Friend asking for monetary help - How do I check their story?
November 14, 2015 5:51 PM   Subscribe

I was contacted recently by an ex-gf living in California, with a tale of woe. Sent some money along, and apparently things are getting worse, and amazingly, less believable. Any ideas on how to verify any of this?

So, it started with her living in subsidized housing, and short on the rent. Sent $500. Her and her boyfriend got kicked out anyways, were living out of their car, and going to go camping out in the state parks to build up a buffer of SSI checks. Sent $200. Now she's been accosted by gang members (!), had her car sabotaged(!!) and been beaten up by the boyfriend.(!!!)
I want to help, but this whole thing's starting to sound fishy, and I'm not interested in facilitating a bigger problem (drugs are a possibility). Any ideas on productive things I can do from the east coast?
posted by Orb2069 to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is gonna sound trite but... Don't send anything else. Chalk it up to your good heart. The money is a loss; the story is too involved and seems an awful lot like a set up. (FWIW, my husband's ex wife did something like this and eventually we just cut ties completely). Good luck.
posted by annieb at 5:57 PM on November 14, 2015 [27 favorites]

Agree with annieb. You sent $500. I don't see why you have any obligation to send any more than that to an ex living in a different state.
posted by natteringnabob at 6:05 PM on November 14, 2015 [8 favorites]

Either 1) you're right, and she's just trying to get money, which means you shouldn't be involved, or 2) she needs serious help putting her life back together, which means you shouldn't be involved.

Send her a few links, wish her well, and tell her you are unable to continue helping.
posted by wintersweet at 6:05 PM on November 14, 2015 [12 favorites]

Send her the National Domestic Violence Hotline's toll-free number: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Do not send her another dollar.

Optional: Tell her you hope she'll be OK.
posted by shiny blue object at 6:07 PM on November 14, 2015 [14 favorites]

Ah, I apologize: I see that your question is actually about how to verify her story from afar rather than what to do in general. Other than checking police reports or news sites from her area to see if there are any reports of gang assaults--and there might not be even if it happened--I don't see any way to verify any of it.
posted by wintersweet at 6:16 PM on November 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: In theory, you could ask her for the police report.

In reality, if you don't trust her enough to believe what she's telling you, you need to think carefully about whether your money is likely to help or hurt her.
posted by samthemander at 6:32 PM on November 14, 2015 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Police reports are generally public information, as far as I know (which is often problematic for people who, e.g., have had a mental health crisis.) Anyway, even if it's not easily searchable online, you can probably contact the local jurisdiction to request it.

I also agree with everyone who suggests a domestic violence center referral above all else.

Oh, and you could always contact SSA and advise them that an SSI recipient is vulnerable and may require a payee. I'm not sure how seriously they'd take such a report (since you're not a relative and you're not local,) but it's worth a shot.
posted by SMPA at 6:49 PM on November 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have (way too much) experience in this domain. It sounds like lies from here (Also I need drug money stories are always dramatic and improbable and require an IMMEDIATE need for cash). One way to help from afar is to pay for things where you can do so directly. Even really bad hotels, for example, will let you pay over the phone. I've provided Wal-Mart gift cards, which can be turned into cash, but with a lot more effort than you'd think. Sometimes saying "I am not going to do anything else until you tell me what is really going on" works, but you have to hold your ground through a lot of swearing that the truth is being told. I would do online court searches for any names you have. You can be pretty sure at this point that any cash you give will only bring requests for more cash. It's also ok to help, even if you think you're being played a bit. This kind of situation is very stressful and sometimes the easiest thing to do for yourself is send money one last time while saying it is the last time. It's much less stressful for me when I do it that way. Feel free to get in touch if you think I can help.

posted by orsonet at 6:56 PM on November 14, 2015 [12 favorites]

No contact, dude. You shouldn't be sending an ex money. Just block her calls and emails. Or tell her you got fired and are supporting a new girlfriend who is pregnant with twins.
posted by discopolo at 7:07 PM on November 14, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Do you have any mutual friends or acquaintances (or even her co-workers) you can get in touch with to find out how much of this is true? Depending on her or yours relationship with these mutual people you can decide how much you want to disclose vs. just sounding concerned vs. casually saying you just wanted to get in touch with her, but if one of them confirms that they are also getting these stories from her, at least you have someone else who might be able to help you figure out whether any of this is true or if she is scamming everyone. And don't worry about it being awkward or inappropriate to contact someone you haven't been in touch with. It is perfectly OK to say "Hi, I hope you are doing well. I am getting in touch with you because I am concerned about _____, I got an alarming message from her and want to make sure her living situation is OK. Have you been in touch with _____?" Because if her boyfriend really is beating her and gangs are really threatening her, then she needs help finding a shelter, and it is OK to disclose potentially embarrassing information if it is with intentions of figuring out how to help.

