When Do We Become Prey?
There are two kinds of people (for purposes of this blog). The first group has a natural gullibility and naivete that borders on the unbelievable. They seem to have been born that way. It’s easy to pull a fast one on them, but they somehow manage to bumble through life, relatively unscathed but usually with hilarious stories that make the rest of us wonder “how the hell did she fall for THAT?”
And then there’s the second group — the ones who go through life with a good degree of common sense and street smarts. This faction tends to make sound decisions with the ability to discern a good deal from a bad one, and suss out a scam quite effortlessly.
Oddly, at some point, these two groups end up in the same place. I’m convinced that there is a tipping point in every person’s life — first and second group alike — where they become prey.
Last year, I was in disbelief that my aunt and uncle fell victim to a team of roof-laying travelling gypsies. They drove by in their raggedy Sanford-and-Son-mobile, conned my uncle into allowing them to inspect the roof, and delivered the ominous prognosis that my unsuspecting relatives were in danger of the entire roof caving in. Wow! What a good thing they passed by! And for a mere $15,000, my aunt and uncle could escape the possibility of their home turning into one big skylight. Fortunately, my cousins arrived just as they were working and threatened to kick some gypsy ass if they didn’t leave.
My father and I chuckled about this story, and I counted myself among the lucky ones that he still had his faculties and common sense.
Firmly rooted in the second group, my father is nice, but can usually sniff a bad deal. (My mother [who was probably voted "Most Likely to Give the Side-Eye" in her graduating class] would disagree with this statement were she alive, and always claimed that my father would buy snake oil if presented nicely. While he unbelievably swallowed a few of my tall teenage tales, I choose to believe he did so to spare himself.) But as he grows older, I become more concerned that my mother’s theory was correct.
I received a somewhat surprised call from him a few weeks ago. Apparently he had won $100K.
Now . . . most people would have blown the whistle immediately. But I have a history of a) entering contests, b) entering contests in his name, and c) winning said contests. At 15 I was bored in the Marshall Fields home section while my mother was making the difficult drawn-out decision between Le Creuset and some other set of pots. To amuse myself I entered a Farberware giveaway and won $500 worth of cookware in my dad’s name, as I was too young to enter the sweepstakes myself. Some years later I won a diamond ring in a raffle and other prizes in random drawings.
I bought my dad a stove for Christmas and I entered his name into a contest at that time, so the prospect of his winning something was totally feasible. But as an avid Dateline fanatic, I was suspicious.
He had received three letters, the first two of which he ignored. The third time’s clearly the charm, because when he received a “final notice,” he decided to call. Why the hell not?
My suspicions grew as my father told me that the contact was in England, although he convinced me that the letter looked official. My father is no stranger to news shows (he never misses an episode of 60 Minutes), so he informed Ramsey – his British contact — that he would not be paying any money, nor would he reveal his bank account number, or give any personal information. Ramsey assured him, in his smug British way, that there was no way that this was a scam, and that he would certainly not owe any money. The ONLY thing is that there would be a “handling fee” that would be taken prior to my dad’s receipt of the cashier’s check. All told, he would receive roughly $95,010.
Ramsey told my father that he shouldn’t tell anyone about his winnings, for security purposes (although he failed to specify just whose security would have been jeopardized).
Then, the rules of the game changed.
My father received a check via certified mail for $4,910, which he immediately deposited. Ramsey called to ensure receipt of the check, and told my father that in order for him to receive the rest of the money, he would have to wire two separate payments of $1,200 to two individuals. For alleged taxes. Which made absolutely no sense. If you can find a country that would ask for less than 5% taxation on winnings, please let me know and I’ll be moving there this week.
When my father told me that part, I thought: “Gotcha, Ramsey old chum. You bloody piece of shit! You fat article! Nah-sty bah-stard! [insert any other rant from a Guy Ritchie film]“ Certainly my father would be on the same page! We had caught this scamming sack of of crap.
But then my father said something that scared the shit out of me: “So, I guess I have to wire the money if I’m to receive the rest.” He went on to ask what the harm could have been since the check (officially drawn on Mellon Bank) had already cleared.
No, Dad! NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Et tu?
So I told him not to send a damned thing — ESPECIALLY not via an untraceable wire transfer. I instructed him to call his personal banker to investigate the check, and to bring all of the paperwork to my house. Stat!
He followed my orders. The “official” bit of documentation that he received? Could have been printed on my old dot matrix printer. I called the number. There was no announcement; the voicemail was mysteriously full. There was no website. No email address. Nothing. Just the handiwork of an international scammer attempting to take advantage of an octogenarian.
His personal banker called to say that upon further examination, that check wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.
Although I’d seen these kinds of scams documented online or featured on Dateline, it really pissed me off that my father could have been a victim. So I made a call to Ramsey during British scam artist business hours.
When he answered, I introduced myself as the daughter of his latest victim, and produced the faux claim number and account number. I told him that I was an official agent (of some sort), and expressed my concern in a mild way, initially. He tried to backpedal and reassure me, so I aggressively informed him that he was under international investigation and that I had contacts in the British police force (I wanted so desperately to say that I knew people at Scotland Yard, but I chose to remain credible). I stressed that what he should really be frightened of is my ability (and extreme desire) to cross the pond, find him and beat his pale, bony, 22-tooth-having, Cadbury eating ass until he’s unable to type, lick a stamp or partake in high tea.
Ramsey had the nerve to say that I was harassing him before hanging up on me. The nerve!
I find it sad that my father has clearly reached the tipping point. Or that my mother had been right all along. Either way, I need to be more alert now than ever.
Thanks for reading my brand new blog!!
I am so glad your dad had you!
I unfortunately know this scam very well. I too was affected by it, but in a different way. Several years back, at work, I had to make a payment to a Canadian supplier which was sent to a PO box. The box got broken into, and the check that I sent was stolen. It was never cashed, so I voided it and then sent a replacement one.
A month or so later, I got a call from a bank verifying a check that was being presented. The teller thought it looked suspicious. She was right. The person who stole my original check produced others, copied my signatures and used them to send the “fee and tax money.” We found that about 20 people fell victim to the scam. We didn’t lose any money, but had to close our bank account. It cost me hours and hours of work…
Hi Hilary! Who would think that a voided check would cause so much trouble? It’s so sad that there is such a large faction that makes a living by being on the take. And extremely sad that those people prey on senior citizens. I wish there were some sort of bureau that I could report this to — one that would actually utilize the information for a true investigation. If anyone knows of one, please let me know!