of the scammers. It is something that I never would have thought possible if it hadn’t just happened to me.
[But it is real, and it is called amygdala hijack--read on below.]
I shared my visceral account of what happened on social
media and all my networks immediately after it happened, in an effort to not internalize the pain and trauma and have it cause physical harm to my heart, and to attempt to find some good in the experience by warning others. It was very raw and put me in a completely vulnerable position, which, after just being completely scammed, was incredibly frightening. I also know how my heart reacts to severe stress, and I know what tools I need to calm it down.
[I use a method called EFT Tapping, which reduces the cortisol produced by your amygdala]
Sharing what happened rather than burying it beneath shame and mortification was exactly what I needed to do in that moment.
Now, three days after the incident, I still vacillate between anger, fear, guilt, despair, incredulity, self-loathing, understanding and self-compassion.
What I have learned by sharing my story with all the "embarrassing" details of how I was put under the spell of expert scammers, I heard from so many others, both friends and strangers, who shared almost the exact same experience:
“Throughout the scam, I had my doubts, but I was supposedly on a mission to protect myself and save others from being scammed. The irony is that it was the scammers that involved me in this “noble process.” By the time it was too late, I had decided that my gut feelings that I was being scammed were legitimate. It’s unfathomable to me, but in retrospect I realize that the scammers had me in a kind of autopilot trance. I did the most ridiculous obvious things to steal money from myself to give it to them.”
“We got the exact call too and they are very good! We were in the phone maybe 10 minutes and ten minutes too long…they were very convincing... we hung up and they called back using three different numbers.”
“I got the same kind of call and answered lots of their questions and they answered all of mine too. As the conversation went on, I was easily sucked deeper and deeper into believing them. I can’t recall why, but i had to be somewhere and couldn’t keep talking to them and was so worried I would be in trouble if I didn’t follow up. I got their name and number and “badge number” so when I called them back I could be assured they were legitimate….. YES, it all does sound so real!!! Luckily that gave me the time to think about the possibility it could be a scam. I did not call back, but if they would have contacted me again,I may have gone forward with what they wanted. They are very convincing.”
“I have been fooled not once but twice. Similar sequences to your story… it’s easy to be caught off-guard..both of mine were early evening when I was beginning to slow down for the day.”
"It's when your emotions get involved that you forget everything you know about avoiding scams. I had a young man call and ask for “Grandma” and told me he sounded different because he had broken his nose. My brain immediately sounded alarms, not that it was a scam but because he didn’t know that his grandmother (my mom) had recently died, and I had visions of traumatic brain injuries and loss of memory. I told him to go to the hospital immediately because he wasn’t okay, and he hung up. I like to think that I would have woken up when he asked for money, but who knows?"
“I watch a lot of scam baiting/scam busting videos on YouTube. The owner of one of the most popular channels - a guy who is extremely savvy and familiar with scam tactics - got his YouTube channel hacked and deleted by scammers who conned him.”
“It really shows that it can happen to anyone and we should always have our guards up. Sharing stories like this helps and it takes guts to come forward so that is admirable.”
“Many good smart people have gone down this road and emerged on the other side stronger and wiser. Retired Law Enforcement here and so I understand the hooks these people use so successfully.”
[Recent reports in the Washington Post and on CNBC tell the same tales--see below for links.]
I heard from so many people. Many shared confidentially, because they were so mortified and embarrassed and worried that people would lose confidence in them if they knew. I had all those feelings, but also knew that if I did not share it would consume me.
So, here are my words to help me and others learn from this experience.
- No arm of the government will ever call you and ask for money. EVER.
- Scammers today are damn good. They can employ technology to dupe telephone numbers, email addresses, even replicate the voices of your distressed family members. You should have a secret code word when you get a distressed call from family.
- Before they start making demands, they make sure they have ignited your fight or flight modus by creating a sense of fear and urgency to keep you and your family and your assets safe.
- They are forthcoming with answers to all the questions that try to expose their fraud.
