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Grace Upon Grace: The New Way I Deal with Internet Scammers



Jitalla, friends!


This post will be a little on the miscellaneous side, but I'll speak to something I've experienced often since launching my business: internet scams. Most likely, they're something you've experienced too, perhaps even suffered a good deal of loss from.


There are plenty of resources that can tell you how to recognize and prevent getting taken advantage of by them, but that's not the goal of this post. Instead, I'll share a few quick facts and thoughts about scams, what my exposure to them has been as a small business owner, and how I've come up with an unconventional way of dealing with them.



Double Tragedy


Internet fraud is hardly something new (unless you count the internet as new), and it's only gotten worse in recent years. According to the FBI, there were over 800,000 complaints of internet crime in 2022, which is nearly double what it was before COVID-19. The amount of money lost to these scams is over 10 billion dollars.


Numbers that large are hard to visualize, but we can at least understand that they are HUGE. The damage caused by these scams is, quite frankly, mind-boggling. But as horrible as the financial damage is, I think there's an even greater travesty at work. The fact is that for every scam, there is a scammer.


Every time someone is defrauded online, it's because a human being made in the image of God chose to use their time and effort to steal from someone instead of love them. A tool that should have been used to benefit mankind was instead used to harm it -- by someone with as much of a soul as you or me. One of the many tragedies of sin is how it degrades people and objects into something far less than they were intended to be.


Now before I get accused of being too philosophical and wishy-washy, I want to make something clear: I do believe that scammers should be punished by the government for their crimes. The damage they cause is devastating to their victims, and society can't run safely when things like theft are allowed to go unchecked.


What Romans 13:3-4 says about the government is fitting for this issue: "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil."


All of that being said, I'll repeat the point that scammers are as much human beings as the rest of us. They are made in God's image, too, and Jesus died to save them from their sins as much as he did for you or me. That fact plays a significant role in how I deal with them.


Philosophy and theology aside, here's my experience with scams since I launched Cabalian Games.



Sketchy Links


By far the most frequent (and easiest to recognize) scams are some variation of this on Facebook:





I've gotten dozens of these things in the past several months, but strangely enough, my Facebook page never got disabled when I ignored them -- which is pretty much all I did. Anything with sketchy links, overblown threats of legal action, and blatant reliance on time-pressure tactics was easy enough to laugh off and shake my head at. I wish this was the only type of fraud I had to deal with, but some scammers are more sophisticated.

Much more sophisticated.


As a case in point, I present to you the one scam I fell for. Thankfully, it was minor as far as scams go -- no loss of identity, no compromised financials, and no hacked computers; just some money wasted on a service that, while not technically illegal, is unethical and useless. Allow me to explain...




The Red Headed Book Lover


My AI depiction of "Aimee Ann," AKA the Red Headed Book Lover






It all began with an email I got the same month I launched my business.




Aside from an unsolicited link, things seemed innocent enough. And boy, isn't this exactly what a new indie author wants to hear? A "devoted book reviewer who has built a large following over the years" wanted to review my book!


I had enough sense to not click the link to her website, so I looked it up directly through Google. As it turns out, the Red Headed Book Lover is an actual website. It's pretty well-designed and seems legit.... so long as you don't scratch the surface too deeply. Unfortunately, I only scratched the surface a little bit.


The top book reviews listed on the homepage looked impressive. They were fairly coherent and had hundreds of comments to go with them. Combined with some misleading online traffic stats Aimee sent me when I responded to her initial email, everything seemed to check out. Maybe the ads for my book had finally landed a lucky strike, I thought.


She asked for a paltry sum of money compared to the other legitimate book review companies I used (barely over a hundred dollars), so I happily agreed to pay it. Six weeks later, her review of The Secrets of Shadowcrest was posted for all the world to see.


The grammar and vocabulary left much to be desired, but it sported a five-star rating with glowing praise for the book and its author. It was only a matter of time before hundreds of people saw my book and bought some copies, right?


Wrong.


As I later found out, "Aimee Ann" has been scamming indie authors for quite a few years. Had I taken the time to read through the "hundreds of comments" on her reviews, I would have found that many of them contained a suspicious over-abundance of praise for Aimee and her reviewing skills.


I also would have seen that the majority of these comments were frivolous back-and-forth messages between Aimee and a handful of "site users." (I lost count after 350 back-and-forths between Aimee and the same user on the longest comment thread, but trust me, the final total was much higher than that.)


Many times, content that could easily have fit into one comment stretched out into three or four separate comments. Almost as if someone were trying to pad the numbers...


Had I paid full attention as I scrolled down the home page, I would have also noticed that there were two sections of book reviews: The top half, where all the big-name books by established authors stood with hundreds of "comments;" and the bottom half, where all the indie books wasted away with not a single comment.


Any guesses which half my book fell into?



My book lost in the hinterlands of redheadedbooklover.com



There's nothing illegal about agreeing to pay someone to post a poorly written book review on a website that few people look at or care about. But it is a waste of money. Please, my friends, warn any authors you know to stay clear of "Aimee Ann" and her Red Headed Book Lover scam.


This is a more complex fraud than the Facebook ones, so my response to it will be a little different than what I detail below, but the principles behind whatever I end up doing will remain the same.



How I Handle the Scammers


For the first several months, I did what any normal person would do and simply ignored the Facebook scams. The more I thought about it, though, the more I wanted to try an out-of-the-box idea.


Proverbs 25:21-22 says, "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the Lord will reward you."


Furthermore, Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:44 to "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."


Rather than ignore these scammers who obviously need a savior to rescue them from their sinful lifestyle, why not be kind to them and share the gospel with them? If they want to steal my money, why not catch them completely off guard and offer them a discount on my book?


"Craziness," you may say.  "That's treating them better than they deserve!" Why would I think of doing that to people I already said should be punished for their crimes?


Because God showed me even greater grace when I should have been punished for my sins. There's no nice way of saying this, but what I deserve is the wrath of God and the judgment of hell. What God has given me instead through Jesus Christ is complete forgiveness, eternal life, and adoption as His child. The only way such a thing is possible is something these scammers need to hear.


So, whenever I'm "notified" that my Facebook page will be deactivated forever for some unspecified copyright infringement, this is the response I send back to them:




Hello [name],


Thank you for reaching out to Cabalian Games! Believe it or not, you’re actually the [x]th person who’s tried to scam us like this on Facebook. While most businesses would either ignore you or try to report you, we like to take a different approach.


If you order any products from our store in the next 24 hours, we’ll give you 15% off your total order with promo code...


We also invite you to check out the following article so you can find an even greater offer for something much more important than books or board games. https://livingwaters.com/are-you-a-good-person/



If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.


All the best,

- Cabalian Games





A Final Thought


I expect that very few of these scammers will take me up on my discount or follow the link, but it's certainly worth a try. Sometimes God uses unlikely sources to spread his word and show grace upon grace... perhaps even an eccentric author/board game designer?


Sitalla for now, friends -- farewell!



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