I combed the internet searching for similar stories like mine. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any. The search term “businesses committing fraud” yielded nothing of value. How aggravating! What term would unlock a plethora of information? I know that I wasn’t the only one who got taken for this kind of joy ride. I typed in “committing fraud” and “fraud prevention” to no avail. But when I used the search term “scam,” I hit the mother load. I got 27 plus pages of results. As I am about to share, knowing what to look for is as key as knowing where to look when preventing fraud.

You don’t have to walk down this road alone.

For the past five years, my mom had been battling kidney failure. My family and I moved into her home to help take care of her for the past year. When she passed, I went through a variety of emotions — relief, sorrow, anger, frustration and fear. Many of us handle emotional challenges in different ways. Instead of taking the time to grieve, I chose to focus my limited energies and attention on creating a new product to help people live better lives. I needed to see that project come to life.

That’s when I got an invitation to explore working with a mobile app developer. Two days after my mom passed, I set up a meeting with the developers. When I thought about the risks of losing money, I felt that if the amount was small enough, it wouldn’t be so bad. Besides, if a third party recommended them and they had 5 star reviews on that site, then everything had to be legit, right? That was the extent of my due diligence.

Do you, sometimes, see only what you want to see?

Now before you say to yourself, “I would have checked this out and checked that out” read on. You may discover how emotions can cloud your thinking – without you even recognizing it — and how appearances can be deceiving even to the most discerning and careful person.

After having put my mother in the ground a week before, I summed up all of my energy on a sunny Thursday afternoon and met with my “dream team” for the first time.

Learn from my mistakes, so you don’t have to experience them firsthand.

I was impressed by them. They were smart, savvy, and caring. You could just tell. For example, in mid sentence explaining how we could generate income streams from a variety of sources and still keep the app free to users, one of them got up and opened the door for an elderly man who was trying to get into the coffee shop. That act confirmed what I had come to believe – that they were good people.

But it wasn’t just that; the questions they asked, the ideas they offered, the way they stretched my thinking, and the way that they challenged me to imagine what could be possible with my idea made me hungry for more. Before they even finished signing me up, I was convinced that we were a perfect match and I was lucky to say yes to this opportunity despite the emotional upheaval that had just occurred in my life.

In retrospect, they told me everything I wanted to hear and more: They believed in me, they believed in my idea, and together, we were not only going to help people, we were going to make a living at it. “We aren’t looking for a sale,” they told me. “We are looking for a long term partnership with you.” That day, I cried in my car. I thought of my mom and told her, “You’re going to be so proud of me.”

The next two meetings went off without a hitch. They delivered what they had promised, but I was a rookie and I didn’t know what to look for or what I was truly looking at. Wire-frames for mobile applications can be copied and design specs are really just a cut and paste kind of activity. What I also realized was that they had front-loaded most of the cost of development – that means I paid about 60% of the cost upfront before receiving a prototype.

How do you trust but verify?

Everything they asked of me, I delivered early, but now, they were jammed up and getting behind. They would tell me all about the difficulties they were up against and more money – namely mine – was the only solution. I trusted them and followed their advice. After all, they were on my side, right? In the back of my mind, I started to wonder, why they hadn’t worked out those challenges in advance. However, I quickly dismissed my rising doubt by accepting the explanations that they had already provided.

My uneasiness started to grow as I was informed of delay after delay, but as long as I had their assurances, I would keep working and trusting that everything would work out. I shot videos, wrote descriptions and kept checking in. Finally, they said they would have a working copy of my app! I was so thrilled that I brought my daughter with me to the meeting so we could try it together.

However, when we arrived there was no prototype and really no progress made since we had met last. Seeing my daughter’s disappointment and hearing their request for more money, I started to wake up. Something wasn’t right, and yet, the reasons for the delays made sense to me, so I gave them more money.

When we left the coffee shop, my daughter told me that they were acting “funny” and had wondered why we didn’t go to their offices. I explained that it was for convenience as they didn’t want me to have to drive all the way to San Jose. But something about her comments caused me, for the first time, to question them and to question what was going on.

I requested that the next time we meet, they have a working prototype to show me — and that was when the game of hide and seek truly began.

But, I didn’t know it at the time. I had to finish one last segment of the results screen and I had to go re-certify for my coaching credential, in addition to, handling the challenges of my mom’s estate and family obligations. Before I knew it, a month had passed and there had been no response to the five emails I sent nor the 5 messages that I had left for them. I could not explain away their lack of response any longer. Now I was scared and angry.

Enough was enough. It was time for me to confront them at their offices.

In my next post, I’ll share with you the surprising conclusion, as well as, the most important lessons that I learned in the hopes of preventing this from happening to you. Stay tuned!


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