THWARTING THE OLD “SHIPPING CHARGES UPFRONT” SCAM
by Todd Hartley
As penance for being a little mean-spirited and partisan of late, this week I’m going to use this space for an important public service announcement — by which I mean I’m going to tell you the tale of how someone tried to recently scam me.
Most of you won’t remember me talking about this, but I have a Mercedes that I need to sell (Great deal! Act now!). We have two other cars, so the Mercedes has mostly just been sitting around. Well, I finally got off my duff and cleaned it up and listed it for sale on The Aspen Times online classifieds. Me being me, naturally, I had to try the free route before spending anything.
A couple of days later, I got a text from a guy named Steven L. that began, “I’m interested in buying this, what is the condition and bottom price?” I told him the car ran great and I could take $200 off the listed price. He asked some more questions about the Mercedes, and after I answered he texted back and said he wanted to buy it for $3,500.
Boom, I thought. Done. Car sold with no money spent. I was so blinded with self-congratulation that it never even occurred to me that maybe it was too easy. It was.
Steven told me he would send me the money through PayPal, and I gave him my email address. A little while later, three emails showed up in my account from “service@paypal.”
The first email said that there was a pending transfer to my account in the amount of $4,700 — $3,500 for the car, $1,100 for “Transport Company Charges” and $100 for “walmart2walmart Charges.” It looked official enough. Hell, it had the PayPal logo on it. Why wouldn’t I trust it?
The second email said that the money was being held in an account that neither Steven nor I could touch until he received the car and authorized the funds to be released. All I had to do was pay the transport charge of $1,100 upfront to one Walter Bertrand of Roanoke, Louisiana.
Now, to most people, the money upfront part would be the red flag, but I’m such an idiot I probably would have gone along with it if the email weren’t so poorly written that it was obvious the writer had a weak grasp of English. That’s what set off alarms in my head.
I took another look at the emails and saw that the actual sending address was “pay.pa.” This prompted me to call PayPal customer service, and the obviously American woman I spoke to confirmed that there were, indeed, no pending transfers to my account. I also looked up Walter Bertrand. He died in July. Steven L. was trying to scam me using a dead guy’s identity.
The woman at PayPal asked me to forward her the emails so they could be used in the fight against cybercrime, and I happily obliged. Then I sent Steven a text that read: “Nice try. I just spoke with PayPal and they assured me the emails are fake. I’ll be passing your phone number on to the cops. Have a nice day.”
I’m not sure why I added the “Have a nice day” part, as I definitely don’t want him to have a nice day ever again for the rest of his life, but I guess I’m just naturally that polite and courteous.
So here’s where the public service announcement comes in. I was tempted to think that this was just a one-off — that Steven had read some of my stuff, knew how stupid I am and figured he could take advantage of me. But then I bought a real classified ad in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and relisted the Mercedes online.
I swear to you, it wasn’t 20 minutes before I got another text that started with: “I’m interested in buying this, what is the condition and bottom price?” The exact same wording. Obviously, there’s some sort of spambot sending out the initial texts, and a human just joins in when some sucker like me texts back.
I wrote back: “I know this is a scam,” and deleted the text, but I wonder if I should have. My threat to give Steven L’s phone number to the cops was idle, but it doesn’t have to be. Is there some sort of database of phone numbers being used for criminal enterprises? If so, I’d love to contribute to it.
Fool Todd Hartley once, shame on you. Fool him twice, and he’ll probably think you’re magic.