As more and more people both search for jobs and quit jobs to become independent workers or entrepreneurs, we are forced to take a closer look at the world of work overall. Traditionally, work has been approached purely as an obligation in America. The attitude has been, “You take any honest work you’re offered, and you give your all to that work, no matter what. Work exists to earn a paycheck, not to please you.” Today’s culture tends to promote adopting the exact opposite view. “I don’t have to do anything unless I enjoy every minute of it. It’s all about me, and if something is not pleasing to me, I not only should, I am entitled to simply walk away.” But for most of us, reality is somewhere down the middle. We understand that bills must be paid, commitments and contracts must be honored, and even the best jobs have their unpleasant parts. But we also understand the harm that can come to us if a workplace is unsafe, exploitative, or otherwise abusive.
Abusive behavior in the workplace is often called “workplace bullying.” While we typically associate bullying with children and teens, it can exist among adults too, and the workplace is a common setting. Here are just a few more of the myths we hold on to about workplace bullying.
“Workplace bullying” is not real. It’s just a way for whiney, entitled people to get their way.
The term “workplace bullying” refers to a situation in which someone at work uses positions of power to intimidate, sabotage, humiliate, deceive, frighten, or control someone else at work. It does not include everything that happens at work that you might not like, or isolated incidents where a supervisor or colleague is less than pleasant. Some do misuse the term, but just because some people use a term incorrectly does not mean the real problem is nonexistent. People declare themselves “triggered” when they are in fact annoyed, upset, disgusted, saddened, discouraged, angered, sickened, irritated, or discouraged. While this can be unpleasant, it does not mean that people who suffer from PTSD due to extreme trauma do not experience flashbacks in response to certain stimuli (The correct usage of “triggering” and “triggered”.)
That coworker who insists upon holding loud personal conversations on the company phone, not caring who else has to do their work, is not a workplace bully. Neither is the office curmudgeon who is snarly and generally unpleasant to everyone. But if someone is positioning himself outside the door of one coworker hoping to sabotage the person’s business Zoom meeting with that phone call, or the supervisor makes a point of being warm and welcoming to everyone but curt and rude only to the two people who work under him, that is workplace bullying.
“Workplace bullying” is just a politically correct term for someone being an everyday jerk.
Workplace bullying goes deeper than simply working for or with your standard, everyday unpleasant individual. These people can certainly make you miserable, but the workplace bully engages in deliberate, targetted behavior designed to exert an inappropriate level of power over another person. While the workplace jerk may snap at everyone who says “Good Morning,” the workplace bully will make a point to only snap at a select few people, in view of a crowd of higher ups, just to watch the target slink away in embarrassment. The everyday jerk will do all he can to make sure he’s the center of attention in meetings and allow nobody else to be heard. The workplace bully only prevents her targets from participating, or hides the announcement from certain people to make them miss an important meeting.
If you just ignore the workplace bully, they will stop doing what they do, and leave their target alone.
Bullying is done so that the bully can feel powerful in some way. A bully who is ignored is more likely to step up their efforts to feel powerful at the expense of other people rather than accept being ignored and find something else to do. Ignoring the person, or at least ignoring the bullying behavior, may indeed be the best course of action. But it will not be a sure fix for the bullying. Nor will it solve the problems the bullying may cause.
Someone who regularly hides files and folders from a certain coworker in order to embarrass him in meetings will not likely stop if people just pretend they don't notice. The "charge" they're getting is coming from watching the target's embarrassment later, so neither confrontation nor making a point of pretending not to realize it was them is going to change their behavior.
The rest of the staff or other group can solve the problem by banding together against the bully.
This plotline makes an inspiring novel, play, or movie, but it almost never works out as seamlessly in real life as it does in a story. For this to be effective, absolutely everyone who comes in contact with the bully in a professional capacity would have to agree to a plan to cope with the bullying behavior, and do their part. But we all know real people don’t function that way. In real life, there is always going to be that person afraid to speak up and possibly become the next target, or get demoted or fired. There is always going to be that person who enjoys soaking up some of the limelight the bully gains when they abuse their targets. And there are always going to be people who simply do not care enough to do anything about it. Thinking the target only has to make everyone aware of the situation and ask for their support and assistance is nice, but naïve, idea.
The bully has low self-esteem. If you prop up their ego a bit more, they won’t need to bully anyone.
Author and San Diego State University Professor of Psychology Dr. Jeanne Twenge has written extensively about narcissism and bullying. Twenge often argues that narcissistic, bullying people do not need to learn to love themselves more. They need to learn respect for other people. Contrary to popular belief, bullies actually love themselves very much. They love themselves so much, in fact, that they think their need to feel powerful, admired, feared, or whatever charge they’re getting out of their bullying behavior, supersedes another person’s right to simply do his or her job or go about their day in peace.
All workplace bullying can do is make you feel bad. It can’t really hurt you or your job.
Being the target of a bully in any situation does much more than just give a target a bad day. Bullying worsens workplace stress. Excessive stress can play a factor in worsening heart issues, depression, anxiety, energy levels, and focus. It can make it difficult to impossible to complete the tasks of a job, leading to decreased productivity.
Workplaces that ignore or encourage workplace bullying can earn bad reputations among potential clients, employees, or contractors. This of course can lead to a shortage of people willing to supply the labor, services, or goods the company needs to function.
Although it is not as openly discussed as workplace issues such as low wages, unreasonable job requirements, lack of benefits, and sexual harassment, workplace bullying is a serious, but often misunderstood issue in today’s places of business.
While the common narrative seems to be that jobs are everywhere but nobody wants them, the suggestions for side gig work are the same things we’ve been reading and hearing over and over again for the past several years. Articles on job advice websites continue to recommend driving for Uber or Lyft, filling out surveys, and signing up to do things like walk dogs on Rover dot com or offer babysitting services via Care dot com. Almost none of the content is different. They just change the title of the article to suggest that these opportunities are going to take off in the coming year.
Finding a second salary or wage earning job that brings you as little stress as possible remains the most secure option for earning supplemental income to help with holiday expenses for the 2021 holiday season, or to reach a goal or have a little extra in the coming year. But the process of finding and securing these jobs has undergone some noticeable changes over the past year and a half.
Auto responses and interviews by bots are increasingly common.
