Happy Chanukah, Everyone. Yes, Even Lara Cameron.

So in yet another attempt to try and convince people all is right with my world, last night I sent out holiday greetings with a screenshot of the menorah I have broken out since I was a kid, one of the few surviving relics of my childhood that I have in my possession,  The menorah has admittedly seen better days when it comes to cleanliness, but it still stands and functions, which with the passing of every year that’s more that can be said for other things–and people–once in my life.

It seems those kinds of social media posts gain the most traction and connection because, after all, what else does it really mean these days anyway, right?  People with jobs and readily available families and friends are barely on it, I’m told, and besides, as so many admonish younger generations who have grown up with it, spending too much time with it can be dangerous.

And I do tend, more often than not, to limit my interactions on sites such as Facebook and Instagram.  Most of my interactions there come from sharing these musings and the conversations and yes, sometimes, arguments that arise from them.  I try to limit those kinds of interactions to private messaging, though I sometimes do fail to heed my own advice.  Nobody’s perfect, least of all me.  Lord knows not a day tends to go by where someone, somewhere, is prompt to remind me of that.

But Linked In, for those of us who still seek some sort of gainful, full-time employment, is more of a necessity.  Most of the traffic these musings, and even those from our sister sports site TheDoubleOvertime.com, receive is from LinkedIn. And as regular readers know all too well, it’s apparently the only way in the free world virtually everyone I know believes one can actually get any job.

Well, it’s also now apparently the way for folks who are trying to prevent me and others from actually reaping any financial benefits to reach me as well.  Because of late I get far more interactions, most unsolicited, from the likes of “new found” friends like “Juan Katelyn”.

Here’s the picture and profile of this “international entrepreneur”

And the first conversation “Juan” chose to offer up, unsolicited?
Hello. I hope you don’t mind making new friend
Well, that’s encouraging.  And hey, “Juan”‘s not unattractive, either.  I’ve actually be encouraged by others to consider something like this a positive.
Except for the fact that mere minutes later I got this interaction, from someone who has a somewhat less impressive resume, but virtually the same exact picture.
By now, of course, most of you are laughing, because we both know neither “Juan” or “Lin” actually exist.  Lin, in fact, followed up with several similar private messages, complimenting my work, even calling me a “gentleman”.  And continued to insist that I give up my What’s App number because “her boss” insisted that that would be the most convenient way for us to continue our communication.
Now I’m aware enough to know that What’s App serves a vital purpose for people spread out all over the world.  And as we were reminded during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, they often are used as ways for even real people locally to connect.  As the Left Angeles TIMES’ Meg James and Josh Rottenberg wrote in a recap of the drawn-out negotiations, it had, in fact, become the preferred method of communication for those with a cause:

That night, Iger went to La Dolce Vita in Beverly Hills for dinner. A writer, one of nearly 500 participants in a WhatsApp thread throughout the strike, took a picture of the Disney chief. Fellow writers began guessing who Iger might be waiting for. In came Paul McCartney.

A photo of Iger and the Beatles legend was sent to the group. Someone suggested they send over a bottle of “Writers’ Tears” whiskey — but they didn’t.

But I kinda doubt “Lin” or “Juan” are part of such a connected chain.  Much more likely, “they” were engaging in “catfishing” behavior that I used to think was limited to social sites.

Yes, even I know all about catfishing.  It was the subject of a signature MTV series for most of the 2010s.  And Wikipedia explains how the term arose and why a generation around the world seemed to grow up with it as a part of their DNA:

They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cods in these big vats, put some catfish in with them and the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank God for the catfish because we would be … boring and dull if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fin.”

