Monday, 30 August 2010

THE CON ARTIST . . .

Okay, so hot on the heels of yesterday's post, here's another job related one. A commenter yesterday asked me to expand on the con artist story, and I've been asked about this in the past too. I always meant to post about it, but it is all a bit long winded so I've put it off before now. But okay . . . it's about time, I've waited over 2 years, and if I don't tell this story, you're more than likely just going to have me whining about my belated quarter life crisis, so I think I'll spare you that for now and tell you my sad tale of how naive little me (and a couple of other people) got sucked in by a big fat liar.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Back in 2003, I was working for Directory Enquiries when I got a job through my flatmate's sister, to work as a receptionist in a law firm. After a week of it, I already hated it, and resigned, saying I would work my full month's notice just so that I would have time to look for a job. Two days after I finally left the company, I got a job with Scottish Power. This wasn't ideal for me, as it meant nearly an hour on a bus each way every day, so I very quickly told my bosses in there I was looking for something else. I went for a couple of job interviews without success, and then one day I hit pay dirt. Or so I thought.

One of the agencies I was signed up with sent me on an interview for a new company starting up in the city centre. It was described to me as a property website/zine type job, where I would be a "city editor". I would be assigned to deal with a certain American city on the website, research properties that were available and source journalists and freelance writers to write pieces on the area.

Sounds good, right? To me, with my marketing degree, and my interest in magazines and websites, and my desire to travel, it sounded pretty good. I didn't think I would get it though.

I turned up to the interview and basically walked into what appeared to be a building site. The inside of the office was in the process of getting done up, and was extremely rough looking. There was another girl sitting there waiting to be interviewed (she's still a good friend of mine these days.) so I had to wait until she had her interview. Then, remarkably quickly, it was my turn.

I was welcomed by a rather large blonde American lady. Her charm was immense. In fact, she was the type of person who could have sold snow to eskimos. She blew me away with her enthusiasm for her project, talked up the job to the stage where I would have done virtually anything to get it . . . then told me I had the job.

I should have known something was wrong there. I've rarely been offered a job without actually being asked any questions.

So that was alarm bell number one.

More alarm bells that I chose to ignore followed.

1) On the first day, I was the first to turn up. She rewarded me by sending me out to buy a hammer. Do I LOOK like the sort of person who knows where to buy a hammer??? I ran about Glasgow, sweating nervously, panicking, and scared to go back unless I found one. By the time I DID get back, my new colleagues were all there and about five minutes later, she told us we could go home.

2) We were phoned by the agency every other day that week to be told that the lady's kids were sick and we didn't need to go in. But, we were assured, we would still be paid. There wasn't any question about this. Considering I don't think any of us had signed a contract at this stage, that seems a bit odd now.

3)One of the first jobs we had was to strip wallpaper off the walls in the office. Yes, because THAT was in our job description. (Oh wait, we hadn't signed anything, remember? I guess we could do whatever she wanted in that case.)

4)Another task we were asked to do was phone property companies in the States, pretending to be interested in apartments and getting the details of them. I think she wanted to steal the details and put them on HER website. I managed one call, where I ended up having to conduct an entire conversation in the worst American accent you would have ever heard. I'm pretty sure the woman on the other end of the line knew I was faking. By the end of it, I was trembling all over and bright red with shame and mortification.

5)We were told by the agency the starting salary would be between 12500 pounds and 145000 pounds dependent on experience. I was offered 12500 which at the time I was perfectly happy with. We later discovered the sole guy we worked with had been offered 14500. Two of the girls decided to kick up a fuss, and she immediately agreed to give us all 14500. Who agrees to raising four people's wages by 2 grand that easily? Hmmm.

Oh, and alarm bell number 6??? Oh . . . that would be the most important one.

She didn't pay us.

The time for being paid came and went two or three times. She would assure us there had been some sort of glitch with her bank. Naively, we would believe this. She eventually gave us cheques as an alternative. Something inside me told me not to spend that money. Sure enough, the bank returned it to me.

In the meantime, I was working a massive dent into my savings, and working up a massive debt to my mother. Neither was ideal, but I still believed that this woman would do right by us in the end.

Eventually one day, she sat us down and told us she wouldn't be able to pay us for the indefinite future. She suggested we went out and got temp jobs, and then when she had all her financial matters sorted, we could come back - and that we'd get our money back at this stage.

The weeks went past. We all found other jobs, albeit temporary ones, and it didn't appear that we would be getting the money we were owed anytime soon. A couple of us decided to go to a lawyer. But just as we were sorting out an agreement with our lawyer, HER lawyer got in touch with an agreement that we would get our money paid back to us as long as we kept the matter confidential. Or something like that. The details are a bit blurry with time, this was 6 years ago now.

(I never got that money back. Therefore I don't think I need to keep the matter confidential. Anyway, I'm not naming names.)

A month or two later, me and my friend were offered jobs again. She said she was back on her feet as a property rental company now. She offered my friend the reception role and me an admin role, but she said she wanted to get me involved in wording the adverts etc.

Yes, she knew how to push my buttons all right. She was the puppet master, I the helpless little puppet who actually believed she wanted to help us, and that she believed that I would be good at the job.

Deep down, she probably just chose the most gullible one.

