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National Review
National Review
17 Feb 2024
Charles C. W. Cooke


NextImg:About That Viral $50,000 Scam Story: I Have Questions

{A} t the Cut, a freelance financial-advice columnist named Charlotte Cowles weaves a story of credulousness and incompetence that is so absurd as to be nigh-on impossible to believe. Cowles’s piece is titled, The Day I Put $50,000 in a Shoe Box and Handed It to a Stranger: I never thought I was the kind of person to fall for a scam, and, somehow, its contents are more remarkable than that headline suggests. Across more than 5,000 self-indulgent words, Cowles tells the tale of a single day last October, on which she fell for one of the most far-fetched and obvious con-jobs I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. The saga takes a while to unfold, but the bottom line of the thing is that Cowles received an unsolicited phone call from someone purporting to be from Amazon, and ended up handing 50 grand in cash to a stranger in a white Mercedes. If you’ve ever spent any time wondering whether our elite class might be a touch misnamed, then this is the essay for you.

I have read Cowles’s story four times now, and I must confess that I am still struggling to believe that it is real. I offer that judgment in spite of, rather than because of, my low regard for most journalists — who, in the twelve years since I moved to the United States, I have found almost uniquely gullible as a class. If, indeed, the events of last Halloween went down as Cowles insists that they did, then she ought to be congratulated for her achievement: She has, in a single day, demonstrated exactly why Americans have the low regard for the press that they have. And if the events didn’t go down like that? Then I’d like to know what did. Given the professional humiliation to which Cowles has subjected herself with her confession, it’s hard to imagine that she has made up the whole story. Nevertheless, there are elements of the story that have given me pause, and, in the interest of laying down a marker, I thought I’d flag them here for posterity.

Essentially, my incredulity can be divided into three groups: (1) That which flows from the holes in Cowles’s story; (2) That which results from the questions Cowles seems not to have asked before handing over $50,000 to a stranger; and (3) That which results from the details of her story not making sense on its own terms. I will run through all three here, as comprehensively as possible.

Into the first group of questions I have — those that result from holes or discrepancies in the story — I would place the following:

Into the second group — problems with the scammer’s story that, inexplicably, never seem to have occurred to Cowles, or that didn’t cause her to call it off — we can place these problems:

And, into the third and final group, we can place the parts of Cowles’s story that sound peculiar in and of themselves, in that they do not sound consistent with what we know about how con artists operate, and thus make me wonder if her story has been amended or fabricated in some way:

It is possible — likely, in fact — that the ultimate answer to all of these questions is that Cowles is profoundly stupid. Or, to invert Cowles’s own words: It is possible that she got scammed because she is, in fact, “hysterical, or a rube.” If so, she has no business being a financial-advice columnist, whose sole professional role is to advise others about money. And if not? Well, then she’s giving Jussie Smollett a run for his money.