Submitting a job application on indeed dot com often generates a congratulatory message letting the applicant know that the company is interested in moving forward with their application. While this would be great news during job searches of the past, today these messages arrive before anyone at the company would have time to even open someone’s cover letter with the click of their mouse, never mind read the cover letter and resume and make a decision. Rather than indicating interest in you as a potential employee, these responses let you know the person in charge of hiring is not at all interested in reading over your credentials. They want you to call, or in some cases, come into the place of business, as a first step in the hiring process, not the second or third.
Being asked to complete an online skills test in customer service or other skills related to the job, or being asked questions by a bot before scheduling an interview also seem to be used more and more by employers.
Job requirements have grown more demanding, even for entry level and other low wage jobs.
There is a meme circulating on Facebook titled “This is the problem.” The text consists of a copy of a job ad for a part-time, entry level position at a preschool. According to the ad, they are looking for someone to accept the responsibility of caring for and teaching a room full of very young children on their own for only ten dollars an hour. And the creator of the meme did not even select one of the more extreme help wanted ads out there. It is not uncommon to find job ads asking potential employees to combine the work of two or three jobs for a single minimum wage. One local ad, for a temporary job cutting and packaging a single item for holiday party trays and gift baskets, asked how many years of experience people had with that single item as a screening question.
Entitlement and “professional victimhood” seems to have gotten a promotion to management.
Entitlement and “professional victimhood,” has been a problem for many years. Kids are given participation trophies and awards for behaviors that would have once been considered common decency, and they grow up to be adults who expect raises and promotions at work simply for showing up at the office. People are raised to believe that nothing should ever displease, inconvenience, or upset them in any way, and they grow up to call the manager because a store clerk didn’t smile at them, or worse, call the police because somebody who doesn’t look, think, or live exactly like them has something they’ve come to believe should be theirs and theirs alone.
In today’s job market, many in charge of hiring have embraced this mentality wholeheartedly. Managers hang signs lamenting that “nobody wants to work” or they need patience and understaning because they are “short-staffed,” as though anyone jumping to take any job they offer is persecuting them. One hiring manager responded to an applicant’s marking themselves unavailable on Saturday not by taking on the responsibility of filling the job openings with people who can cover all shifts, but by begging the applicant to change their own schedule because they, the manager, really need someone to come in on Saturday.
Job seeking has always had its challenges, and finding work you can do in addition to the main work of your career can be especially difficult. Hopefully, knowing a bit about what to expect can help make that a little easier for those seeking work for the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022.
All professional artists do not have low incomes, but many do know what it’s like to struggle financially. If we do not personally have difficulty making ends meet, we probably know someone who does. In addition to the financial issues themselves, those who live on low incomes must also fight against myths about their finances and their lives overall.
Myth: People who are poor are only poor because they make bad choices when it comes to work and money.
Reality: The amount of money you have is the result of a wide variety of factors coming together. And while your own behavior does indeed play a large part, it does not alone determine your wealth. The amount of money your family of origin has, the place you were born, the time you were born, your physical and mental health, and the educational opportunities available to you are just some of the factors that determine your financial situation. Singlehandedly ruining your own finances is possible, but it’s certainly not the only way a person might be classified as “poor” in terms of financial resources.
Myth: People with low incomes do not work.
Reality: During the recent quarantine, we learned that we cannot survive without the people who stock grocery shelves, ring up our purchases at the grocery store, prepare our restaurant meals, and deliver everything to us. Most of these jobs are among the lowest paying in the country, despite demanding so much of those who work them. According to a November 21, 2020 article by Michael Sauter in USA Today, the middle class in New York begins at $30.797 per year. Someone working forty hours per week, for four weeks every month, and all twelve months per year in a $15.00 per hour job in customer service is going to earn $28,800. That means this person will work full time, and still not be able to earn a middle class income.
Myth: Poor people live lives of luxury provided by government programs and charity handouts.
Reality: While there are individuals who know how to “work the system” and use social programs in ways they were not intended to be used, it is both unfair and incorrect to assume that individuals who behave this way are representative of absolutely everyone who has ever used them. There are mid-level corporate employees earning upper middle class incomes who embezzle funds and cheat clients too, but that does not mean everyone you see working in these positions is doing so.
Myth: Those who complain about not having enough to live on are just entitled and narcissistic. They don’t want to work because they think they’re too good for all the available jobs out there.
Reality: There is a lot of narcissistic entitlement in our culture today. It is all about me and what I think and feel about everything, what’s most comfortable and convenient for me, all the time. Perhaps the most striking examples of this sense of entitlement are those who think that just because they own or manage a branch of a major corporation, they’re entitled to other peoples’ labor. They list jobs that would not allow a potential worker to pay their bills, but would also prevent them from working a second job to make ends meet. They then play the victim when people are not lined up around the block begging to work for them. Someone who has two months of living expenses in their savings account and no paying work is going to need to spend those two months treating finding work that will pay their bills as their full time job. If they took a job that required them to work full time, but only brought in a small portion of that amount, they wouldn’t have time to continue searching for a job they could actually afford to keep.
Myth: Poor people could solve all their money problems if they just learned to budget better.
Reality: Budgeting is important, but you can only budget the money you have. When someone’s income runs out before their most basic needs are met, no skill in budeting is going solve that problem. If you have $1,000 to live on every month, you can’t budget your way out of your landlord raising the rent to $1,200.
Myth: Financial freedom is available to everyone. The poor can just sign up to work in the gig economy and solve all their money problems.
Reality: People who work in the gig economy are selling their services. In order to make money, there has to be a market for those services. A poor person certainly could sign up to drive for Uber or Lyft, shop for Instacart, or deliver for DoorDash, if they had the means to own and maintain a car. But they would still have to get customers in order to make money. Gig work is an option for some people, but it is not a sure path out of financial difficulty.
These myths can make excellent material for our art work. Protagonists can struggle against them. Antagonists can perpetuate them. They can serve as the building blocks for an excellent short story, novel, play, or film. But they can only do damage when applied to real people who struggle to get by in the world.
In an article titled, Painful Internet Truths, Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy was briefly mentioned. Today, we take a deeper look at this issue, and the way it is often portrayed in the arts.
Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (MSBP) is a form of domestic and/or child abuse in which the perpetrator/abuser creates, invents, or exaggerates the target/victim’s health problems for personal gain. MSBP is not a single isolated incident, but a pattern that is carried on for as long as the perpetrator can get away with it.
