Banah Digital is a Singaporean-run, Thailand-based web design and care agency.
I’ve never thought that I would fall prey to scams. I’ve always been able to call out a scam when I see one. While others may struggle to identify the signs of a scam, it seemed like my forte to help them avoid being scammed. But me at the mercy of a scammer? What a humbling experience that revealed my pride. Here’s the story:
Last year, I started a web and graphic design social enterprise in Thailand. It was a challenging but very fruitful process as I saw opportunities being created for the youths that I was training in web design. While the youths helped in the conceptualization and building process of the websites, I focused on the sales and marketing efforts of the social enterprise. We were hungry for projects as that would keep the organization going, give the boys opportunities to grow in their skills, and allow us to generate resources for local ministries. When projects came in, I was elated and thankful.
In our 5th month of operation, we had a very special business enquiry that came in from the States. We were excited to potentially land our first American company as our client! It felt like a milestone to us. The client needed a simple website for his Mexican restaurant in New York and readily agreed to work with us. However, he wanted to pay for the project deposit via cheque only. Hence, I needed a representative in the States to receive the cheque on my behalf. One of my friends agreed to help, so I passed his details to the client.
Our excitement snowballed as my friend received the cheque and deposited it at the bank. We were already knee-deep in our research into the client’s target audience and potential website designs that will help him achieve his business goals. I was hardly ready for what would happen next, which led to many sleepless nights.
Shortly after the cheque was deposited at the bank, the client texted me to say that there was an error in the cheque. Apparently, his manager accidentally wrote a cheque for twice the amount of the deposit. To remedy this, the client wanted me to transfer the extra amount to his “private design consultant”, who would send me the required design assets upon receiving payment.
More dubiously, the client insisted that I transfer via PayPal and did not allow me to let me contact his design consultant directly. Suspicions raised, I started to ask lots of questions. The client responded to my questions with threats and verbal abuse to scare me into action. It became clear that this person is an abusive and toxic client.
It was going to be a bad working experience with this client. I knew that, but I felt that I should accept it to get his business. The stress of being responsible for the livelihood of my staff pushed me to swallow his abuse by “humbling myself”. Upon hearing about what’s happening, Sheryl asked me an important question:
Jason, are you ready to let go of this project?
My wife saw how abusive this client was. She wanted me to protect myself and my staff. Why should I give him permission to continue abusing me with his words and threats? I chose to let go.
To end the client relationship, I was going to refund him the whole amount via a bank transfer. The client demanded that I transfer through PayPal instead as it would be “faster”. As I stood my ground, the client started threatening me with lawsuits and accusing me of trying to keep his money. Meanwhile, the cheque had yet to be cashed in fully. The client refused to wait for me to receive the full amount before processing the refund.
Since the client had my friend’s personal information, I was concerned that he would harm my friend in the States. That held me back from refuting the client’s threats and ignoring him. The threats intensified and I gave in: I decided to quickly refund him via PayPal to end this nightmare.
I entered the required details into PayPal and prepared my heart to say goodbye to 3800 USD. The money would come back to me anyway after the cheque cashes into my friend’s account, right? I was literally one click away from making the PayPal transfer when something stirred in my heart. I felt prompted to Google the client’s phone number before I made the transfer, and what happened next confirmed it.
The Google results returned in 0.44 seconds. Reading the second article left me stunned and speechless.
Many other web development agencies around the world had faced an identical experience with the same person using the same phone number. Once a refund was made via PayPal, the cheque would be reversed or flagged as fraudulent. The “client” was adamant on PayPal as the transfer would be untraceable, unlike bank transfers.
I was aghast. At the brink of being scammed, I was stopped in my tracks as if I was standing precariously over a cliff. I immediately closed the PayPal browser tab and told Sheryl about it. It was a humbling goosebumps moment. The past few months of excitement, anger, and shock replayed in my mind as reality settled in my heart. One more step ahead and I would have fallen into the scam!
Next, I contacted my friend in the States to update him. He reported the scam to the bank and stopped the processing of the cheque, which thankfully had not been complete yet. I was furious with the scammer and exposed him on WhatsApp. In the meantime, I was also concerned that he would harass my friend. True to our predictions, the scammer contacted my friend. My friend was already prepared with an ingenious way to end the harassment:
This brought laughter to an otherwise traumatic experience. My dear American friend had learned some Chinese in his University electives and used it creatively to fend the scammer away. It worked, and the harassment stopped. My friend assured me that everything will be ok, and he didn’t blame me for the situation. I’m so grateful.
We can be so fluent in the latest technologies and solutions, that we forget to beware of scams. Beyond just the technology and loopholes, scams work the most effectively when they can instill fear and urgency. Do not let your desire for projects get you emotional!
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