Romance Scams: Yes That Can Happen to Anyone

Finally I have some time off to write the juicy details of the most distracting events that happened to me last month. Romance scams! Not only once, but twice in a month! Oh boy!

First let’s discuss the first one. I met this guy on planet romeo, who claimed he’s an american surgeon who is living in UK, and he’s looking from a serious relationship. Not too long after, we exchanged our phone numbers and started to chat  there. The guy claimed that his father is a native american, who was divorced by his italian mother who now lived in Australia. He claimed to speak italian and a catholic. His “photo” shows a very good looking guy in his 40 although I barely could see a trace of mixed ancestry. The guy in the photo looked like someone of middle east  ancestry, more like jews than an italian actually. His chat of course, was full of affectionate words, he would always start his chat with “I am thinking about you”, “I care about you” etc etc. He also sent me his “photos” working with his patiens. But the photos were weird – a lot of them looked cropped and had smaller resolutions. A simple reverse search shows the sources of those photos. A-ha! I told to myself, an identity theft!

At that point I should have stopped, but I am curious still: how do those scammers would try to get money from their victim? Let’s say he’s really visiting me in Jakarta, wouldn’t he in the end, will show himself, get caught in the public camera before can do anything harmful to me?

I tried to confront him and asked him for a video call or audio call to cross check my findings. The guy’s real profile speaks with a perfect american accent with no italian accent at all, and his father is still alive and not a native american person. I laughed when the guy rejected my request by saying he broke his phone few years ago after a fight with his ex and has been unable to do a video call or voice call ever since (now that’s the dumbest story you can tell). I then asked the guy, “hey, why did you steal Dr. Richard Zoumalan’s identity?”. The guy blocked me and then he’s gone. Good riddance. The guy’s profile is unfortunately, still floating on planet romeo. No matter how many times I reported the profile, planet romeo just won’t take down the profile. I tried to contact dr Richard Zoumalan through facebook, but since he’s a renowned public figure, I am doubtful my message will ever be delivered to him.

Ok that settles the first scam. The second one!

I met this guy on Scruff. He claimed to work as a consultant at a civil engineering company located in new york. Unlike the first one, we didn’t really chat that much, but we did exchanging pictures few times (nothing graphical), and learning from my first encounter, I also grew suspicious with this guy. Finally the time came for him to throw the bait. He told me he was about to visit Jakarta, thus he sent me the details about his flight ticket and his hotel itinerary, which showed his “legal name”. I checked his legal name and found out there was no result on google. Which is impossible of course. You cannot hide your identity that good. I could even find my mom’s name, who is not active in internet like I do. Red flag? Definitely. But since his itinerary contains another number which is different than his whatsapp number, I crosschecked the number again with TrueCall. Turned out the phone numbers originated from Iowa. Another red flag. I concluded that this guy most probably a scammer, but I still wanted to try how it would play out.

During the day he claimed to take a flight to Jakarta, he turned off his phone to ensure he really traveled to Jakarta. He even made a phone call to me (I couldn’t recognize the accent – it didn’t have a strong american accent) to convince me that he arrived.

Now the climax arrived: he texted me shortly he was arrested by the immigration officer because he brought $350,000 in his luggage, and he needed to pay a fee to be bailed out. He claimed that he needed “anti terrorism certificate clearance”. When he said that, I immediately texted him the phone number of American embassy and told him to ask their assistance. I googled about this certificate clearance thing, and reconfirmed my suspicion as there is no thing such as anti terrorism certificate clearance. I am also quite updated with immigration’s policy and I know for sure, foreigners can bring up to $10,000 or more as long as they declare it. Even if they get arrested, they will not be caught at the immigration line because that’s not where the inspection happened.

The guy later texted me he needed my assistance. I then asked, what could I do for help?

An Indonesian woman (!!) called my number and asked me whether I can bail out my “friend” here. The story was: he brought $350,000 in his luggage, he currently has $4000 in his wallet, and he needs $800 more to pay for the certificate. I said bluntly, “I have no money”. Like seriously, who would believe that absurd story? Why not use that “money” to bail out yourself? That’s a very poor plot, and little did he realize my wallet is tougher to crack than my heart.