In MSBP, the primary goal of the perpetrator is to establish an identity for themselves as a devoted and loving caretaker for a disabled or sick person, and gain the attention and admiration that identity typically brings. The perpetrator may also have secondary goals, such as getting money, gifts, or benefits, or using a child to control a spouse or former spouse in divorce proceedings or other breakup.
Because the disorder is most often seen with a parent or other steady caregiver as the perpetrator and the child as the target/victim, parent and child relationship red flags are the most common. However, MSBP can exist between people in other relationships, such as spouses, adults living with elderly or infirm parents to provide care, or live-in personal care aides and clients.
While art almost always illuminates issues, provides a voice for those with a legitimate complaint, generates compassion by providing a glimpse into lives we have not led, inspires research and solutions to real problems, and/or provides pure entertainment, MSBP is one of those issues where film, novels, and other art forms tend to rely on over-dramatization and shock value. Most recently, the movie “Run” featured a victim doing things like scurrying across her roof on disabled legs, making a scene in a drug store as she raced away from her knife wielding mother in the wheelchair she didn’t truly need, and screaming for help in the middle of the road. In real MSBP, nobody is going to be pulling themselves across the roof by their arms or getting into a high speed chase in their wheelchair.
Here are ten real warning signs:
1.The parent (or other caregiver) takes the target to multiple health professionals, or makes regular visits to professionals with a reputation for selling diagnoses.
Munchausen by Proxy perpetrators work to create and maintain a medical record stating that their victim has the health issues the perpetrator has decided they have. They may accomplish this by “doctor shopping,” or taking their victim to a series of doctors until they are able to convince a doctor to make the diagnosis they want, or knowingly taking the victim to doctors with a reputation for falsifying medical forms in exchange for their fee.
2.The target/victim’s medical issues lessen or disappear when they’re separated from the abuser, or the diagnosis changes when the caregiver is no longer able to join them at the doctor’s office.
In many cases, the perpetrator is making the victim sick. The victim will then get better when the perpetrator is not around to sicken them. Even if the perpetrator is faking or exagerating the illness rather than poisoning, injuring, or otherwise directly creating medical issues for the victim, they will almost always hover and intimidate them into saying what they want, or will talk over them to manipulate the information the doctor receives. The diagnosis changes when the victim sees the doctor alone, because the doctor is able to examine the person without interference or inaccurate reports.
3.The caregiver’s knowledge of the victim’s alleged illnesses and/or disabilities seems extensive given their educational and professional background, but skewed or incomplete.
Learning every test, symptom, and treatment for a disorder and attempting to ingratiate themselves with medical staff by talking “as fellow experts” is common MSBP perpetrator behavior. At the same time, the person may deny information about the disorder that would fail to serve their purpose. For example, a parent with no medical training may know every medical procedure someone with the disability could possibly have, but brush off material that suggests children with this disorder benefit by being allowed to socialize with peers separate from the parent. Or they might not be able to provide basic information a doctor who actually did diagnose someone with the disability or illness would tell a caregiver, but be able to provide a startling amount of other information.
4.The target is observed doing things the perpetrator claims they cannot do, to the extent that a parent or other caregiver would not simply fail to realize the target had a specific skill or knew a specific fact.
It’s not at all uncommon for a parent to realize their child knows how to navigate the internet much better than they thought, or for the child to learn a few words in another language at school, or pick up another skill the parent does not know about. But if the parent or other caregiver is insisting the child, teen, or adult still living at home lacks significant insight, interests, abilities or skills the person clearly has, that is a warning sign. The perpetrator may insist the child cannot eat, even though they’re seen eating meals at school. Or they may behave as though their teen does not understand what dating and intimate relationships are, while the person talks at length about crushes and dream dates whenever the parent is out of earshot.
5. Behaviors that are normal or even expected for the target’s culture are treated as “problems” that need to be “corrected,” but only in their own dependent.
In the most common form of MSBP, where the child is the target and the parent is the perpetrator, this appears as a refusal to allow the child to grow up and/or grow attached to other people. The child may be punished for normal childhood behaviors, such as laughing loudly when playing with neighborhood kids, shamed and punished for getting their first crush, or humiliated and restricted when they express the desire to hang out with a peer group instead of their parents as they grow into their preteen and teen years. This is done to both perpetuate the image of the child being delayed and dependent in others’ eyes, and to keep control over the child as he or she grows up.
The same parent will have a completely different set of standards for everyone else. They may insist their nineteen-year-old daughter “can’t date,” but berate another parent for being too strict when they set the dating age at sixteen instead of fifteen. Or they might mock a forty year-old for moving back in with his parents after a divorce or job loss, insisting a grownup should be out on his own, but behave as though it’s perfectly natural that their forty-three year old has never lived outside of the family home.
6.The target/victim always seems to be “trying too hard” or afraid to be themselves.
Children and teens experiment with different identities and interests during the course of a completely healthy life. Most kids will pretend to like a band just because their friends like them, or not dare admit they don’t really care for sports when their friends are all obsessed with making the school team. But the kid who always seems to be looking for a new crowd to join, or who appears to go out of his or her way to be outrageous, funny, shocking, quirky, or just plain strange may be trying to distract from something serious going on at home, or hoping someone will “rescue” them.
They may also simply be afraid to be themselves. When you grow up with MSBP, you grow up conditioned to believe that people will only care for you if you present and perform the way they want you to all of the time, in every way. When they meet new people, and those people are kind to them, or they happen upon a group of people they think might be kind to them, they’re conditioned to immediately start dressing, acting, and pretending to think like those people in order to gain acceptance.
7.Treatment for the target’s illnesses or disabilities is sporadic.
The perpetrator may insist their child needs to go to physical therapy every week, behavioral counseling twice a week, and occupational therapy once a week, stick to that for weeks, months, or even years. They may then stop one or all of those suddenly, despite acting like it was vital just a week before.
This is likely due to professionals getting too close to the truth, or the perpetrator becoming paranoid they will be discovered to be faking the target’s issues.
8.The perpetrator talks at length about sacrificing for the target, and often uses the person’s care as an excuse to get out of things they do not wish to do, but rarely if ever gives up something they want.
