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I got scammed so you don't have to.
Something cruel happened to me this week.
As I’m now unemployed and my health insurance coverage will soon end, I went to healthcare.gov to research my options. I registered and entered my email and phone number. I started getting a bunch of calls from my area code, which is generally a red flag for a robocall. However, I finally did pick up because I am still waiting for my call from the department of labor to complete my unemployment application and can’t risk missing it.
A guy named Andrew Snow told me he was calling from the Health Enrollment Center and wanted to talk through coverage plans with me. He told me there was a great national PPO plan that 83% of New York City doctors participated in. It was on offer for about $220 a month, with a one-time $135 registration fee upfront. He asked me if I wanted to check if any of my regular doctors or prescriptions were included in coverage; he told me the doctor I named was, and the medication I named would cost about $35 a month, though there were many generics offered on the plan for $5-$15. When my mom called from the back, “What about deductibles?” he replied, “There is no deductible on this plan.” (In hindsight, that, more than anything, should have been a laughable detail to clue me in to what was going on.)
He subtly started pressuring me to sign up. He told me it was the last day (April 24) to get May coverage. When I expressed resistance, he told me that this was a really good deal for national plans and that there may only be a few slots open for a week or two, that the provider, First Health PPO, was generally only for corporations but was offering several slots for individuals during this tough time—how many, he couldn’t say, and he couldn’t know when the slots would be taken, but I should take advantage of this opportunity. He asked me for some personal information, including my social security number and my credit card number, and said he would then connect me with the insurance company to get me signed up.
The hair on the back of my neck was standing up. I knew something was off. I said OUTLOUD to this guy on the phone, “Wait, I think I need to verify your identity before giving you this information.” My mother was giving a thumbs up in the background. He talked me down—we’re closing in a half hour and this price may not last. My mom again said in the background, “Don’t let him pressure you!” This guy overhears her and says, “No one is pressuring anybody, I’m a licensed health broker and just trying to get you the best coverage possible.” The psychology of what happened to me during this phone call is confounding. But I know it happens to thousands of people every single day. I thought I knew better. I didn’t.
I gave him my SSN and credit card number. He had me write down his phone number and extension, gave me a case ID number that he made sure I wrote down, reminded me of his name and told me he’d be my representative in this process and that I could call him anytime with any questions or concerns. He told me he’d be connecting me with the insurance company shortly, that there was a bit of a wait. I’m ashamed to admit it took me until this late moment in the phone call to finally google “health enrollment center,” where this man said he was calling from. This was the first result:
I immediately hung up the phone. What I had known in my gut for minutes already was now confirmed: I was being scammed. The sickening sinking feeling I experienced at that moment is incomparable. I hopped into action. I canceled my credit card within minutes. (I had not been charged anything.) I spent the next hour freezing my credit on the three consumer credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The “broker” “Andrew Snow” called me back and left a message, letting me know he was available if I still wanted to proceed.
That night, I cried for hours. I was so angry and disgusted with myself. This was a horrible thing to happen in a horrible week in a horrible two months in a horrible year, and I had brought it on myself. I felt awful for two full days. My mom comforted me, reminding me how good scammers are at what they do, and how people of all kinds fall for it every day. She held my hand and looked me in the eyes and said, “I forgive you. You can forgive yourself.” I tried to remember that yes, I made a mistake, but I didn’t hurt anyone else, and I didn’t lose any money. I tried to remember that shaming myself into the ground for this would not help or fix the situation in any way, and to treat myself like I would a friend. This has always been hard for me to do.
Aside from feeling so monumentally stupid and disappointed in myself that I let this happen, something more important and sinister happened here: I turned away from my own instinct and intuition. I didn’t listen to myself at a time it really mattered. I let myself down. I’ve been doing so much work this year to build up my own self-trust and avoid situations like this. I hurt myself, and it hurts.
I know now that I was susceptible to being scammed because of a rather perfect storm of events. I was angry because of something that had happened that day. I went researching for health insurance in anger and fear of losing my coverage. The scammers got my information from the official government healthcare site (I don’t know how—simple phishing scam?), so when I got a call right after I signed up, I was much less suspicious. (But I should have known—the government is never that efficient.) These scammers are well-trained to get people, and he answered my questions and inquiries and provided enough details in just the right way to make me feel trusting and hopeful. I want health insurance and I want to be able to afford it. My ordinary desires for good for myself betrayed me. I think even my mom listening in on this phone call may have added to the storm—maybe being caught between my mom and this guy on the phone brought out some bratty teenage instinct not to listen to her?! Of course, she was right, as moms always are.