But don't just send more money. Try to find out more information first.
posted by at 8:08 PM on November 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

Don't give her any more money. Wish her well. Cut off contact.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 8:46 PM on November 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is she on Facebook? If so, do her stories line up with her posts there?
posted by blueberry at 8:52 PM on November 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Other people have covered the verification issue, but if she is in a position where stuff would help, I have in the past helped out drug-addled friends who I didn't trust with cash by buying stuff online at Wal-Mart for them to pick up. Unlike many other retailers, they allow you to specify a third party that can pick up purchases made online.
posted by wierdo at 9:23 PM on November 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you actually spoken to your ex or are these exchanges (information, money) all happening electronically? If the latter, any chance she's been hacked?
posted by carmicha at 9:23 PM on November 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Her story sounds plausible to me. All it takes is for her to have landed with a drug abusing boyfriend who spent the rent money, removed and sold parts of her car for ten bucks and still owes money to the gang that supplies him.

Squatters camp out in parks illegally all the time in non-campground locations.

If she is your ex you likely had friends in common. Can you think of anyone you know who also knows her? Can you check in with them if they have any current information about her? What about her family members? Do you know anyone in California that you could talk to who could advise you on what resources there are in her area?

This friend's problems cannot be solved by sending her money. Her best route to a stable life again is probably by way of a battered woman's shelter, but it is unlikely that you can influence her to get into one. If $700 has not helped her an additional $1000 is unlikely to help either. It would be silly to send money for her to repair the car before she has lined up a safe place to park it. There is no point paying her rent if she will be evicted anyway.

If you wish to help her with rent the usual way to do this is to get the name of her landlord's company and send the money directly to them so that it cannot be intercepted. This is also the way you help with heating bills etc. It has to go directly to the company that supplies the product so that it can't be intercepted or stolen. You could, for example get her to get her car to a mechanic and give you the name of the mechanic so that you can pay the mechanic directly, by credit card over the phone.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:33 AM on November 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, first verify that it's her you're communicating with. If it is her, then send her some local resources she can turn to for help. I don't see any way to further verify without getting yourself personally invested. And while the descriptions do seem sort of high drama. It's not at all outside of the realm of possibility that her current boyfriend had dragged her into his own bullshit. Happens all the time. Money won't fix the issue, though, so I'd recommend just pulling back.
posted by amanda at 6:42 AM on November 15, 2015

This may sound blunt, but couldn't you just ask her to send you a copy of the police reports if you're suspicious of her stories? I mean, flat out say, "I'm not sending you any more money unless you send me proof of what you're telling me." If she refuses, don't send her any more money. If she does send paperwork, it should have numbers and names that you can call and verify. Seems simple enough to me. She's asking a lot out of an ex, and if I were in her situation, I wouldn't be asking for money, I'd be asking for safe shelter, so you're correct to be suspicious.
posted by patheral at 9:22 AM on November 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd like to agree with the post above that you're not doing anything wrong if you send her money "one last time." It will assuage your guilt, communicate your boundaries, and demonstrate that you care for her all in one go. You are free to stop now and no longer send her anything, but you're not foolish for wanting to help, even if she needs more than you can provide; you're kind.
posted by samthemander at 12:30 PM on November 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: +1 to Jane the Brown. This kind of situation isn't uncommon and is also very unlikely to involve any kind of police report or official documentation until someone gets arrested for what is, yeah, probably going to be some kind of drug charge. The campground rules stuff is also unlikely to produce a paper trail because if they're that broke they're probably squatting or parking lot surfing. As for the story getting less believable as it gets worse-- most people are not as far away from poverty, homelessness, and violence as they want to think, and it's not unbelievable or even uncommon for this kind of very rapid descent into frightening circumstances to happen. I suspect your sense that something is "fishy" is because your ex is withholding information from you about either her abusive boyfriend's or her own drug use out of either fear, shame, or denial. But I want to emphasize that even if drug debts are behind all of this violence and instability, the homelessness, abuse, and car problems are probably real. She may not be involved with drug drama at all, and be suffering from a spate of bad luck and an abusive, shady SO. I don't think it's necessarily suspicious that she's asking for money rather than trying to obtain shelter; she might think she can make the SSI/car living situation work out. The car sabotage is also not at *all* uncommon for people living out of their vehicles, either through theft by random people preying on a vulnerable population or abusive partners (which your ex currently has) taking or destroying car parts. Whatever is going on, it sounds bad, and I'm glad you're trying to help. Like Jane said, it sounds like the best thing for your ex right now would probably be to find placement in a battered womens' shelter or a sober living facility-- even if she isn't dealing with addiction, sober houses are taking in a lot of homeless folks in CA now that winter's making shelter a priority.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:29 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Recap: Checked public arrest records, didn't find much, but what I did fit with her story. Got ahold of a local friend who sat her down over lunch and tried to get answers out of her... He thinks there are mental issues at play at this point, figured out that she's in contact w/ state services, but that she seems to be telling the truth as she sees it. I sent along enough to fund a trip to get warm clothes and supplies. Haven't heard much from her since then - Don't know if she's got other problems, or has sunk beneath the waves.
posted by Orb2069 at 5:44 AM on December 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the update, Orb2069.
posted by blueberry at 6:35 AM on January 9, 2016

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