MSBP perpetrators promote a narrative that they have given up their hopes, dreams, wants, and even basic needs to devote to the care of their child or other person in their home.
On the surface, this often appears to be true. A parent may insist the reason they don’t have a paying job is because caring for the child is their full time job. A spouse who victimizes his partner in this way may claim he cannot clean the house or go back to school because his partner’s care takes up all his time. But the perpetrator will rarely, if ever, make a true sacrifice for the target. They may move the person away from resources they would need if the condition were genuine upon finding their own dream home, spend money on themselves before investing in improved care, or use funds, benefits, or other support the target has received for their illness or disability on their own wants.
9.The perpetrator has an extreme love/hate relationship with clinics, hospitals, or other medical settings.
When things are going according to the perpetrator’s wants and needs, they will often behave as though the doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital is their absolute favorite place on earth. They may greet the doctors and other hospital staff as though they’re old friends, make themselves at home in the hospital room or exam room right away, and light up when describing the target’s supposed medical issues, basking in the attention.
Should someone on staff begin to ask too many uncomfortable questions or challenge them, the hospital staff who was a second family to them a minute before will suddenly turn into their worst enemy. The perpetrator will flee, vowing never to return, with nothing nice to say about the place they used to treat as a second home.
10. The target seems inappropriately controlled by the perpetrator.
Extreme and/or inappropriate levels of control over another person is a red flag for any form of domestic abuse, and is certainly present in MSBP cases. The target may need to ask their parent if they are allowed to eat a piece of candy, even though they’re sixteen years old and plenty old enough to make that decision on their own, or they may be an adult living at home, but still be expected to ask their parents if they can go to the mall with a friend.
The target may seem strangely afraid of punishment should they displease the perpetrator. A victimized spouse might beg friends not to tell their partner they were out of their wheelchair, or an adult son or daughter might behave as though they were going to be grounded for arriving home too late.
Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy is a relatively rare, but serious disorder. Because we are often led to look for dramatic signs, it can also be easy to miss. Its targets/victims may not need a valiant, Hollywood movie style rescue….or the treatment they’ve grown to believe they need, but they do need understanding, support, and respect as they heal from this very serious form of abuse.
Wherever we are in our careers right now, most local artists have struggled at some point. Even if you’ve always been successful, you have friends in the local arts scene that struggle to make ends meet. And it’s no secret that those with limited financial resources often face difficulties getting fresh, healthy food to eat.
Local musician and businesswoman Cassandra Harris-Lockwood, owner of Phoenix Media and the non-profit organization For the Good, Inc. has been working to address this issue for her fellow artists and anyone else in need since 2008, when she began operating the Linwood Place Community Garden. The garden has produced thousands of pounds of fresh, organic fruit and vegetables so far.
In seasons past, local residents have been able to work with the garden manager to work on the community plot, or arrange to have individual plots in the garden. The fruits and vegetables produced are then enjoyed by those who participate free of charge. The garden has also made numerous generous donations to local food banks and soup kitchens.
During the seasons when gardens do not produce fruits and vegetables, the garden has served as the site for community education. The Linwood Place Community Garden serves as the host for countless workshops and presentations about nutrition, organic gardening, and other topics many local residents would not otherwise we able to afford to study.
The Linwood Place Community Garden further serves as a site for community connection and unity. Youth groups, college students, and other groups have spent countless hours gathered in the garden volunteering their time and talent, gaining and strengthening skills, and forming friendships.
And every artist knows a garden is a great place to sit back, relax, and work on that next draft of a novel, song, poem, or other project. Often, the simple change of scene provided by an afternoon spent helping out, attending a workshop,or just spending time in the garden can enhance our creativity and focus.
But without our help, all of this may be gone. In February 2020, the County of Oneida sold the garden at Linwood Place at auction. The land was purchased by a private individual. This was done without notice or right of refusal. On September 2, 2020, the deeds to the lots were transferred to the buyer.
While the land may still be there, this sale means that the dedication to community support and improvement that has always driven everything done at the garden over the years will be gone. The only way to preserve the garden as the local treasure that is has been for so long is to build a legal defense fund. This fund will be used to sue all parties connected to the transfer of the property.
Now is the time to show our support for the local garden that has supported so many community members over the years. As we return to paid gigs, consider donating the proceeds of a single show to save the garden. If you’ve returned to the studio or to your writing desk, consider setting aside a portion of the money you earn from the sale of your next album, novel, or other work to donate. Those focused on working their steady side jobs or day jobs right now might wish to make the community garden fund the recipient of their planned holiday donation. Any amount will be greatly appreciated, by both the staff and volunteers of For the Good, Inc and all those who hope to participate in all the garden traditionally offers in the coming years.
Because For the Good Inc.is a registered nonprofit, your donation should be tax deductable. And you never know…the idea for your next poem, song, novel, painting, or other work of art just might come to you during an afternoon spent weeding, planting, harvesting, or even attending a workshop at the Linwood Place Community Garden.
To support this worthy cause that benefits local artists and our friends, family, and neighbors, click on the link below to donate:
As Fall brought a new crop of career changers, it also brought a new crop of work related scams. Just a few weeks later, the scammers seemed to want to remind us they have not forgotten how to scam people in other areas as well. Here are just a few of the most popular non-work related scams this season.
A major corporation wants to apologize to you for poor service by giving you a prize or gift card.
People are still struggling to find work they can actually take and pay their bills, kids are back in school offline, and the holidays are on the way. Many of us could use a break on a bill so we can amend the budget a little this month, or some “free to us” merchandise to use as Christmas gifts. And the scammers know it.
The company name varies, but it is typically a major service corporation, like a phone or electric company. Messages designed to look like they came from T Mobile seem to be especially common. These texts claim the company wants to apologize for a disruption in service, or for poor service, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The apology will come in the form of a gift card to the company to use toward their service or another popular retailer, or a special prize.
While this scam will be immediately obvious when the message is supposed to be from a company the target does not do business with, it can be easy to thoughtlessly click the link when it looks like it might be something related to one of our bills.
Never click these links. This scam has been widely reported as new this year, and the detail about Covid certainly is, but the scam itself has been around for at least seven years. It is a classic spoofing scam, designed to get targets to click on the links so that malware or spyware can be installed on their computer. You will not get a gift card or a prize. But the scammers certainly will. They’ll “win” access to your bank account and other financial records.