I remember discussing it with my friends, my boyfriend at the time, my mum. They were all dubious, all advised me against it. But that they'd support me whatever I decided. I wish they'd all been more firm with me now, maybe if I hadn't felt I had an element of choice, I wouldn't have gone back.

But I did.

And for few months it seemed okay. Because of bank problems, she was paying us in cash and (allegedly) sorting out the income tax/national insurance side of it. It was only when we started having to fend off angry calls from landlords we started to suspect that our wages were coming from the rent that was meant to be going into THEIR pockets.

After this realisation, things started to move fast, and the last thing I really remember of the position was being locked in the office while an angry landlord banged on the door outside demanding to see my boss. I don't even REMEMBER how we got out of that one. Articles started to appear in the papers about how she was a fraudster and had been arrested for such crimes in the past. Luckily I got another temp job at that point and moved on.

I got paid for most of that second stint, but never got any of the money from the first time around.

I stayed in touch with my boss, figuring that it was better to play nice and keep in contact in the hope of getting my money, than not at all. Then, one day, just as she had been PROMISING that the money would be along shortly, I found out that two of the ex employees had decided to report her to the tv consumer programme Watchdog.

I actually contacted one of them, who I was still friendly with, and tried to convince him not to do it.

Which is when he told me that, early on in our employment with her first time around, he had been driving her to see a client and she'd went off on a rant about me and how I had a negative attitude and was always whining. He hadn't wanted to tell me at the time but since I was sticking up for her, he thought I should know.

I thought this was a bit of a cheek of her, since I had actually been the most positive about the lack of money we had received, but I continued to try to be nice to her, because I still figured that I was better off keeping her on side.

But then she just vanished completely. Her phone stopped working, and she was just gone.

I guess she had to. She did, after all, owe loads of people money. Her employees, her clients. The swanky apartment she was staying in. Probably her Tae Bo and yoga instructors she apparently had. Her sons' private school fees.

(Despite this amazing lifestyle she had, if you questioned her about the whereabouts of your wage, she would complain how skint she was and how she only had seven pounds to her name and a hole in her shoe. No matter what day you asked her on, she always had seven pounds. Which was weird. The hole in her shoe? That was just sloppy.)

I ended 2004, thanks to her, in a temp job I loathed, boyfriendless (the whole work situation had left me depressed, miserable and clingy, and he couldn't handle me anymore), without any savings, and owing my mum two grand. It took me ages to get back on track and pick myself back up again but eventually I managed it. No thanks to that woman.

I learned a few lessons from it anyway, the main one was not to be as gullible and naive. It was stupid of me to go back again, I know that now. But it certainly taught me that there are people out there who will just take, take and take some more from you.

As far as I'm aware, she's still out there. Still in this country even. Still up to her scams.

I can only hope that karma bites her in the arse one day. Because she deserves it. Bigtime.

11 comments:

  1. Bloody hell, I remember most of that story but there were a couple of bits and pieces there I don't recall you telling me!

    What goes around, comes around.

    (I managed to find an American website that's named and shamed her, and has included scans of the newspaper articles - all stuff you already know, of courses - but she has over a dozen aliases as well. The boot.)

    x

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  2. Wow - Could have been a movie! It's terrible how some employees (if they even deserve this title) play with people who just want to bring in some money...

    Didn't know about this story. But in history its not the first (and not the last) to do this kind of games. Damn. You've got to be careful out there.

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  3. What a psycho! I'm surprised that you went back.. what a nutjob. And wait, didn't you find it through an agency? They really should have been harassing her for the pay too.. rubbish! What a crazy time that must have been for you!

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  4. I always think everything is a scam, so don't blame yourself. I wish I could be more trusting. I once gave notice to my job because I accepted one of these scam jobs. Then when I was researching it on the internet, I realized it was a scam and had to wait all weekend before I knew if I could keep my job! Everything worked out in the end.

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  5. my God these things are so scary, whatever you do do not blame yourself. These people are master manipulators, they are con artists and they have charm like no one else.

    Everyday this happens to people who truly do not deserve it

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  6. Geez! I think that this woman was an expert at finding vulnerable people and exploiting them. Don't feel bad - she was good at what she did!

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  7. The interview for my last job was really very weird. She hardly asked me anything, she mostly just talked about the job itself and what the job duties would be. Some of the job duties she described were things I never actually ended up doing. I didn't think I got it because she hardly asked me anything and the whole thing was just so very awkward so I was shocked and excited when she called to offer me the position. It was an awful job though. I had very little to do while everyone around me had too much to do. I'd ask to help but usually got relegated to faxing or photocopying, that kind of thing.

    I'm sorry you had to go through this. But I'm glad you were able to get out of it.

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  8. Dear Polly,

    You write such a good story and you're obviously lovely.

    poor you.

    I think you should name names.
    What could she possibly do?

    I want to know who she is!!

    By the way, I think we should get married and have babies! (would they have to be Catholic?)

    Eustace

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  9. Scary and oh so familiar. The boy's last boss was just as bad as this, although she did pay him for his work, just no one else who did work for her company! She was big and blond but not american tho..

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  10. Yay, I'm the one who asked for the story! And I was rewarded with a great story! Yay!

    ... although, I'm sorry you had to go through all of that. But on the plus side, you have seemed to put it all behind you wonderfully.

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  11. I found you entry interesting do I' ve add a Trackback to it on our blog

    ReplyDelete

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