Here’s the set-up: I’m in Lisbon, Portugal on a weekly check of emails and messages when I receive a Facebook Messenger message from a long-time friend and writer, asking if I’ve heard about the endowment she received.
“What? No, I haven’t heard. I’m travelling. Not keeping up with anything. Tell me more.”
She told me she’d received a substantial endowment that’s funded partially by the World Bank. I didn’t know the World Bank funded endowments. She said it was for artists, retired teachers, etc to allow them to buy a house or start a business.
Retired teachers? Don’t they have pensions?
“I got 370K,” she said.
“OMG!” I said to my husband. “X – you know X – just received a huge endowment from the World Bank!”
“That’s what the World Bank does? Weird,” said my husband. “Why would they just hand over a big chunk of cash?”
I shrugged. My friend suggested I should apply too. She asked if I had heard of a particular lawyer (or accountant or someone) with a name like James Stewart and provided a weblink.
A few bells were tinkling here – the retired teachers, the size of the endowment, the involvement of the World Bank and Jimmy Stewart. I silenced the bells. X would not lie. She would not make this up. Could she provide my information to James so he can get in touch?
“Sure. But what I really want to know is what YOU are going to do now that you are rich? It opens such a world of possibilities!” I hoped to high heavens she was not going to stop writing. Yet, I saw this image of a high-end restaurant, tuxedoed waiters with gleaming trays of drinks perched on their fingertips. I saw myself at a linen draped table, a plate of giant sea scallops before me, artfully arranged. Champagne bubbles tickled the tip of my tongue.
“I’m going to buy a house and start a business,” she typed. But…she already has a house.
“Yes, but what kind of business? And where? Are you opening a publishing business? Something humane to writers?”
“An upscale restaurant?”
I pictured the house being needed for the business. A hotel. One of those log mansions in the Rockies with vaulted ceilings and deer antler chandeliers.
No answer. “Will call you when I’m back from Portugal. Early Dec. I’m most intrigued!” I typed.
No response. It was as if she had disappeared.
As soon as the jetlag allowed me to complete a sentence, I phoned X.
“I’ve been dying to talk to you. I just got back.”
“Back from where?”
“Portugal.” She should have known that. I’d told her in my message. She must have forgotten.
We chatted about a few things, then, “What I really want to know about is your endowment. That’s such exciting news.”
She laughed. “Unless you’re giving away something I don’t know about, there is no endowment. What is an endowment anyway?”
“But you told me about it,” I argued. “We chatted about it on Messenger.”
“No, we didn’t.”
And that’s when the house of log turned to straw and the champagne deflated. “No endowment? You’re not rich? But I wanted you to be rich. I wanted this for you.”
And that, my friends, is exactly what the scammer wanted – me to be so over-joyed for my friend – and maybe a little greedy — that I’d hit the weblink to find out more.
I was – and still am — astounded to have been duped. I checked Messenger looking for the thread, which no longer existed. There was no sign my friend and I had chatted recently on Messenger. It was as if I had imagined the whole thing.
“You were dreaming,” my husband said. “You imagined the whole thing.”
“I did not!” I described precisely where we were when I received the messages and relayed them to him. I told him about the rain so dense we couldn’t see across the street, how it sluiced the garbage down the street, the rapid fire of it hitting the piece of exposed tin and how it cascaded from the balcony across the way. I even told him the show he was watching on TV.
But, I did begin to wonder. Did I dream it?
I walked around for days saying, “A scammer impersonated my friend. I believed it.”
I was so sure it was her. Of course, it never occurred to me that it wouldn’t be. Then I thought about the personal information I shared – I was out of the country. I would not return until early December.
I determined I was incredibly lucky.
Oh, and look at that – a “James Allen” (maybe it’s wasn’t James Stewart, after all) has asked to be added to my Messenger friend list.
Sorry, James. I’ve deleted my account.