If you’re in the LGBTQ community, that new love interest you met online is going to humiliate and/or out you if you do not send them money.
Online dating is growing increasingly common and acceptable, with dating sites set up for people fitting a wide variety of descriptions. But if you are lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, or identify as “queer,” take special precautions when talking to people on LGBTQ sites. Scammers pretending to be members of your community are infiltrating these sites with the goal of extorting money.
Things seem normal at first, if a little fast. You and your new online crush are happily getting to know each other, when they get you to reveal something private. Persuading the target to send revealing photos is a common tactic. They may also strike up conversations that urge you to share private details about your life.
Once they have this material, the scammer then reveals their true motive. They inform you that if you do not send them money, whatever you have shared will be sent to your family, friends, clients, supervisors, or anywhere else it might cause serious problems in your life. They may even taunt you with details like the names of your family members or the location of your workplace to make the threat seem real.
Should this happen to you, never send the money. The scammer is not sincere in his or her offer to destroy the material once the money is sent. While nobody can promise a scammer won’t actually send your personal materials to the last person you would want to see them, this is typically far too much effort for a scammer. Their only intention is to scare as many people as possible into sending them money as quickly as possible. If you do not scare so easily, it is more lucrative for them to move on quickly to the next target than to bother sending out blackmail messages and waiting for you to fall apart again.
Instead, immediately report the account to the site you’re on, and file a report with the internet crime complaint center at: https://www.ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint
One of your favorite stores is practically giving away something you’ve been wanting.
Like the “apology gift card” scam, this one plays on the fact that many people are still adjusting to the gradual return to in-person work and school as the holidays arrive. Scammers set up fake online storefronts and shopping sites, offering items everyone wants for Christmas, at prices anyone can afford.
At first glance, fake shopping websites appear to be simply outlet or resell sites. But the prices seem almost too good to be true. And that’s because they are. Should you order something from them, the most likely outcome is that you will never receive your order, and will not be able to contact anyone about getting your money back. Sometimes, you do receive a package, but it will be an item of much lower quality, and worth much less than the amount you sent the scammer. Sending the scammer $200 for a guitar or a handbag that typically sells for $1,200 might get you nothing more than a flimsy knockoff, broken, or even toy item that bears no resemblance to the photo and description on the site.
The only way to avoid being scammed by these sites is to avoid them entirely. Always go directly to known, trusted sites when you want to shop online, and carefully check that the website address is the official address of the store you meant to visit. Merchandise from Amazon will always be on “Amazon dot com,” not “Amazon deals dot com” or “Amazon outlet dot com.” Your friends’ Etsy shops are searchable from “Etsy dot com,” not “Esty dot net.”
If you absolutely need a deeply discounted item, wait for sales, coupon, or visit local thrift stores and yard sales.
The perfect puppy or kitten for your family is easy to find and purchase on a social media group dedicated to your favorite breed.
This scam seems to be the evergreen content of the scammer playbook. It never really goes away, they just update and refresh it from time to time, adding a bit more to it to attract a new audience….full of victims.
The basic scam is the same one from many times before. You love dogs, and have an especially soft spot in your heart for Chihuahuas, Pugs, Boston Terriers, or some other breed, so you join an enthusiast or owners group or two. Scattered in between people sharing cute stories and photos of their own pets are ads from people claiming their own beloved pet just had a litter, and they’re offering them at a reasonable price. In a newer twist, some claim the litter belongs to someone else, is unwanted, and the person posting is finding the puppies a home out of the goodness of their heart.
One particular puppy captures your heart. You contact the person, make a deposit through some type of online money transfer service, and travel to meet your new bundle of fur at the agreed upon public place. Nobody ever shows up with your puppy. And they never will. They will also never respond to your messages asking for your money back.
There was never any unwanted litter, and nobody’s beloved pet had puppies or kittens who needed homes. Scammers steal pictures from breeders’ websites, animal shelters, or image searches, save them, and change the caption to make them look like their photos.
The only way to avoid this scam is to never purchase or pay an adoption fee for a pet online. Ideally, adopt a pet from your local shelter. If that is not possible, or if you see an ad for a pet online and feel called to respond, make no promises and hand over no money until the pet is with you, physically and offline.
Don’t be mislead by a picture of the person you’re talking to and the pet or litter together, or even seeing the person and the pet on Zoom together. They could be be running a scam using their own pet they have no intention of rehoming, a friend’s pet, or an animal they’re pet sitting.
Keep a lookout for these, and other scams, as we head into the start of the holiday season. Even if you would never be taken in, let’s keep vigilant and protect each other.
As most of us practically moved to the internet over the past year and nine months, more and more painful truths about life online have become apparent. While the internet is a great place to do everything from errands, socializing, working, and going to school, there are some things that happen online that we struggle to see or at least to accept.
Money gurus who promise you can make thousands running an online business every month are just going to charge you money to tell you how they charge people money to learn how to run an online business.
Whether it’s “how to get started in real estate” or “how to earn a living as a freelance writer” or “how to sell physical products,” the people who make a living doing it online do not have some special secrets they can only teach you if you fork over your money. If their type of success is contingent upon buying a course, how did they manage to do it, when they were “broke”….and they’re always “broke”…when they started?
If you’re interested in a field, you can learn about it online and at the library for free, just like they did. If it is something that requires formal training, licensure, or a degree, spend your time and money on training programs and courses that lead to something tangible you can use in the field, like your license, certificate, or academic credential.
People whose online space is constantly covered with compliments, praise, and over-the-top words of encouragement are often receiving that treatment not because they’re genuinely liked, but because they attack anyone who displeases them in any way.
No matter how many psychological studies report comparing yourself to other people online is damaging to your mental health, we all still do it to some extent. It’s hard not to notice that Suzy Z. who used to sing at the ABC Club posted a video of herself singing in the bathroom and got two hundred likes and a request to come back to the club when it reopens, but your professionally made music video only got fifty likes and somebody asking if that was you they saw at Dollar Tree last Thursday.
But forget all that politically correct advice about your own journey and how unique and special you are. Take a deep dive into Suzy Z’s online presence. The last few times I’ve noticed a ‘Suzy Z” on my social media feed, a deeper look revealed behaviors such as telling anyone who pointed out an error in something they posted that they were no longer speaking to them, copying dialogue, with real names included, from confidential support groups to their public timeline and inviting friends to mock the person, and basically doing the online equivalent of taunting people and throwing a screaming fit.