This two events were an eye-opening events for me though. Previously I have always been deluding myself there might be someone out there for me even the person is a foreigner. Now, use that insecurity, sweet words, and identity theft, I was actually vulnerable for this romance scam. My friends often called me “stingy” because I concern  too much about money (a typical Chinese trait), but at least I knew, if someone you never met you asked you to transfer money, it’s definitely a scam, and I didn’t let my vulnerability ruin my finance.

Later on, I read about this scam, and there have been many victims. For example this guy lost $500K.

I shared my story to my LGBTQ friends later, and they were surprised to hear. Not too long after, a friend from the community also received the similar scam! It’s happening real time and I advised him to do the right thing and saved him from the trouble. It’s great that my experience saved other people.

Since LGBTQ community are more vulnerable, I can tell why it’s happening. We want to believe there is someone out there that can be part of our life, but seriously, when someone asks you to transfer money and there have been so many red flags, you know what to do.

 

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Being in a closet in 12 years: did I miss anything?

Lately I have been thinking about my younger days because my dating life is getting dull at the moment. I am still using dating app as usual, but since it’s dating app, you cannot really expect someone to magically appear and stay even as a friend with benefit. It’s amazing how hard to find one decent person that can become your sex partner. I had one sexual encounter this year. The guy is an ambonesse and a graduate from the melbourne university. He’s apparently working as a diplomat and will leave by February 2019 so I try not to be attached with him. But damn, I had a very nice sex (albeit a little awkward) with him. I have been expecting a second round of sex but the guy has been busy. And even after I turn on dating app, I haven’t been able to find another person to have sex with. I think sex/dating is just quite complicated because everyone has their own parameter and refuse to compromise.

This kind of weirdness doesn’t happen to me in straight dating for sure. I remember having a “normal” time with all the lovely girls that I met and having good time together, although most of them turned into nothing, but we treated each other with a respect as human beings. One of the most unique girl that I met on tinder was actually my friend’s friend, after two dates she told me she was close with someone, and I had to listen a brokenheart song to process the emotion. However even after that we maintain a friendly/professional relationship as I referred her my old (close) friend when she was looking for a position at her company (and they have become a bestie ever since). But the fact that I can maintain a “normal” relationship with her just makes me wondering why non-straight dating is so weird? The only guy that treated me like this was a french guy that I met on a scruff 2 years ago. We had hookup when he visited Jakarta, although again, it didn’t turn into anything, we stay in touch, I even visited him in Bangkok, and this time, as real friends (we didn’t have any sex).

So this goes back me thinking, what would have happened had I dated when I was 17? When I started to be curious about my sexuality? After rewinding my memory, and recalling all guys that I met during my study, I just realized that I was only attracted to one guy. His face is quite unique because he seems having an arab ancestry and good scruff. We are not really close, but when he received a scholarship to study in Japan, he sent me a postcard which I still keep. We maintained a casual friendship all throughout the university and since he has always been my second tier friend, we never catch up unless it’s something professional. It was not painful to think he has married since he’s straight anyway, I doubt there would have been any chance for anything to develop. But again, the attraction was probably just physical. I like someone whose body is quite contrasting to me since I am slim and hairless while he has the right amount of body hair.

Back then in 2004-2008, there was no dating app. How did people find their dates I wonder? Even in straight dating pool, my choice was quite limited. I had a crush with a girl and gave her something for her birthday (now I think it was stupid). She is now married with her sweetheart but I still consider her as my “first tier” friends. But other than people I met at the university, I couldn’t think of any way to meet new dates. Tinder was created in 2012, and okcupid was launched in 2014. Even during those years, there were still an ongoing stigma of online dating. Ironically in 2018, online dating is how you meet and dates people these days.

2018 is about to end. Next year I will be 33. Even after I hit 32, many people around me still thought I am younger than my real age, even my facial hair doesn’t really help. My friends said I have a baby face, but I am afraid my behaviour can be erratic at times too and can be contradicting.

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Isn’t this a typical face of 32 years old Chinese person?

For example, I am mostly very responsible about time and money management, but during social interaction I can be very insensitive to other people’s feelings. What I thought something normal people would think or say, would be perceived offending by a lot of people. This has gotten me a lot of troubles and social awkwardness. I have always been trying to increase my knowledge by observing people, but even that has a limitation. During sex,  I am more inexperienced and the last guy I had sex with, said I made him feel awkward. I guess the absence of dating made me half-function as an adult? Although people know me publicly as a “nerd” and in general I am very competitive in my own field and expertise, I think I am failure when it comes to social life.

