Guess I’m on a bit of a nostalgia trip because in addition to lessons I want to tell my younger self about money, I am also re-living the horrors of getting scammed by someone or another in my early adult life. A bit of background, in college I was supporting myself through a part-time retail job and going to school full time. I was always looking for a good deal. And I was gullible! The phrase “too good to be true” is something to take to heart, especially when it comes to money and your personal wealth.
Here are a few instances where I was scammed and what I learned from each encounter:
1. Joining a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) scheme.
Imagine this, I’m about to graduate college and move to a big city. I’m working my retail job and a woman approaches me and asks if I’m interested in making more money. She’s extremely nice and asks about me and where I’m from. I definitely need to make more money so I go to a meeting that she’s hosting at a hotel in my hometown (about an hour away from my college town). She’s with Amway, and she likes these products so much that me and all my friends need to use them and sell them. It’s so easy! I just have to host a party and contact everyone I’ve ever known to be on my “team.” Well I do host a party. And I do contact everyone I am friends with on Facebook. It’s extremely awkward. I end up getting a starter package and 30 days to try to sell these products. I go to a few more meetings about how to get a bigger business. I even go to a celebration at an office building where someone was freed from their corporate job from having a successful Amway business. Luckily, I stopped after 30 days because there was no way I was ever in a position to sell product, buy the product myself, or build my “team.”
Lesson learned: if you feel uncomfortable with any part of the process, trust your gut. I was uncomfortable with a stranger approaching me. I was uncomfortable at the meetings. I was uncomfortable contacting people I’ve barely spoken to in (at the time) 5 years. I was uncomfortable spending my own money on products that I could get for less at Walmart. Another lesson: it’s okay to say no. That lady convinced me to go because I thought I was going to earn more money, but really she was just trying to boost her own “team” so she could get money. It was a false dynamic and I should have recognized it and passed when she first approached me.
For more information about how MLM’s work, check out this video by John Oliver. And please remember, if any too-good-to-be-true-work-from-home job asks you to spend money on the products, it’s a scam!
2. Paying an application fee for a NYC apartment.
So you might notice a theme here which is that I was around the same age for all of these experiences. In this case, I was living in New York for about 3-4 months in the school dorms and I was looking for an apartment because that was cheaper than living in “on campus” housing. I was googling NYC apartments and I came across this website that was, again, too good to be true. For $50, I could submit an application and be eligible for a great one-bedroom apartment. The pictures looked great, I’m sure the location was very good, and it seemed legit. Little did I know that I would never see that $50 again, and I would never be contacted by a representative of this website. (I even sent them a follow up email! :O) I’m glad nothing more serious happened, like the website stealing more of my money or getting my identity stolen. However, it was a fast lesson I learned. I was living off my student loan refund and I didn’t have a lot of extra cash to spend so this really took away from my living expenses.
Lesson learned: Don’t pay up front for anything. Don’t listen to “too good to be true” websites. Google the business if you find something like this or check it out on the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any reviews about it being a scam. When you’re desperate, it’s easy to see these websites as a saving grace, but it just hurts in the long run.
3. Buying a car.
When I was buying a car in college I was looking at the cheapest option available, like a poor college student is prone to do. I asked my boyfriend at the time to come with me to a used car dealership (think Matilda’s dad vibes in West Virginia) to look at one car I’d seen online. Everything looked fine on the outside and it was within my price range. I was ready get the car, but my bf looked under the hood and saw that someone had DIY’d some of the pipes or fans or whatever. He knew that that was NOT RIGHT. And after seeing it myself, I agreed that whatever had been done was not going to last. So I was saved by someone being there with me to help check my purchases. I ended up with a different car altogether from that dealership because I desperately needed one, so even if the car wasn’t as cute as the first one, it would work for my needs (until it inevitably broke down after a few months, and continued to have problems, until I eventually sold it when I moved to NYC).
Lesson learned: ask for help! It’s okay to have a second pair of eyes on something if you’re making a big purchase. Obviously, I didn’t know enough about cars to make an informed decision, but also, it helps to have someone in your corner to help you make the best choice for you. Also, maybe look for more reputable car dealerships.
Hopefully this post will explain some scams out there and how to avoid them. More importantly, my intention with this post is to say “hey, we’ve all been there.” As long as you learn from it, you will be better for it. That’s all I want from any of my finance posts. Am I learning from these experiences? How can I make more informed decisions. What do I need to do to help my future self?