The First 48 is one of the most popular crime documentary series that provides a glimpse into real-life violent crimes by focusing on the first 48 hours of an investigation. Thankfully, “The First 48” in this article refers to the total amount of hours it took me to identify and locate the persons who got a hold of my Mastercard and spent $1,700 at a shopping mall in Ottawa as well as online, but also having them right their wrongs, and quicker than the time it took for the Ottawa Police Service to assign my criminal complaint to a police officer. The best part of this story is that the location from where my credit card was snatched up was the budget-friendly gym that has provided me with ample material for The Voice Magazine since the start of 2023.
The kidnapping and assault of my RBC WestJet Mastercard.
On the night of May 5th, my credit card fell out of my Lulu Lemon Olympic-themed Team Canada crossbody bag, but I had no idea until I showed up the next morning to rent a van from Home Depotto pick up a freezer that I had found on Kijiji because my grandparent’s freezer had died. . While waiting for a van to become available, I drove to Starbucks to order a trenta-sized dragon drink made with lemonade and light ice. But as I was pulling into the Starbucks parking lot, I received a scammy-looking text from a random number telling me that my credit card had been used and that they wanted me to confirm that it was me who made the purchases. I ignored it and paid for my order.
While waiting for my drink, I received an additional text message with another warning, and that is when I knew that there was a problem. So, I replied back with an “N” and that immediately triggered an incoming call from RBC’s credit card fraud team. When I opened my RBC app, some son of a gun had racked up $1700 in charges, buying stuff from Walmart, Zara, Sportchek, Sephora, LCBO, and Shein. Out of all the charges, the only one that bothered me was the LCBO charge for $165 because I viewed it as this person ‘toasting’ to me.
At Home Depot, my two other credit cards got locked because I did not know their pin codes. After having my credit cards locked and with my grandfather by my side, I had to tell the customer service representative that I needed to call my father to come and make the $500 deposit for me so that I could rent the van. It really made me feel like I was “18 years old” all over again, but it also gave me time to file a police report.
After finishing the freezer errand, I got on the phone with RBC, and they provided me with the details of the fraudulent transactions that were done on my credit card. After a little bit of my own digging, I was able to uncover the identity of one of the users, an international university student who was living in Moncton New Brunswick and working at a local shelter, and I emailed her at her university email and sent her an iMessage, the very next day.
On the evening of May 7th, and few minutes after I messaged this international student, she called me and we talked it out, but then I told her to go talk to her “friends” and get them to reach out to me, so that we could resolve the situation without the “assistance” of a police officer because of what they were potentially facing as international students: deportation.
On the morning of May 8th, I received a call from the international student who picked up my credit card in Ottawa and we talked it out. For some reason, he tried explaining his temptation, but everything he was saying was a synonym for still being in the “humble beginnings” phase of his life and he sounded quite scared. We discussed some possible alternatives, and I suggested that we go together and return the items at Bayshore because of what $1,700 would mean to him if he had to pay all of it. Although he liked the idea, he said he wanted to pay for all the items, which was approximately $1,000 since we were able to cancel the two online orders from Sephora and Shein.
Weirdly enough, two of the biggest purchases this international student made were for his long-distance girlfriend, who lived in Moncton, getting her $450 worth of clothing from Shein and $200 of make-up from Sephora, but he was buying it using my credit card and with my money. Although I spend my money to buy my girlfriend presents, spending another guy’s money to buy your girlfriend presents comes across as somewhat of a reverse dowry. Technically speaking, if that girl is getting herself items including lingerie and swimwear courtesy of my money, then does that not make her my sugar baby?
Once the international student paid me out for the purchases he made on my credit card, I reminded him about his golden ticket and the opportunity he was being provided to change his and his family’s life and not to waste it. After our interaction, and to bring a close to the situation, I sent an “invoice” to RBC’s fraud department, the Ottawa Police Service, and the Crown, for doing all three of their jobs, all on my own.
The Reality of Being an International student
Why was it important for me to give this international student a chance? Well, it all has to do with the lives that most international students live and just how big of a secret they tend to be. The assumption that most people make about international students being “well off” because of the exorbitant tuition fees they pay to study could not be further from the truth. In fact, there is a dirty little secret that happens to be a burdening reality for many international students, and it has to do with how their families are often forced to borrow money basically from loan sharks so that they can pay for their children to study abroad, and this is especially true for international students from Africa.
In many African countries, there exists an entire industry dedicated to providing money to families that are unable to obtain loans from banks, specifically for their children to study abroad. By our standard, this industry would qualify as being a loan sharking business because of everything that is associated with the loan. Quite a few of my friends who started off as international students, before calling Canada home, have shared stories of this dark reality that many international students are often forced to endure. Failure for these students is not an option, and they are expected to support their families, helping to pay back the loans and more. Their explanation as to why more international students do not talk about this issue has to do with stigma, fear, and shame, and they say that it is far more common than we can imagine. Worst of all, it forces many students to ration everything to the point that they are just surviving and it definitely takes a toll on their wellbeing.
Every one of the loss prevention managers I talked to told me that this international student deserved to have their study visa revoked and to be deported, as did most people I spoke to regarding the matter. At the end of the day, this was a crime of opportunity, plain and simple, but nothing is ever truly “plain and simple”.
The late teens and early twenties are a period of time where the brain is developing, and individuals are still in the process of building out their identity. It is also a period of time during which individuals are most susceptible to impulsive behaviors and where the majority of their focus goes to caring about what others think. Although a person may be considered an adult at the age of 18 for the sake of legal purposes, science tells us that most of us do not become “mentally mature” until many years later, and an unfortunate few remain “Peter Pans” and destined to live out their lives in Neverland.
Had I listened to what others were telling me, this kid would get deported back to Ivory Coast, and he would be losing out on the tens of thousands of dollars that had already been spent on his education, and he would struggle to make a living in Ivory Coast. It is more likely that he would spend the rest of his life in obscurity and without knowing “what could have been”.
My thinking was, did I lose my credit card as a result of an armed robbery? No. “Did I lose my credit card as a result of a break and enter? No. Was this person a career criminal with a checkered past? No. Instead, was this a young kid who was in school, struggling to get by, and who may have wanted to have nice things like others do? Yes. So, should he have been looking for a part-time job? Yes. Was he wrong for what he did? Most definitely. But were his actions criminal enough that he was deserving to get banished from Canada for a single stupid decision to go on a spending spree with a stranger’s credit card given everything we know? Not really. Was it likely that this situation could be turned into a positive learning experience for him. Definitely so. Did he deserve another shot at reaching his full potential and was he likely to make the most out of it? Absolutely. All of this leads me to believe that giving them a “do-over” is the only choice that truly makes sense, since everyone is better than their worst moment.
Despite the fact that the world can be a cold and unrelenting place, we do not have to be that way since every one of us has the ability to determine the context we create around our interactions with others, nor does it always have to be that way. What matters most in this saga of events is what has yet to unfold, it has to do with what these international students do with their second chance, and I am looking forward to it.