I haven’t properly socialized since July (after losing my job). And weirdly enough, it feels my “old normal”. The times when I didn’t think about dating at all and always spending my time for myself.

Without dating app, I probably going back to my comfort zone and the life I have always been. I rarely meet new people, and prefer to stay in my room and enjoying my video games or writing something. But investing time in finding a relationship is also part of an adult life, and it prompted me to find dates even though it’s outside my comfort zone. I dunno how long I will do this though, maybe at some point I will go back into my cave.

 

Breaking up: it’s not as painful as I thought

A month ago or so, my girlfriend and I decided to call off our so-called “long distant relationship”. We ended it peacefully. We had a video call and discussed what worked and didn’t work. Despite giving me a greenlight for a polyamorous relationship, we agreed that the intimacy was just not there from start. We became a long distant couple naively after three dates. If I think about it now, it felt like a social pressure. Both of us were single, and we just needed someone to validate that we had a value in the dating market. But I anticipated that the relationship would have never worked out and I told my ex-girlfriend that please don’t post anything on social media because I didn’t want our relationship to focus on social media. And boy I was right, the relationship lasted less than a year and it was really a fiction we wanted to believe.

However, my ex-girlfriend and I, we still maintain a friendly relationship. I told her, the intimacy was just not there and we were more suitable to be a friend. Was it hurt? Maybe it was, but it was not because of rejection, but it was hurt because it took so long for both of us to believe the fabricated lies we agreed upon. However, the relationship was not meaningless. It was my first relationship with a girl, and I did learn something.

The craziest part, I am still thinking about my high school crush. The girl who was not interested on me and prompted me to date guys. I keep thinking and thinking, what would have happened if only we could become a couple? Will I stop dating guys and have a happy public heterosexual life?

Then if I think about it, any relationship with her just won’t work. She came from a relatively conservative catholic background. I don’t think she will accept a bisexual boyfriend. To this date, she seems still single. The day she announces her marriage probably the day I finally could move on completely.

Crisis is over: I got a new job

Yes you read it right. I wrote last time that I was laid off by my company, and I had a panic attack because the last time I was fired, it took me 7 months to find a new job (I got 7 months of severance package though). Somehow this became a silver lining indeed. I received a generous severance package that is roughly 8 times of my last monthly income.

I LEARNED A LOT from this process. Here’s what I learned from the past two months if you are laid off:

  1. Live frugally. This is absolute. You don’t know how long you will be unemployed, so you must cut down all your entertainment and eat at restaurants during the weekends.
  2. Don’t update your linkedin work history just yet. This is critical: one of my biggest mistake was that I thought I should immediately update my status as soon as I got laid off. That’s what happening last time and it made me unemployed 7 months! The thing is, you are less attractive when you are unemployed. Employers will look down upon you and you have less leverage. And naturally, don’t say you are laid off when you are being interviewed. You have no obligation to do that. A company will not inform how much revenue they get to you, and they will not inform whether their company is healthy or not. Use the same logic: you are not obliged to be completely honest to them.
  3. Be confident of yourself. If you haven’t had any recollection of what you did or what you achieved in the past few years of your tenure, you are in a deep trouble, because those are the technical details that prospective employers want to see. They will ask you: “what’s your experience with X?” “how did you do Y?” if you generated a list of project and what you accomplished there, you will remember everything you do. You want to rewrite your LinkedIn profile to make sure it reflects your latest skills and expertise and feeding it with the right keywords.
  4. Ask your network / friends / co-workers. One of my most fatal mistake I did during my unemployment period was that I realized I had a limited network. I only had like 300 linkedin connections, and after I was unemployed, I added people randomly and got 2000 connections, it did help a bit, but I didn’t know most of them. Now, after I got a job, I slowly build network with people whom I met on linkedin, and yes, it does work. I reached them out and some of them offered their help. Your ex co-workers and your college friends are very valuable here.
  5. Perception is a reality. I don’t know about candidate’s background checking in your job market, but here in Indonesia, employers tend to ask your current salary and expected salary on the employee registration form or during the initial interview. I really don’ like this practice, because it’s basically a psych-war. Anyway, in Indonesia, salary information is a secret information, and people don’t disclose their salary. Once the employer knows what your current salary is, they probably will try to give you an increase of 10% at maximum.

