My Black Swan
Updated: Feb 22
I used to think of myself as fairly intelligent and world-wise enough. A 'hard' science graduate student, almost 30, I've read and listened to books about human psychology, negotiation, personal finance, and even ALL the books by Nassim Taleb. This author, if you don't know, is the feisty author of The Black Swan and Antifragile. Black swans -- in my own words -- are rare events that you thought are impossible but can suddenly arrive and change your reality. A black swan is often something unforeseeable to you but its signs seem so damn obvious in hindsight. As examples, the pandemic and 9/11 are black swan events. Trump in 2016, you could say, is a black swan. Having to suddenly pay for medical expenses that you have no savings for is a black swan. Your insured-against-everything business getting serious tax evasion charges is a black swan. A scammer making me liquidate my balance, "black swan-proof", $40k ETF portfolio and getting me $66k in debt within two short months is a black swan.
I met "her" on Facebook Dating, which showed that she's also in Seattle. She said she was a rich, self-made entrepreneur from China, staying with her best friend's family here to escape the lockdowns in China. This was early November. Three weeks in, she brought up her sideline investing in cryptocurrency. She showed me the website she used, Hundsun. I looked it up and found out that Hundsun indeed is a large, legitimate Chinese fintech company. She convinced me to try it out with a demo account, and that this was something we could do together. At the time, I was trying to learn about investing and the stock market, so I played along. Saving the world through biomedical research didn't look so promising to me anymore, especially with its low pay, but having extra income might not make it so bad.
One of her breakfasts
Humans are firstly animals best at rationalizing what they want to believe in. She didn't smell like a scammer because I wished this pretty "girl" was real. It was winter, and I was alone renting a room in a big empty house. I had no relationship experience, and she talked to me every day. We bantered and even "debated" on financial topics, although, I never really pushed back hard because I was afraid of her ghosting me, like so many before : ( . No scammer can be this patient talking and even arguing with me every day, I thought. Besides, I told her, I'm a poor grad student (poor for US standards). One hears of magical stories that started on dating apps, and that overcame my incredulousness of being this lucky. Maybe I really got to match with one of those filthy rich Chinese millennials. Also, add in me wanting to impress her. Since I rationalized at the time that she's not a scammer, the only logical alternative --to me-- is that she did pity and wanted to teach poor me. It didn't really cost her anything except spending time in a shared interest with me, I thought. Besides, as she would always point out, she has never asked me for money, and she kept insinuating the amount I make is laughably small to her.
She sent this when I challenged her to show me what she is cooking right now.
It later came to a point where I invested everything I could except for my index funds in Wealthfront and E-Trade, and those were my red lines. "Oh, so are you impressed with your ETF's? Hahaha, you think…" Over two weeks, we talked, aside from mundane chitchat, about manhood, our differences in risk appetites, and opportunity, etc. Well, I had already withdrawn from the Hundsun platform with small trials (small amounts, to avoid transaction fees). While weird, I could not really tell at the time how all of this could be a scam. I don't pay attention to the latest scam techniques, and I've previously sniffed out silly bitcoin scammers in online dating, so no sweat. I tried looking online for what kind of scam this could be. There was nothing at the time about Pig-Butchering Scam in English. You reader, knowing what this is all about, will find it hard to imagine how is it like to not know. That is just the curse of knowledge cognitive bias. Monday morning quarterbacking.
I was feeling adventurous, so eventually I gave in. In general, I restrict online dating to my local area. I always want to personally meet online matches ASAP, but it was winter of 2020, at the peak of the pandemic when everything was shut down. Her voice calls and promises to meet soon when things would open were good enough for me. All throughout, I got convinced from her pictures and anecdotes of local places that she's real. I ate up her claims of being a restaurant owner after only cursory probing and a few photos. Everyone is getting rich in China now, so maybe her story is plausible. She talked of young Chinese entrepreneurs that made it big in China. There were off-putting things she said that I shrugged off, attributing them to cultural or language barriers. She was teaching me Chinese, and as I am always very interested in culture, I passed off all the strangeness as exotic quirks.
A neighborhood street in Lynnwood. I remember thinking the weather was current the time I asked.
Once I told her I put in all the money I said I could, we both suddenly lost a lot in trading. This was where the slaughtering started. One can be all calm and collected, but when shit hits the fan, you do what you’ve got to do. I just wanted to recover my "trading losses" back. In just two blinding weeks, I went through almost all the textbook tactics of Pig-Butchering scammers. There were the deadlines the fake Hundsun gave, my supposed mistake in sending Bitcoins to the wrong addresses that I have to make up for, and her "lending" money to my sham account to help me pay off loans to the platform. I prepared many very carefully worded and even playful messages proposing that we share the losses. Instead, all throughout, she gaslighted and berated me for not following her instructions, saying that I should man up and not keep expecting bailouts from her (she supposedly had bigger financial issues to deal with). In my blind panic, I went around to family and friends, asking to borrow money. Already underslept and stressed from work, and now dealing with this, I guess I also wanted to show her that I am a person who can always find solutions, not whine about problems. I put my cred on the line in raising more money from friends and family. I was supposed to be the most responsible and astute person in the family. I even told my brother, "Trust me, I know what I'm doing". And so, they did, and my family lent me almost $66k. I fought with a good friend who thankfully refused to lend me money for this, sure that this is all a scam even as he couldn't figure it out also.
Freshly fallen snow from overnight, matching exactly the snow that day, in the same neighborhood as above, as I confirmed later.
The way she casually talked down thousands and tens of thousands of dollars was so annoying. She was maddeningly materialistic and shallowly stupid for me, but I thought before that I could handle it and just learn trading from her. I was already done with her by the second month, and I so hated her by the third month. By this time, it was just all about recovering my losses. Even then, my actions already sounded stupid, but there was loss aversion and ego preventing me from admitting that I'm like one of those dumbasses scammed by Nigerian princes, so I kept putting in money to save myself. She had already long conditioned me with baby steps to not question the large amounts involved. I got convinced that these "mistakes" were mine because I know I'm careless in real life. It was only because of her that I trusted the clunky, “new startup” platform she supposedly researched. ("You have no other choice now but to trust me," she once said.) At the time, in my mind, she was still real, just a bitch. Figuratively speaking, the scammers already had me by the balls, and very tightly.
Reading pig-butchering scam manuals later, looking back at my state of mind at the time, and me being me, I just know that it was just a matter of time before I would fall for a skillful enough pig-butchering-style scammer. I have three qualities perfect for them: eternal curiosity, a "why not" attitude, and grit. Sure, I've heard of romance scams, but this girl can't be one of those, I thought. Our conversations are so… real. ("What do you want to say? Just say it") I haven't heard of scammers doing this much. I underestimated them because I was so self-assured, and "she" morphed into the black swan of my life.
Big-5 Personality Trait of a perfect mark for the scam. O – openness (to new experiences), C – conscientiousness, E – extraversion, A – agreeableness, N – neuroticism.