And yes, I was a victim myself, back when most of the world was in lockdown and I, in particular, was going through a particularly lonely and painful period, surrounded as I was by new people both inspiring and frustrating at once. I responded to an intriguing person who went by the name Lara Cameron, and I was really excited when she offered up her e-mail address.  And even more “excited” when I got a lengthy reply that included an awful lot of detail.  Witness the first paragraph:

How are you doing? I do appreciate this communication with you as its building a peaceful and lovely friendship. I just want you to know life is too short to be wasted and lonely for no reason but to live and enjoy to its fullest. I need a man who’s ready to love me for who I am. A man that’s sincere, caring, creative, honest, outgoing, and outspoken, a man who I can regard as a best friend, a comforter, a man who’s comfortable in his skin, one who is ready to make the right decision, a family-oriented man who has goals in life and future ambitions. A man who is able to make life worth living like in paradise, he understands my feelings and he’s willing to show affection and love always. I’m not looking for a rich man, no that’s not an issue to me but a man who is rich with love care, and affections. 

Again, please stop laughing if you can.  By now I know that any combination of language and word salad such as that, or the kind of greeting that “Juan” offered up, is a sure sign of a scammer.  And if I had the inclination to Google this, I would have likely landed on an article such as this one from SOCIAL CATFISH’s Ashley Mae Orcutt, or this one from BUSINESS INSIDER’s Dave Johnson.  

And consdering I’ve had to change my primary debit card on more than a few occasions, there’s little doubt that the fact that I was lonely or desperate enough to think that Lara Cameron actually was someone who truly existed, or that practically any LinkedIn communication these days was from someone who actually had a real boss who wanted to employ me that just happened to prefer What’s App, is the reason my life has been so inconvenienced.

But that also means that I’m no less lonely or desperate than the person who actually did program those messages to reach me.  Scammers seem to have the same quality of real life that I do these days.  Separated by geography, busy lifestyles and, incredibly in my case, people who STILL refuse to leave their homes lest they come within six feet of someone they think will infect them, I spend WAAAAY too much time looking for people to actually connect with for real.  If not in person, should they be local, at least on a legitimate and policed way of communication so that you are sure the person indeed exists.  FaceTime or Zoom, if there’s no better option.

But What’s App?  Google Hangout?  No f—in’ way, scammers.  And more often than not, if that’s how you insist your “boss”, or “you” prefer to continue our conversation, from all of my history and the wealth of advice I’ve found on my own, I will tell you, in no uncertain terms, to f–k off and I will block and report you.

The pain, the heartache, the false hope and, sometimes, the outright theft you inflict upon people as lonely and isolated as me is inexcusable.  And you should all also know that once one of you actually let their guard down when I poured out my heart and soul in frustration and despair to someone who was pretending to be an interested party and, shall we say, recorded some potentially incriminating video evidence that they threatened to send to someone I cared about tremendously.  I’m anything but proud of that but, as I said, during lockdown and in especially lonely moments, I’m not perfect.

Turned out this person was indeed a thirty-something Ghanan student who was trying to put himself through school.  We actually had a couple of FaceTime conversations where I saw his village, his school and yes, the hovel his family called home.  AI hadn’t been perfected yet.  This person apologized for his actions.  I have no idea if he ever did the same to anyone else, or how many times he was able to extort others.   Not my problem, as I am reminded by so many others who continue to avoid my requests to simply have coffee, let alone ask for a personal connection to employment.

This is why I am so adamant and doubting and continue to shriek whenever prompted, LINKS DON’T WORK.  If anyone has actually gotten a real, paying job strictly via sites like LinkedIn, and not just run into clickbait pursuers like “Juan” and “Lin”, I really want to you–what’s your secret?  What actually got you from the realm of fantasy into reality?  I’m still waiting for such a real lead and, frankly, it’s maddening.  It’s been nearly four years of this torture for me .  And this time of year, these misdirects really hurt so much more.

But, heck, it’s the holidays.  I can put it all aside for a moment.  Seems to work with people I actually do know, who actually do exist.  And based on my experience, there’s a better chance than not that the scammers who at least feigned some interest in me do, too.   And there’s an exceptionally strong likelihood they are far worse off than I am.

So, at least for one day, let’s bury the hatchet.  Happy Chanukah, or Merry Christmas, or Happy Kwanzaa, to everyone out there who celebrates.  The lights are lit for those of you who actually want to come out of your darkness.  I reinforce to any and all of you I still do as well.

Please.  Find the time to actually take me up on my requests.  And G-d willing, I’ll soon even be in a position to treat.

Until next time…

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