I admit that I was overreacting, turned out all I need was a confidence.

I lost my job

As you read it right, today I am officially unemployed. I have a mixed feeling about this. I have been working at this PR firm for two years three months. Prior working at this company, I was fired from a media company because I couldn’t follow their corporate culture (it was the weirdest phase of my career).

However this time it’s different. My firm’s ENFP CEO apparently siphoned fund to his own company in the past one year (or more), he also had an adultery with one of the office worker. The latter is actually not our problem despite he’s breaking the company’s policy, however the former hit the firm really hard.

After he got sacked almost immediately in the January, the company went downhill. I had so many idle days at my office that I virtually could spend all my day doing nothing but browsing facebook (and applying jobs on linkedin). I work at this firm as a researcher, and my role is to provide the right data to support business growths, I thought I was quite important at my firm since hey, I helped the business! Unfortunately, after months after months, I realized that we had so many pitching but no win at all, and we didn’t have any paid projects since January. I immediately thought there was something wrong with the firm, and started applying jobs.

The problem? I overestimated myself and only applied overseas jobs, thinking that I will be “safe” from any layoff. Unfortunately, no prospective employers ever got back to me, since most of them probably didn’t want to sponsor a work visa. However, as my sister had a wedding last week, and house’s rent was due, my parent’s sister offered my parents to move to one of their empty house (hooray!). I thought it’s the time for me to leave this rented house and move to my own place after a year of delay, effective from August 2018. Unfortunately my salary was not enough to support my expense since I have to pay the mortgage, and that’s when I decided to start applying jobs locally.

That’s when the shit hits the fan. Yesterday I peeked my in-box around 11 and noticed the HR invited me with another two co-workers for a meeting that lasted only for 30 minutes. My heart skipped. There cannot be a meeting that lasted only for 30 minutes. I immediately suspected I was going to be fired today, and I was right.

The HR explained that the firm was struggling financially. The firm only had $33,000 cash to cover their operation cost. To prevent further mass layoff, they need to downsize the workforce, and unfortunately, I was axed as well. I got a severance package around 8 times of my monthly salary, which is not incredibly bad. Combined with my equity and saving, I still could pay my mortgage for 31 months, assuming I am living in my parent’s basement. The scenario is brighter if I can find someone to rent the apartment ASAP, so we don’t need to pay the mortgage for few months.

I have a mixed feeling but calmer as I have been laid off before, but it was a traumatizing experience. It took me 7 months before I could find the right job. I got VERY lucky to get my last position at this firm because I only graduated from a master’s degree and I got fired after 5 months. My CV looked so horrible. When I applied at this firm, I applied for consultant position, as I wanted to get back to reputation management again. But my last manager saw my CV and saw me had an experience of crunching a lot of data, which is ironically, an activity that I only did two weeks before I was fired from the media company.

The good thing about this firm, it has a big name in the public relations industry since it’s an American company, and I worked with so many projects that helped me to grow my expertise. After two years, somehow I ended up developing a personal brand as a mixed methodology researcher who is expert in designing research. But at the same time I feel it really restricts my career move since I strictly could only work as a researcher.

My English skill has been improving a lot too. That last op-ed published on the diplomat actually undergone a minimum editing, to my surprise, and even my native Australian friend said the grammar was okay (yay!).

But the most important part is, I met the most helpful co-workers in my life. I have been working at 4 different companies, but this company was the first experience I felt everyone was so helpful and always watched your back, and they will do their best to support you instead of ruin you. The company culture is incredibly good, that’s the reason I haven’t had any thoughts to move to another office despite the irregular situation that happened since the beginning of January.

I am really sad at the moment that my relationship with this firm had to end this way. I had no remorse, and I really proud that I was part of this firm, but unfortunately everything has to end. But at least I know everyone else is affected.

What do I want to do next? Aside from applying jobs in Jakarta, I probably will start applying PhD again.

To be honest I feel more prepared this time as my CV looks more polished, I have enough saving, I have been living frugally in the past two years, I have no debt (excluding the mortgage), and I have no children! Being laid off like this make me feel I shouldn’t procreate any human beings. I am sure my misery will be doubled if I had any child now.

