Getting scammed: what happened and why

This is an article written to properly document my experience about the first scam that I fell prey to, and the reasons why (I think) this happened. Note that this article is probably doomed with attribution errors and may not reflect what truly happened. Nevertheless, I believe through attributions we seek meanings and through meanings, we regain the confidence to live hopefully more wisely.

The protagonist behind the scam, who preferred to remain anonymous and refused to comment on this incident (as if I could ever contact them), hacked @mikkasmusic’s verified twitter account and changed its display name and profile to Elon Musk’s. They then commented on Elon Musk’s tweet about www.tesla-bitcoin.info that offers a double return to all cryptocurrencies sent to the website, with a limited number of bitcoins and Ethereum left. When I saw the post, I thought of it as a publicity stunt posted by Elon Musk himself. At that time, I did not even have a cryptocurrency account, but rather than giving up immediately (which I should), I saw it as a challenge worth solving. Within the next two hours, I set up a cryptocurrency account, spent all my summer funding on Ethereum and sent the money through. Unfortunately, the hackers did not keep their words and not a single cent was sent back to me☹… hey!

It was strange how I 100% believed in the scheme during those hours. One possible explanation may be that I am simply gullible, but past evidence showed it might not have been the case. I have received countless scam messages, but I often identified them through their spelling errors, suspicious URL/email address, poorly designed websites and lack of https encryption. In fact, my alertness was perhaps not that low during this whole scam either. During the hours of the adrenaline rush, I was stressed but I was also careful enough to check whether the website that I bought Ethereum might have been a scam. I was also meticulous when purchasing Ethereum: as it required bank transfer, I was careful enough to first transfer 10 pounds and saw the money through before I transferred a bigger amount. The mistake here was getting too deep in the rabbit hole without ever stepping back and reflecting on the whole event. I was the smart fish carefully crafted a plan to catch that delicious worm, only to be caught by the hook behind.

Apart from not taking time to think about the bigger picture, here are a few other reasons why I was deceived:

First, I was greedy. I have been looking into MedTech recently and I realised that so many people succeeded after they received grant or investment at almost zero cost to them and I was eager for similar success. This scam was an embodiment that a person like me could also succeed fast and easily. I had placed too much trust in finding the right opportunities. The whole mechanism looked too familiar to me: I captured the opportunity when not many people noticed, I learned how to use cryptocurrency and once I showed the world my progress, I would get rewarded.

Second, I had unconditional belief on something, this time technology and its embodiment, Elon Musk. I have been having personal worship of Elon Musk for a long time and I did not give a thought that this could be a scam at all. A key component to hypnosis is unconditional belief. I was unknowingly priming myself for the scam for the few days before the scam as I was listening to podcasts on a MedTech firm founded on blockchain technology. This recent experience heightened up hope and dropped alert for a technology that could be used to cause harm. This unconditional belief also came from ignorance. In fact, all unconditional beliefs come from ignorance or even self-selective ignorance. Had I been aware of the epic twitter hacking happened a week before my scam, I would probably have easily dismissed words like “bitcoin” and “double return”. It was a shame that I did not keep up-to-date with the news because I was focusing on work and when I did try to let information in, the scammer delivered the fake one.

Third, I went in alone. I skipped all communications when I was involved in the scam. The scam created an illusion of community by first posting grateful comments on twitter, then led the victims to a fake Medium page with further comments of appreciation, and lastly to the main scam page with fake records of incoming Ethereum and double returns out. This also got me thinking about the underlying problems about how most of us evaluate the validity of anything online: we often sought others’ reviews without carefully considering whether they are indeed real. Yes, I was careful when reading the positive reviews put up by the sellers themselves on their websites, but I did not put up a defence against second opinions on social media platforms. Another way that the scammers minimized social interactions was the time pressure. The remaining amount of Ethereum was dropping fast and although I wanted to call my family and friends to share the good news with them, given that it is not always possible to reach others immediately, I chose to get my “reward” first and then share my profit thereafter. The isolation enforced by the pandemic did not help with the situation, either.

Fourth, I had no workflow that I could have followed when making financial decisions. The summer funding came just a few days ago and was lying in the current account. I had not been a careful person with money because I considered it as a distraction to my work. I have been frugal enough that I rarely needed budgeting to make ends meet. This is where I failed. Had I been more serious about financial security, I would have carefully contemplated the risks involved by considering it as a serious investment. But no, I thought I was in a safe position as I had never really been responsible for my financial decisions. This is perhaps one manifestation of the classical moral hazard – I took a risky decision because subconsciously I thought that someone else would pay for the price of failures.

When I look back on this whole incident, I often think that I am the real protagonist that deceived myself. No, sorry there is no plot twist that I created the scam in my sleep. If I did, I hoped that subconscious me return the money to my account when he saw this post. NOW. Jokes aside, it was me who raised my cortisol (stress hormone) level by working for too long and that perhaps clouded my thinking; I primed myself for an online scam that perfectly fit my mentality, working style and beliefs; I was in a situation where no one was nearby to offer advice (in fact, I think I may just call the police to seek their advice next time before I transfer any money to strangers again). I saw the red flags: weird URL (testla-bitcoin.info, why not just use tesla.com?), fake medium page, and a reasonable remaining amount of Ethereum even after two hours of running the event, but I made up stories for that. Oh, maybe it is just a public stunt website and perhaps people were too afraid to send in the money, especially when the remaining amount becomes low because there may be a chance of losing. It is important to recognise our brain’s power in legitimizing what we want to believe. As Bertrand Russell said, “I Would Never Die for My Beliefs Because I Might Be Wrong”. It is perhaps helpful to remain as a sceptic, even to ourselves.

Thanks for reading thus far. Yes, I am flawed, but perhaps we all are. I am grateful for the flaws exposed by this incident so that I can work on them and minimize the chances of making rush decisions that may harm other people. There are too many learning points from this incident that I would love to share, but I decided it would be wise to first read and listen more before I write to make your reading worthwhile. Stay tuned and take care :).

P.S. Being sceptical is essentially what being a scientist is about, except for most people scientific education has largely been about acceptance and memorization rather than questioning. I am trying to become a true scientist, too.

P.P.S I am not sure if it is a good idea to share my weakness online, so I may actually remove this article in the future. For one I am worried about being frowned upon and secondly, I do not want other scammers to psychoanalyze me for future gains. What do you think? Let me know in the comments or drop me a private message.

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Tim

Personalizing medicine

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