Chances are, very few, if any, people are that dazzled by Suzy Z. They’re just afraid to speak to her unless it’s to tell her how wonderful she is, because they’ve seen what she does to others who have displeased her.
Job hunting groups, and many job boards, are near useless, and are often clogged with scams and people trying to promote their direct sales/multilevel marketing products and teams.
The website “Indeed” (www.indeed.com) seems to have every “help wanted” ad employers post online. If you’re looking for work at a college or university, add “Higher Ed Jobs” to your search resources. Nearly every other online job board is only going to have copies of a few of the same listings you already saw on these two sites. These listings are often old and randomly selected, designed to persuade you to sign up for a paid membership or click on pages owned by the same company more than to help you get a job.
Joining job hunting groups is often useless as well. Most job hunting groups are populated entirely by scammers and people trying to sign up others to their multilevel marketing companies.
Once you have exhausted the listings on Indeed (and possibly Higher Ed Jobs), you’re just going to have to resort to old fashioned job hunting methods like walking around town with your resume, networking, and checking the local papers.
Everybody who pours out their heart on the internet does not actually have the problems they talk about.
By now, we all know that a “catfish” is someone who pretends to be someone else entirely, or a fictionalized version of themselves, with the goal of tricking people into fake, usually romantic relationships. Some do it just to see how much they can mess with other people, most do it for money or gifts.
But “catfish” are not the only internet liars out there. Some people are displaying what psychologists refer to as “Munchaussen by Internet.” The term refers to “Munchaussen Syndrome” or “Munchaussen Syndrome by Proxy,” mental disorders in which the person induces, deliberately worsens, fakes, and/ or exaggerates illness or disability in themselves or another, the proxy. (Munchaussen Syndrome by Proxy is also a form of abuse). The primary goal is to create and maintain a self-image as a “patient,” or “caretaker,” and to gain the admiration, sympathy, and attention those things can bring. Money, benefits, and gifts may be a secondary goal.
In Munchaussen by Internet, the person fakes or exaggerates a mental or physical illness or disability online to receive this same attention and admiration, with a possible secondary goal of getting gifts or money.
Of course most people who share their troubles online are not faking things, but if the person appears to be either in crisis or miraculously improved every time someone else gets too much attention, uses their disability or illness as a weapon (You can’t criticize, argue, or disagree with me, I have this condition), or makes fantastic or contradictary claims, they may not be genuinely suffering.
Internet memes are easy for anyone to create, including people who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.
Just because something is posted on someone’s facebook or Instagram in a big font, with a colorful background and/or a picture, that does not make it true. It doesn’t even make it a logical, reasonable personal observation.
Consider the meme at the top of this article: Studies show businesses that hire writers make 30% more profit than those who allow their staff to do their writing.
Might want to hire me based on that, right? Who couldn’t use 30% more profit? But while I would certainly love the business….please don’t hire me based on that meme, because I made that statistic up. All I had to do was type in “free meme generator,” click on a site called “Canva” and sign up with my facebook account, and I now have the ability to create and post memes saying any false, self-serving thing I want. It took me all of a minute. If I really wanted to look and sound official, I could have done another draft in about ten more minutes, centering the text neatly, adding a picture, and claiming the studies were from any number of literacy or business organizations that would have no idea I was using their name….or a similar name….to promote my lies.
The internet is great. It is the setting for many blessings, and many of us would not have survived 2020 through early 2021 without it. Just remember that, like any large public gathering space, it can…and often is….used for less than honorable purposes.
When it’s not much better than the “University of Facebook”: avoiding sketchy training and academic programs
For many, coming out of the quarantine and returning to some semblance of normal life means re-evaluating our professional lives. We are looking for new performance venues for our music and readings, new day jobs, second careers, and side gigs. Some of us feel called to return to school or some other form of training and education as part of that professional shift. But all schools are not equal. Here are just a few signs that the program you are considering might not help you reach your professional goals.
The program is not recognized by the profession you’re entering, or in the case of an academic degree, a regional accrediting body.
For technical and career training programs, always start with the career you want and work backwards. Learn which professional organizations and agencies approve credentials for your field, and narrow your search to schools and programs that meet their standards.
If you are seeking an academic degree, regional accreditation is the bare minimum measure of quality. Earning a degree from a school that is not regionally accredited is about as impressive to potential employers as watching a bunch of videos on YouTube or getting your information from facebook memes. In other words, it isn’t.
They aren’t promising to hire you, but they’re guaranteeing their degree or program is a direct path to your career goals.
As hard as this may be to accept, training and education is not a guarantee of future employment or improved business. It can certainly help, but unless you’re working with a program or business that explicitly guarantees this program ends with an offer of employment at this specific company, nobody, not even an Ivy League university, can guarantee you will get the job you want, or any job, simply because you completed their program.
Emphasis is on how easy and convenient the work of the program will be.
Persuading potential students, especially those older than the traditional “college aged” students, to choose them over their competitors by mentioning that the work can be done without sacrificing paid work or family obligations is common practice among training and education programs of all levels of quality. Simply mentioning that their classes are online, and can be accessed at any time during the day does not mean the place is a diploma mill. But beware of any training or educational program that wants you to think you can simply pop in and complete a few easy tasks and earn certification or a degree.
If you’re entering a field that requires specialized technical training, you are learning a whole new profession. If you’re entering an academic program, you are immersing yourself in a field of study. These things are supposed to be hard. They’re supposed to be time consuming. Putting in the time and effort is a large part of what leads to the expertise in the field at the end of the program. Would you want to hire someone to do work they prepared for in the easiest, most convenient way possible, or someone who cared enough about the work to devote real time and energy to train or learn to do it well?
Feelings sound more important to the admissions staff than learning.
Promising the program will “boost your confidence” or “help you on your journey” is not a red flag in and of itself. Training and educational programs are trying to attract people from two generations whose educations have been greatly influenced by the self-esteem movement. Their potential recruits, people whose money they need to keep going, are used to things like participation trophies, “trigger warnings” on books because words in them might upset some people, and safe spaces to protect them from the ideas of people more liberal or more conservative than they are, so some of that is likely to be part of their sales pitch, no matter where you go.
