Hitting the Glass Ceiling, Then the Floor of Human Decency

Updated: Feb 22

Cyprus, early 30's, is a Bay Area software engineer who connected online with a seemingly down-to-earth man over their experiences of being Asian in the United States. Hitting the proverbial “glass ceiling” of women in tech, she thought she had finally met someone who shared her goals in life, and who wanted to work together with her to help realize their collective dream of leaving everything behind to go travel.

I logged onto Facebook Dating and saw a match that looked interesting. It was a humble guy that did not post any photos with sport cars and yachts like many other scammers, or who tried to present themselves as extremely wealthy. In all of his pictures, he dressed in normal t-shirts, jeans, and sweatshirts. It was around the time that the violence against Asians was gaining huge media attention and coverage. He approached me and shared some of his experiences being Asian in America. He told me the story of being robbed in NYC a few days after landing in the United States because we Asians are known for carrying cash in our wallets. He also expressed his feelings and sentiments about the news coverage of the elderly Chinese American lady who fought back against her attacker in San Francisco. From all these stories, I felt that he is indeed living locally in the Bay Area, and was not making things up to attract my attention.

At this time in my early 30’s, I was already in the middle of my career – managing to grow in my profession to become a lead software engineer in the Bay Area, but I was at a low point in my job. I had truly saw and felt the “glass ceiling” of being a woman in tech. I was criticized for making quick decisions that were not 100% correct; meanwhile, my male counterparts were complimented when they did the same. Conversely, most of the concerns I raised regarding the company and the organization’s strategies were largely ignored, with their excuse being that “I was not onboarded”, while any concern from male counterparts, regardless of however big or small, or whether the issue was personal or non-personal, was addressed by the management with utmost seriousness. One of the options I considered in my career was quitting tech altogether and earning a living myself – self-employment – so that I wouldn't have to suffer all these corporate shenanigans and biases.

Photograph courtesy of Marc-Olivier Jodoin

After initially chatting a few minutes each day, he started asking me about my career, and we soon began to talk daily.

Through these conversations, this man presented himself with many of the character traits that I personally valued – he was humble, honest, and caring, which I found so refreshing; so many of the men around me in my life, including those in my previous relationships, were mostly very egotistical, and so he really stood out. He was someone I thought I could introduce to my parents and make them feel proud of their daughter, for I had finally found someone that would meet all of my expectations. A part of me wanted to make my parents proud; I wanted to make more money so that I could buy them surprise gifts, and I wanted to promise them that they would not have to worry about any financial problems after they retire.

Being American and working in Tech, I had accepted the fact that I had to spend most of my time working, since being a workaholic is celebrated and extolled. However, he did not agree with my viewpoint. “I want you to have quality of life,” he said. We both wanted to realize the dream of wealth early in our lives so that we could enjoy life more and be happy.

To achieve this, he would help me with cryptocurrency derivative trading, and driven by romantic interest, I agreed. He sent me a link to download an Android app. I asked him why it was not on the Google Play Store. He replied, “Because it’s not fully compliant with US restrictions yet, but it’s a credible platform, you can check it out.” The name of the app was Avatrade, which is indeed a legitimate platform that is located in Dublin, Ireland. From my background, I knew there were a lot of US tech companies that would place their offices in Dublin, Ireland to avoid paying US taxes, so this was an acceptable fact to me.

The real Avatrade

Before the trades happened, he usually spent his time “planning” for the assets, which required me to send him screenshots of my investment account. He did some calculations on his side and explained that he ran an auxiliary software to analyze the trend. “I can’t be right all the time,” he said, "so investment involves a certain level of risk”. Because he worked during the day, all the trades would happen after business hours, typically around 7-8pm, after he and I got off from work.

The profits from the cryptocurrency investments began to symbolize another means of achieving success in my life, to compensate for what I felt was lacking in my job at the time. If the meaning of my job was solely to earn money, this cryptocurrency platform would help me achieve both goals – being able to earn decent income and not having to deal with Big Tech’s workplace issues. At this time, I prepared to resign from the company, coinciding with the rising trend of The Great Resignation.

He kept pushing me to deposit more to earn more, until I deposited around $350k into the account. He helped me double that amount by the middle of June. And then the platform executed a series of ruses: when I tried to withdraw, the platform kept freezing my account due to unpaid “personal profit taxes” ($150k, 22%); it also required me to deposit funds to unfreeze my account, due to the mistake of “entering the wrong bank account information” (100k, 10%), though I am very sure I did not make that mistake; even still, the platform forced me to pay a “risk fund” ($50k, 5%), since I tried to withdraw right after they unfroze my account. Yet after paying all these supposed taxes and fees, they then made the excuse that the platform was “under maintenance” and could not process my withdrawal to my wallet address. They once again suggested that I withdraw with my bank account. This time, I validated, double checked, and screenshotted my account number when I entered it, and once again, they claimed that I entered wrong account and asked for another 10% to unfreeze my account and deadline of Aug 1. At this point, I knew I had been scammed and called the Avatrade customer service in Dublin, Ireland to verify the validity of the app I was using and the website address. The real Avatrade had no knowledge of the app, nor of the website Avatrade.buzz with which I was involved. The entirety of my savings, $730k, was invested in the platform. I was never able to withdraw it, as the website Avatrade.buzz disappeared from the internet on August 2, 2021.

Just before I discovered that it was a scam, he told me the executives at his company had stolen $3M, and he had to work hard to make it up. I was worried about him, especially because this “happened” just before his "planned" resignation to quit his active role at his company to travel with me. In fact, I was so worried about him that, had I not known this was a scam, I would have lent him $3M.

I did not let him know that I had realized that I had been scammed, instead pretending to be busy with work. As the deadline of my 10% deposit came close, he messaged me, asking whether I was able to successfully withdraw to nudge me to pay the fee. I told him I gave up because the fraudulent investment website didn’t follow US regulations. He could not understand what I explained about Tech regulation for payment industry, so he stopped asking.

A few days later, he messaged me again, pretending to have an ever-worsening cold. I finally cut him loose and told him I had to work. Realizing that his show was over, he stopped contacting me.

One month after my last message with him, the fake Avatrade customer service contacted me again on WhatsApp asking me to pay the fee again. I blocked him, reported the fraudulent company to real Avatrade, and proceeded to move on with my life.

-- Cyprus