- They have a team working with them, undoubtedly, that quickly finds good answers to any questions you may pose to “catch” them in their lies. (I tried so hard to get proof they were not real)
- And then, when they can tell you have fallen for it, they strong arm you (strong mind you) into following a series of single steps that you have to do secretly to ensure your safety and that of your family.
- Step by step, they coerce you into doing things that you clearly would never do in a million years do. Even as I said out loud, “this doesn’t feel right, this makes no sense, the FBI would never ask me to do this, I don’t believe you, I won’t push that button,” I still hopped in my car, emptied the accounts, and shoved cash into a crypto machine.
After posting my story on open groups with people who don’t know me or my integrity, I fielded attacks at my stupidity for doing something that makes zero sense. There is no way I would ever ever ever take money from an account and put it in a crypto machine because a call from the FBI told me I had to do it. But I did.
The loss of the funds is one part of the trauma, but that is correctable. I have already received about half of the lost funds from friends and strangers who want to help out. I know I will have the rest of the funds back in the account soon. The non-profit will be ok and we can keep helping kids get excited about reading. That is quickly remedied.
The other part is a deep emotional (and it even feels physical) trauma of being attacked, taken over, coerced into becoming part of their scam. I look in the mirror and I don’t really recognize myself. I don’t see the spark in my eye that makes me me, my excitement about all the good in the world despite all of its horrors. I feel like a piece of my soul was crushed.
But I also know how strong I am, how smart I am (even when the feeling of utter stupidity tries to take over), how much I have to give back to my community and make it better, and how many good people are out there with me bringing goodness to the world. I have faced major challenges in the past and turned them into positive change. So that is what I plan to do here as well.
Random Acts of Reading is alive and well, and we have so many great things planned for it in the near future. None of this will stop that from happening. And maybe along the way, by sharing this experience, the scammers will be thwarted by a simple refusal to pick up the phone from a number you don’t recognize or quickly hanging up when it sounds at all fishy, even if it scares you. JUST HANG UP! DON’T CLICK ON THE LINK PROVIDED! Ask a friend or family member if something looks legit. Had my alter ego been standing in the room watching, it would have been screaming at me to HANG UP THE PHONE!!
My original story is out there, raw and emotional and vulnerable. It is what I had to do at that moment. But I am sharing this now in the hopes that others will be more wary and get help if they are getting sucked in.
If you would like to contribute to our rebuilding funds, this is our giving link. Thank you!
In the process of processing, I have learned about the mechanism, Amygdala Hijack, which allows someone to hijack your brain, as crazy as that seems. Please read on, and my story follows, which you are welcome share to help others be safer and recover, as scams ramp up.
Amygdala Hijack, the method used to scam people, is like having a gun to (in) your head.
This kind of mental attack is just as bad and just as serious and just as impossible to free yourself from as is a physical assault. That is hard to understand, but that is the message we need to share, so people stop being too ashamed to get help. If you haven't experienced it, it seems implausible. And if you have but don't understand it, you may think you are going crazy.
If you or someone you know has been scammed and experienced amygdala hijack, please share these resources:
How Amygdala Hijack works:
TED Talk: How phishing scammers manipulate your amygdala and oxytocin | Christopher Hadnagy
My story on video:
My story in writing:
This is the psychological tool that helped me move past the shame that comes with this kind of attack. Brad Yates will be creating a resource explicitly for victims of scams and to help be prepared for an attack as well, which I will post later:
Intro to EFT Tapping
(Studies on EFT from the NIH: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6381429/)
CNBC: PERSONAL FINANCE How this 77-year-old widow lost $661,000 in a common tech scam: ‘I realized I had been defrauded of everything’
Washington Post: A former White House scientist was scammed out of $655,000. Then came the IRS.
The AARP offers free group therapy for victims of scams, as well as lots of informational resources.
AARP FRAUD HELPLINE:
7 Tactics Criminals Use to Perpetrate Fraud
AARP Free Group Therapy for victims of fraud