It becomes a red flag when this seems to be all the program is about. If you’re looking for a quick way to feel good about yourself, looking to pay your money, set aside a little time, and have everyone tell you how much you deserve this, how amazing your results are, and how fun it is to have you there….and little else….what you’re looking for is not training or education, but a retreat or a spa.
There is intense pressure to hand over your money right away.
The terms “for profit” and “not for profit” applied to a university refer to whether the school is owned by a corporation, not whether they want money. Every job training program, college, and university in the world is there to make money, and they will be making money from your enrollment, whether you have full financial aid, and they’re getting the money from government programs, wealthy alumni, and organizations outside the school, or you’re paying for everything with your own income.
It’s the “sign up for our program today for three easy payments of $19.99” approach that should alert you that something is not right about the school. Look out for admissions staff that wants to sign you up the minute you send out that first inquiry email, including pushing for a credit card number to pay for admissions fees or start the first class. Even a program with open admissions is going to want people who are fully aware of what they’ve signed up to do. If they’re practically enrolling you based on an email from you that read, “What type of program is this?” look elsewhere.
Back when I was a reporter, I contacted a well-known for-profit university based in Minneapolis, hoping to write a feature about for-profit universities. The staff person I talked to immediately began making an admission file for me, and sent emails designed for a new student who needed to register and pay for classes for days before I finally convinced them that I was not a potential student and to close the file. While I am not printing the name of the school, it’s one I would not work for and would not attend classes in, based on that interaction.
They claim to be the only path to reaching your career goals.
When researching potential next steps in my own education, I had the following exchange with an admissions representative from a school I will call “Internet University.”
“My career goal is to eventually teach at a college or university. I was looking into your doctorate in Education with emphasis in adult education.”
“Yeah,” the admissions staff member said, “In order to teach at a college or university, you pretty much need a doctorate in Education with emphasis in adult education.”
I’m being deliberately vague on the exact degree and specialization to avoid exposing the school, but the staff member was trying to convince me that in order to even be considered for the job I wanted, I needed their exact degree.
Approximately nine years after that conversation, I have been teaching writing composition courses to adults for six and a half years at a different university based in a different city from the one referenced above. And I hold a Master of Arts in my subject, Literature and Creative Writing, from Goddard College. Earning a terminal degree, whether that be an Ed.D or a Ph.D. in my field, or a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing or Interdisciplinary Arts, would indeed be an improvement in my credentials, but their specific degree was far from the only path to the job I wanted.
Jumping into a new training or education program quickly may be tempting, especially when job hunts become frustrating. But just like any major professional decision, choosing a college, university, or training program should be done carefully, with thorough research.
Fall 2021 is a time for job hunting for many of us. New opportunities to play music or read in person again can mean new projects to fund, new instruments and computers and other career necessities to buy. The recent lockdown has left many behind on our bills. Or, we may need a break or a treat, and just want to save up some extra cash to fund that.
Driving around town and watching the news, we get the impression that these jobs are so easy to find, you can simply send out an email or walk in the door, and find work, but the actual experience of searching for a job is still daunting. Intimidating requirements, form rejection notices that arrive almost as soon as the application is sent, and low salaries for the work described are still a part of the process.
Adding to the confusion, some of the jobs you see listed are not really jobs at all. They aren’t scams, in that it is not impossible to make money, but you are not working for a paycheck. Here are some of the signs that the job you’re applying for is not actually a job.
One of the “perks” is the ability to set your own schedule and your own fee.
Many remote work jobs, even those that pay salaries, allow you to set your own schedule within their needs. If you teach at an online university, the students’ papers are due Tuesday at midnight, and the grades are due on Friday at midnight, it is up to you whether Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday is grading day, but one of those days needs to be spent grading homework. But when you’re offered the opportunity to completely set your own schedule and your own fee, you’re not truly being offered a job.
Companies that allow you to set your own schedule and your own fee are offering you the opportunity to market yourself as an independent worker through their website, usually for a portion of your income as a sort of rent.
Many tutoring websites operate in this manner. Hiring you simply means giving you a tutor account on their site. Potential students will then see your tutoring page, and have the option of hiring you as a tutor. If you charge $30 per hour, you may actually earn $20 for each hour you tutor, as the remaining ten goes to the website for the space on their page, use of their platform, and the publicity being associated with them brings to your tutoring business.
The word “freelance” is in the job description.
The term “hiring a freelance…” does not truly make sense, and is used mainly so that people looking for freelance workers can post on the job boards. When you see a job listing claiming to be “hiring a freelance” something, what they are really doing is looking for an independent worker to hire for a single, specific project or series of projects. They are not offering a position with their company.
On the surface, this may seem like no big deal. If you’re hired to give music lessons to kids online, or tutor college students in math, or act as a virtual assistant to someone for four hours per day, five days per week, for a six month term, you’re going to be doing the same work, and the same amount of work, whether you’re an employee or a freelance worker.
It becomes important, turns into a very big deal, at tax time, and when those six months are up. No matter how devoted you are to a company, if you are a freelance worker, they are still your client or customer, not your employer. You are your own employer, meaning you have to deduct money from your own checks for taxes. It is also very likely that once the project ends, the company that hired you will no longer need you. You will still be a freelance tutor or teacher or virtual assistant, but you will be one without a paying project to work on, meaning no income.
“Potential” income is listed.
When there is no base salary or wage, only “potential” income, you are looking at an offer of a commission only sales job.
While this technically is a job, unlike the freelance listings, it is not a job in the way we typically define the word, as a situation where you do a certain amount of work that produces a specific result and get paid a certain amount for that work. You will only be paid a percentage of what you manage to sell.
The most well-known example of this is multilevel marketing. These companies file paperwork listing you as an independent consultant, meaning that for tax purposes you are in the freelance category. They present it as having your own business. You do not. You have a commission only sales job with that multilevel marketing company.
These opportunities are often presented as having unlimited income potential, but your income is actually limited by a lot of factors, including the market for the product, the market saturation of the product, the market for competing products, the amount of time you have to devote to the work, the amount of energy you have to devote to the work, and the amount of money you have to invest in your sales goals. While there is something like a 97% chance that you won’t, you still might make enough money in an mlm to pay all your bills and live all your dreams. But you also might earn absolutely nothing, and even wind up losing money.