 

Call me by your name (2017): A beautiful unrealistic fairy tale.

So, recently, my Italian friend who shared a similar name with the character of this movie recommended me to watch this movie. At first I tried to read the book, but I couldn’t continue because the introduction was ridiculously slow. The first chapter basically filled with Elio’s fantasy of Oliver, and I feel like reading a chapter from twilight. I will continue reading the book sometime when I have the right mood, but at the moment, I want to write my thoughts about the movie itself.

Okay, let’s talk about the premise of the story. The story is about two (white) jewish guys who had a summer love story. Please let me grab a description from tvtropes:

Set in Northern Italy during the 1980s, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is an average teenage boy expecting to spend another summer with an unknown American academic coming to study with his father, a professor (Michael Stuhlbarg). When their guest turns out to be Oliver (Armie Hammer), an attractive college graduate who shares his Jewish heritage, Elio finds himself falling for a man, and learns the attraction may be mutual.

To cut the story short, Elio and Oliver were basically attracted to each other, but they were quite oblivious with their feelings and finally they had sex, and then sex again, after that Oliver must return, and Elio received a news that Oliver would be engaged, and the movie ended he was watching a fireplace, brokenhearted.

The premise is very simple, no? About two bisexual men who had a good friendship and had a physical attraction and had a good time during their summer vacation. The story ended tragically because one of the guy must return and the dream ended there.

One thing noticeable from the start, the story is a very classic homoerotic relations rooted from pederasty and a typical sexual relations you can find in daddy and boy pornography. Obviously it’s erotic as Oliver has a typical “muscular”, “masculine”, “hair-chested” body, and contrasted with Elio’s “lean”, “slender” body.  The director is trying so hard to oversexualize their body: so many shirtless scenes in this movie shoving the audience to worship the actors’ well-sculpted body.

Call me by your name
We are too sexy for shirts

Now, maybe because I have a different background, but I cannot really relate to this movie, because so many reasons:

  1. All the casts are so privileged. Granted the place is in Italy. They supposed to be Jewish, but these days, I feel Ashkenazi Jews are no different than typical Europeans with white privilege too. Both Elio and Oliver come from a fantasy land where there is no problem with their racial issue. Ask non-white people about this movie, their perspective may be different. I just have a hard time to relate the characters’ in the movie because of their racial background.
  2. Oliver looks so perfect. A dominating taller guy, killer smile, smoking hot body, sexually appealing, etc etc. and he likes Elio back, unconditionally. Try to find this unicorn in this real life. He’s every gay boy’s daddy fantasy (he’s supposed to be 24??).
  3. It’s erotic because it’s taboo. The story’s homoeroticism relies heavily in the setting that it was in 1980s where homosexuality was not as tolerated as it is now. But if the story is happening in a contemporary situation, it may be less erotic than it is.
  4. Most of us probably haven’t met a person as nice as Oliver. I don’t know about you, but I first came out as a bisexual man in 2015 after 12 years hiding in the closet. I missed an opportunity to explore my bisexuality during my study in New Zealand (fortunately or unfortunately). I first explored my bisexuality in Jakarta through gay dating app, and most people I met were assholes who ghosted me. I had my first sex experience during my trip in Europe, I met some people there, which gave me a mixed feelings: Should I cherish those memories or should I dump them? In Jakarta, I could count by fingers how many good people I met here, but mostly took you for granted. I feel Elio’s beautiful experience during his summer vacation is redundant as it’s unrealistic.
  5. Embrace a broken heart? seriously? I had three guys broke my heart as they took me for granted, and this movie over-romanticize broken heart.
  6. Straight-washing. Both of the actors are straight, not bisexual at all. Where’s the empowerment? Had I known the actors are straight, I probably would have watched this even more critically and with a more dosage of cynicism.
  7. Cheesy. That title: call me by your name. So you call your loved one by calling your own… name? What the hell? Even my sister who enjoys romance thinks that idea is ridiculous and gimmicky at best.

Final verdict:

Call me by your name is a beautiful, unrealistic fairy tale which only happen to privileged people. The movie’s straight-washing is the biggest middle finger to the LGBT scene. You will love it, but don’t overrate it or think it as universal story between two bisexual men. At least we have some representation, but sheesh, cannot it be more inclusive?

What’s your judgement over this movie?