To begin, I should tell you that I've worked at the Better Business Bureau for over 10 years. In that time, I've learned a lot about people and business and, unfortunately, scams. I don't believe I've become jaded, exactly. If I had, I don't believe I could do my job effectively. However, I'm certainly not the same wide-eyed person I was when I walked in the door way back in 2002 - which is also good, because if I were, I also wouldn't be able to do my job as effectively.
What started this whole train of thought was when a newer employee approached me recently with a report he had received from a consumer who had fallen victim to a sweepstakes scam. When my co-worker began by telling me he had something terrible to tell me, I braced for the worst. These days, you never know. As it happened, it was simply that he was shocked - and disheartened - by the deviousness of a scammer who had targeted this unfortunate person, promised them they had won a large sum of money and then defrauded them out of thousands of dollars. It actually took me a minute, while he was talking, to realize that this was all new to him and therefore shocking. The fact that it didn't shock me is what left me feeling somewhat disconcerted.
There was a time when I would have reacted in the same manner as my fellow employee did. Unfortunately, the story he told is a story I've heard far too many times. Scams like this happen every single day, and not just locally but all across the country. And the people they victimize are not strangers or statistics; they're someone's family, friends, neighbors - good people, people who are trusting and/or desperate, and fall victim to individuals whose sole aim is to rob them blind. What's worse is that in many cases, it's the people who can least afford it who are targeted most by scammers. That's probably the hardest part about working at the BBB: listening to distraught people tell stories like the one my new co-worker described. There isn't much you can say outside of expressing your sympathy. You know too well that when that money's gone, it's gone.
The best you can do is tell people what they should do next - law enforcement agencies they should contact, additional things they can do to try to protect themselves if the scammer has collected their personal information in addition to their money. From there, the only other thing you can do - which is what we try to do every day - is to do your best to help the people who haven't wired money away to the scammers yet, the people who aren't sure if the offer they've just received is a scam or not. Our reply to that is always this: if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
I've had some time to think about it, and I think now it's probably natural to grow a bit of a shell around you when you do the work that we do - and, likely, necessary. We do hear a lot of tragic stories, day in and day out. But as long as you remember that every 'successful' scam impacts a real person and creates a whole new slew of problems for them, as long as you can still truly empathize with their experience and predicament, you can do this job. If anything, it makes you more determined to help others avoid these kind of situations.
To everyone reading this, I would just ask that you tell your family and friends that the Better Business Bureau is always here for them (and you, of course), and we have been for 100 years. If a strange or suspect offer comes along via the mail, the Internet or over the phone, we want to hear about it - before any money or personal information changes hands. Always make sure you check these offers out with us first (at bbb.org) and never let anyone pressure you into doing something you're unsure about. And if you still believe that something like this couldn't happen to you or someone you know, you're 100% wrong. Trust me on that.