Scamming has hit my business
Our little island of Jamaica is famous for so many things that make us proud. Our accomplishments, like fastest man and woman in the world, freedom activists like Marcus Garvey, music icons like Bob Marley - these all make us feel blessed to be sons and daughters of The Rock.
However, in recent years, we have also developed an infamy for a dubious and disgraceful activity known as 'scamming'. A handful of lazy, opportunistic, criminal Jamaicans have sought to deceive persons of their hard-earned money.
United States officials in some states have gone as far as to warn their constituents against even accepting phone calls from our Jamaican area code 876. Remittance companies have implemented strict guidelines to monitor funds coming to Jamaica and are going to great lengths to protect senders from being victims.
The reprobate actions of a few have made it bad for all of us. And two weeks ago, I learnt first-hand just how much. I was labelled a scammer.
Me! Weather girl, media baby, CEO, deputy head girl, Sunday school teacher, first-class honours UWI graduate, Paulette one girl pickney was labelled a scammer! It cut me.
I started a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for my business, Sweetie. It's becoming more and more popular for entrepreneurs to acquire seed funding for their start-ups via this medium, and as CEO of a start-up myself, I need all the help possible to get my business going. I turned to gofundme.com, a popular US-based crowd-funding site that allows for easy donations from friends and well-wishers.
Having raised a sizable amount, I decided to draw down on the funds in order to pay for some production expenses I was about to incur. I followed all the necessary steps and received an email from gofundme that the cash would be available in my bank account within seven working days.
Eight days passed, and no money.
I reached out to their customer service department via email and within five minutes I got a response. All day, we emailed back and forth trying to ascertain what the issues may have been. Customer support was the most efficient I had ever encountered; never more than a five-minute delay in their responses. I was so impressed, I tweeted about it. Our last exchange assured me that all was well and that the funds were to have been transferred.
Next day, still no money - and no customer care email following up.
After reaching out and enquiring on the status, I got this email. It echoes exactly the tone and speech that remittance companies recite to persons they suspect of scamming:
It has come to our attention that our payment processor, WePay, will no longer be able to process payments for your account. As a result, your GoFundMe account has been removed.
Our banks and processors hold us to a strict guideline on what we can and cannot process through our site. Unfortunately, we will not be able to provide you or your business with our services.
Thank you for your understanding.
All of my donors also received the below email, along with a refund of their contributions:
A refund of $XXX has been issued for the payment you made to Patria-Kaye Aarons for Jamaican Sweetie. The money you were charged has been returned.
Guilty by association
Gofundme thinks I'm a scammer. In their minds, anyone in Jamaica collecting money from multiple sources in the United States is a scammer and must be stopped and disassociated with. This is what we have come to. All of us have been broad-brushed as a society of con artists.
It cut me deep that purely by virtue of my geographic location, my reputation has been sullied. It cut me deep that my business (and perhaps the businesses of other trying entrepreneurs) is stagnated because of the illicit activity of a few rotten apples.
I don't know how we can fix this, but we have to. The scrutiny and mistrust of outsiders cannot spell well for our people. Even beyond the financial implications, my plain ol' self-worth says I don't want people to see me as dishonest.
I plan to do business outside of Jamaica. I plan to have Sweetie customers the world over. How will they see me? How will the actions of my fellow man colour me?
Scamming has caused us all shame and disgrace. It has to stop.