Other commission only jobs are not typically this slanted toward failure, but your income can and will fluctuate from nothing, especially when you first start out, to whatever your specific circumstances brings.
The place “hires” continuously.
Many YouTube content creators who cover working from home seem to miss this sign. You will often see YouTube videos encouraging you to apply to a certain company because they are “always hiring.” And while it may be true that they are always looking for new people, they are probably not hiring in the traditional sense of the word.
A business who never seems to stop looking for people to join their team is likely to be offering freelance work, rented workspace, or commission only sales work, rather than steady traditional employment. Even the world’s largest corporations only need so many staff members to fill each role.
They expect you to bring in….or have…a lot of your own materials.
Any job is going to expect you to have things that are common to several jobs; access to the internet if you need or want to work from home, clothing appropriate for the workplace, a car or other reliable transportation to and from offline jobs. But if you are expected to use items or services specific to a particular job that you would be unlikely to be able to use anywhere else, an employer typically provides them for you. In order to teach online as a faculty member of a university, I was expected to have consistent access to the internet, but the microphone headset I needed to record lessons before the school switched to Zoom was mailed to me at no charge. Offline jobs may expect you to wear dark jeans or black or beige pants, but they will provide you with shirts featuring logos, name tags, and other items you would not be able to wear anywhere but at work.
When you see a job that expects you to furnish a large amount of career specific items yourself, take a closer look at the job description. They are probably looking for an independent contractor who already owns these things for their freelance business.
Taking any of these types of jobs is not a sure path to failure and financial loss. They are not hoaxes or scams. Just make sure you’re clear on your relationship to the company, your responsibility at tax time, and the way you will be getting paid before you agree to take the job.
As helpful as money saving videos and articles can be, too many waste time blaming everything on poor spending habits. Going out or stopping for coffee seems to be a favorite target.
YouTube financial guru Graham Stephan is justifiably proud of his financial knowledge and skills. According to the videos on his channel, Stephan educated himself and worked his way from having little to no money to having millions by age twenty-six. His insights on investing, renting versus buying, and budgeting are aimed at millenials, but he offers guidance most of us could use.
Stephan further stands out on YouTube in a sea of channels devoted to things like twenty-thousand dollar Gucci hauls and stays at five-thousand dollar per night hotels. Despite his wealth, Stephan is known for being frugal, down to his trademark iced coffee. Stephan’s coffee is never purchased from Dunkin, Starbucks, or a local specialty coffeehouse. He has an entire video devoted to him brewing a pot of Peet’s Coffee at home, placing the pot in the refrigerator, serving himself from the pot, then mixing in some Coffeemate flavored creamer. He estimates each glass he drinks to cost around twenty cents when the cost of the coffee, creamer, and coffee filters are added up and divided by the number of cups each pot of coffee and bottle of creamer produces.
It’s an overblown, YouTube way of telling people they should feel guilty about stopping for coffee on the way to work or school, or going out for coffee. But Graham Stephan is not the only financial advice guru to behave as though every financial issue in a person’s life only exists because they are self indulgent and short-sighted with their money.
The whole “You’re poor because you go out for coffee” argument is an oversimplification of a web of social issues that contribute to poverty in America.
Anyone who has ever struggled to pay a basic household bill wishes financial freedom were as simple as giving up good coffee. I think we’d all happily drink three day old off brand bitter sludge from the dusty discounted product rack at the worst grocery store in town if it meant we never had to worry about money again. It doesn’t work that way.
Personal choices do play a part in our finances, but they are only one part of a picture that starts with when and where we were born, and branches out to include everything from the national economy, education and job training policies, and healthcare to fads and popular culture. Stephan would still be rich if it were not for YouTube, as most of his money was made in Real Estate, but many his age or younger would struggle to pay their bills if sitting and watching people do things like play pranks and open up boxes were not such a popular American time waster today.
Going out for coffee or stopping for coffee often means more to people than treating themselves to a luxury product.
“High end” and “luxury” are not words anyone would ever apply to most of my tastes or habits. When I need something for the house, thrift stores, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, and Dollar Tree are the first places I look. My clothes are almost exclusively purchased at discount clothing stores, and I rarely add anything to my wardrobe without looking for a sale and/or a coupon first. But I like high end coffee, and love going out for coffee. And I am perfectly capable of brewing a pot of coffee at home. I make at least one pot every morning.
Sitting at home drinking a cup of coffee I made myself just does not compare to hanging out in a coffeehouse or diner sipping a cup or two.
Going out for coffee is about more than the coffee for many people. It’s a way to form social circles. “My crowd” are the people I met while sitting in my favorite chair at the Tram sipping coffee and listening to music or spoken word art. For those in recovery from harmful addictions, their favorite coffeehouse is often the only way they can go out while avoiding bars and casinos. Stopping for coffee can be an important way of relaxing and mentally preparing for work for a lot of people.
While the coffee is not the cause of all your money problems, Stephan and others who rail against going out for coffee do have a point about wasting money thoughtlessly.
Buying specialty coffee for your cupboard and going out for coffee drinks should never be given up except in cases of extreme financial emergency if they truly mean something to you. We all need money to survive, but money is not more important than our art, our community, and our friends and family. If you are playing or reading at a local coffeehouse, your purchase of a cup of coffee supports the business owner, who is supporting you by hosting the event. It gives you time to spend with your fellow artists, and your friends. Those friendships are more important than those few dollars you would save by purchasing a single bottle of water, or declining to make a purchase, and rushing home to drink a cup of coffee in the kitchen alone.
It is only when you find yourself buying something you do not truly need or want, out of sheer habit, or in response to peer pressure, that you may want to cut back. Stop going in on Starbucks runs at work if you do not truly like the brand, and are just ordering a coffee because all your coworkers got one. Switch to store brand coffee if you’re only buying Green Mountain because your former roommate liked it, and it’s what you’ve become used to grabbing from the shelf.
And if you have a short term project to fund…try skipping your coffeehouse coffee once or twice a week, stashing the cash….and having some of Graham Stephan’s “twenty cent” coffee. Unless you hang out at the Tram. Buy as much as possible from them when they reopen. You can hang out with me. I’ll be the one in the wingback chair by the hallway, working on my latest novel….and this website….over coffee.