Elrod’s love affair began with the sort of dodgy Facebook message that most people delete on sight.
She discovered that message in March 2011, 20 months before opening her First Community account, while cleaning out her junk-strewn “Other” mailbox during a respite at a Charlotte mall.
Despite her hand-to-mouth circumstances, Elrod’s new account soon began to receive a series of sizable wire transfers, many of which originated abroad.
Over the course of one December week, for example, almost $30,000 arrived from Norway; on January 2, someone in France sent $16,977.
was in rough financial shape as the 2012 holiday season drew near.
She’d been out of work for a year, ever since quitting her longtime clerical job at the county public health department in Charlotte, North Carolina.
As soon as Elrod would exit First Community with a bundle of and 0 bills in her purse, she’d hang a right and walk across the parking lot to Ridgeview Plaza, a vast and featureless shopping mall surrounded by scraggly woods.
She would pass by the drive-through tobacco outlet, the Dollar Tree, and Bellacino’s Pizza & Grinders en route to the mall’s centerpiece, a typically gargantuan Walmart.
At each stop she’d wire another chunk of money to Sinclair.
Sometimes, if her phone bill was due or her refrigerator was barren, she kept a few dollars for herself.