Dark web assholes now have most of my personal information, and can do a lot of harm with it if they so choose. I’ve done all I can to protect myself. I’ll have to wait and see.
I’m also receiving dozens of calls from these guys a day now, and probably will…forever? I block each number each time, but they just use a new one, and the calls are endless. Eventually I can turn off notifications for calls from non-contacts, but I can’t for now because I’m still waiting on that highly important unemployment call! So I’m stuck running to check who’s calling dozens of times a day. (A hilarious detail: Scammers too take weekends off! I got zero calls on Saturday and Sunday.) I’m also getting tons of emails about health insurance coverage plans. The scam is so widespread and professional—the websites they name look really legit, and the names of these fake companies are close to those of some real health insurance companies. They’re texting me and it looks just like the ones I might get from Planned Parenthood, who I did sign up to hear from. They’ve really set it all up to trick vulnerable people. Don’t let yourself be one of them.
Yesterday morning I went on a walk, then came home and journaled. I wrote three pages of all the things I forgive myself for. I forgive myself for not being perfect. I forgive myself for wanting to be perfect in the first place, since it’s an impossible desire that can only cause disappointment. I forgive myself for letting myself down. I forgive myself for making a mistake. I forgive myself for making a poor choice in a very trying time. I forgive myself for false optimism. I forgive myself for the tough parts of who I am.
I hope you can forgive yourself today, too.
Stories of women living alone during coronavirus by Caroline Kitchener at The Washington Post
17 artists capture a surreal New York from their windows By Antonio de Luca, Sasha Portis and Adriana Ramic at The New York Times
Look for meaning in this time, not happiness by Emily Esfahani Smith in The New York Times. Exploring the wisdom found in Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s “tragic optimism”: the ability to maintain hope and find meaning in life despite its inescapable pain, loss and suffering. Learn to suffer well.
Falling in love over Zoom by Michael Stahl at Narratively. I’ve heard a lot of sweet stories like this one. A friend of mine has been digital dating a guy she met on a dating app for weeks now. She literally said to me “I think he’s the one!” Hope springs eternal.
I’m listening to: The CREATE with Conni Biesalski podcast: How to conquer self-doubt and write like you mean it with Jamila Reddy. I relate so much to Conni and Jamila’s discussion about greeting grief as a friend, no matter how often it knocks on your door. I am still learning.
Questionable self-care advice
Support I got that you might need to hear
“As a Buddhist, I believe in the principle of impermanence. Eventually, this virus will pass, as I have seen wars and other terrible threats pass in my lifetime, and we will have the opportunity to rebuild our global community as we have done many times before. I sincerely hope that everyone can stay safe and stay calm. At this time of uncertainty, it is important that we do not lose hope and confidence in the constructive efforts so many are making.”
I enthusiastically endorse
The City’s coronavirus in NYC tracker
Julio Torres’ recent Instagram posts of him impersonating letters and colors, and “hand acting”:
This incredible illustrated coronavirus diary from London artist Vic Lee:
This cheered me up
My mom got me a Kindle for my birthday, and it comes with three months of Kindle Unlimited. All seven of the Harry Potter books are on there, and I’ve been insatiably working my way through them. I’m already on Goblet of Fire, which is my fave book and movie of the series. I’ve read the book probably four times, and seen the movie at least ten times. It is such a thrill to once more unravel the hundreds of mysteries that lie inside each book. I’ve just plain forgotten plenty of details the movies leave out, and it’s so fun to read the books as if they’re new again.
This TikTok made me laugh.
From this tweet.
Thanks to Catherine Andrews’ sweet shoutout for CSBC’s Substack grant in her wonderful newsletter, The Sunday Soother. This issue talks about the power of adding “…and that’s okay” to whatever experience we’re having. It’s helpful. Read Catherine’s essay on codependency for CSBC here.
Celebrating: Two perennial newsletter faves of mine, Cruel Summer Book Club and My Sweet Dumb Brain, were awarded Substack grants! Bonus, this entire list of grant recipient newsletters looks like a treasure trove of new content to sign up for.
Thanks for the signal boost in Deez Links, Delia Cai!
Jillian Anthony: @jillathrilla is a writer, editor and author of the newsletter about change, heartbreak and healing, Cruel Summer Book Club. She was previously deputy editorial director at Culture Trip and editor-in-chief of Time Out New York. She is available for a broad range of writing, editing and reporting, from profiles to cultural commentary to branded content.
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