Fraud | Re: My Apology To You

As I write I feel the anger, a special cocktail of adrenaline, coursing through the veins in my arms. Perhaps more dull now, it's been there ever since I received an email that began:

Hi Jane
It has been a very long while since we’ve chatted, I hope you are well. As I am sure you’ve heard, I was involved in fraudulent activity over this past year involving community groups. It was wrong and outright disgusting and I am full of nothing but guilt and remorse for my actions...

The email (which reads like the forced after-school chalking of a scolded child across a blackboard) came from Mr Nice Guy, someone who- not so long ago- I considered a friend.

I met Mr Nice Guy in the 21st century way many introductions begin: we met through social media. Twitter, to be exact. Mr Nice Guy seemed like an energetic and passionate guy. Someone who really wanted to do his part for our community, and in the world. He had a following, was well spoken of and well connected. He was involved in everything- a real community supporter. It wasn't long before we were following each other on YouTube, subscribed to each other's blogs, and Facebook friends. We tweeted, exchanged emails and DMs, had dinner together, and celebrated his birthday. He seemed like... a nice guy.

There was the comment he made to my husband about my breasts... but he had had a few drinks, and it wasn't that remarkable. And there was something a little funny about his work history. But young professionals change jobs frequently, right? Normal. And then there was the time he offered me tickets to a sold out event, from his 'private reserve'. All I had to do was send him an email money transfer. And I did. I supported and trusted him enough to directly hand him money.

The trust was misplaced.

Information started trickling in about Mr Nice Guy taking money from a local organization. And then the trickle became a deluge. Organization after organization. Event after event. At every point in his community involvement there seemed to be exploitation and fraud. Broken promises. Financial commitments not met. Missing money. Worse, the money had been taken from nonprofits and community groups working with vulnerable segments of the community.

The anger and indignation grew with each conversation among those who knew, yet there seemed to be little recourse. Was it really just a nasty rumor? Would we look guilty by association with Mr Nice Guy? Who knew? Who didn't? Who else was involved? There was confusion, frustration, upset, anger, and feelings of betrayal.

This is some of what (eventually) lead to 5 black and white paragraphs entitled 'My Apology To You'.  Claims that wrongs had been righted. Soul searching was being done.

But something was still off. The email was blatantly generic. Mr Nice Guy was making pretty arrogant assumptions about the impact of his actions. And then... I received a forwarded email with the exact same message from someone else in the community. And then someone else. The same email copied, pasted, and sent to... I don't even know how many people. Virtually the exact same words, over and over across the community.

Copy, paste. 
Copy, paste. 
I'm genuinely sorry. 
Copy, paste. 

Not exactly the 'personal' apology the message purported to be.
My actions have no doubt made things that much more difficult for a community supporter such as yourself to work with a community that relies completely on trust and I am very sorry to put you in that position.
But interestingly, he didn't destroy our community, or our ability to trust. One of most wonderfully surprising results of his 'fraudulent activity' is that:

We're choosing to form better bonds
Many are resolving to communicate and empower one another so this won't happen again. 
We're acknowledging that trust is harder earned

We've also seen how someone can use social media to misrepresent and exploit, what someone can get away with when we're willing to be silent, not to mention what a completely disingenuous apology looks like.

While I believe wholeheartedly in redemption- I've known it well in my own life- I know too that it comes when you are ready to understand your wrongs from the perspective of those you've hurt. Mr Nice Guy looked at people who were hopeful, who were working to see the best in others, who shared this crazy notion they could help make the world a better place and used it to extort money for personal gain. I doubt very much his redemption will come through an email, copied and pasted.

If you work or volunteer in the nonprofit sector, you may also be interested in:
Nonprofit fraud: What are the key indicators
(by Stuart Douglas & Kim Mills. Charity Village)

And feel free to leave your comments below, or over on my Facebook Page.