Anatomy of a Scam

All the white light, prayers, and invocations can’t protect you from yourself. The part of us that wants a good deal can get us into deep trouble unless we watch out.

The Internet has opened the door to global marketing. These days, through hundreds of auction websites such as eBay, Yahoo Auctions, and uBid Online, virtually anyone can become a vendor reaching hundreds of millions of potential customers at virtually no cost. And because these vendors aren’t burdened by large overheads, they frequently offer better deals than you’ll find shopping at a high-volume box store. This gave rise to a slew of intermediary sites that claim to scour the net and report on the best deals available. For the most part, the companies listed are established, reputable, and deliver what they promise on a timely basis. However, as I have just experienced, this is not always the case. These price comparison sites can sometimes provide a rathole through which unscrupulous operators appear to be competing for your business with honest suppliers.

My latest venture into cyber shopping was to replace my old television set with one that could receive the higher-definition (HDTV) signals provided by my cable company. After researching the latest technology, I’d say that choosing between plasma and LCD is a coin flip. I was deeply impressed by the crystal clarity both provide and became increasingly determined to hang one of those flat-screen marvels on my wall to create a piece of living art. My next step was to visit one of the mass merchandisers in our area and chat with the sales people. My wife liked the Sony because its silver frame would go better with our decor, and we agreed that a 40-inch screen was about as big as we wanted to go. Virtually all the models provided a picture quality that made my current TV set seem so yesterday. I was ready to catch up with the times.

With my choice all but set in stone, I went back to the Internet to pick a model. Since we had decided on a smaller size screen (Panasonic has one that measures over 100 inches), there was little to be gained by paying extra for a higher, 1080-pixel resolution. Then I saw a deal too good to be true. Someone was offering a premium high-resolution 40-inch Sony for less than 50 percent of what I had expected to pay for the 720-pixel model. Keeping in mind the Latin phrase caveat emptor (let the buyer beware), I decided to do a little digging.

I located the AOL e-mail address of the seller and sent a brief message expressing my interest in purchasing the TV. I also inquired why it was being offered at such an industry-beating discount and asked for contact details for the two “satisfied customers” who were endorsing this vendor on the comparison site I’d just visited. The following is the seller’s response, typos, syntax, and all:

The Sony KDL-40XBR2 40 Bravia XBR LCD HDTV is brand new in box full accessories warranty papers 1 year Full US Warranty Product has US full specs. I bought the Sony KDL 1 week ago from Digital Bucharest Store (the second largerst electronics store from my country Romania that exported electronics to US) that went bankrupt and i`ve got a great deal in buying this product and a couple of other products. [A full-blown “What’s in the Box” technical description lifted off amazon.com (or some similar) website followed.]
Buy it now option :

I wanna tell you that everything is completed and ready to be shipped Check my Excellent FeedBack all of my orders were made successfully. To complete this transaction email me your full name and address where you want me to ship the package.

5 Easy Steps :

1: Product is shipped in a Beautiful Box Well Packaged Shippment is Insured.
2: Shippment is confirmed with the tracking Number.
3: After you successfully verify that the item was shipped (Shippment Status) payment must be made i will choose a quick and easy service for the payment process.
4: Shippment will be received in 2-3 Business Days.
5: RETURN POLICY : As soon as the package arrives, you will test the product and if it does not matches 100% to your expectations, you will return it in max. 5 days sience the arrival date. In this case I will send you the full amount back and you will send me the product in the original box and you will pay the return shipping and insurance.
I will support the shippment fees and you the payment fees.

The total price for this product is : $999
You will receive along with the Tracking Info my full name and address and phone number.

If you are really interested e-mail me as soon as posible your full name and address to complete the order and also your phone number if it’s available.

Looking forword to hear from you.

Best Regards
Sincerely
Adrian

This was beginning to smell, as the two endorsements praising Adrian’s services, which had been posted only a few days apart, also carried the stamp of English as a second language. Being curious, I provided my shipping address as requested to confirm delivery costs and again requested the contact information of his satisfied customers. Remarkably, Adrian sent me an e-mail announcing the good news that my Sony 40-inch LCD HDTV was already en route:

Hello
Dear Jean

Your package was successfully sent at : [the address I had supplied] To succsessfully track the package visit : http://www.premierfast.com/track.php
Tracking Number : BQ287526572782QG

PAYMENT INSTRUCTIONS : For payment, the fastest way to send money worldwide is Money Gram transfer. To arrange the transfer, you must go in person to an Money Gram Office please visit www.moneygram.com to find the nearest agent and hours of operation. From Money Gram, you will receive a number (Reference Number),you must send me that number as soon as you have arranged the payment so I can go to www.moneygram.com to see if the transaction is arranged. For the reason that you will pay some money for the Money Gram wire transfer fee, I covered that by paying the shippment and insurance.
Amount to send is: $1000

At the Money Gram office you’ll need my full name and address which is:

[I’ve used asterisks to mask some of the information he provided]

First Name : ADRIAN :***********
Address: ***************
City: Bucharest
Country: Romania
Zip Code: 7000
Phone Number : 00407287**********

Call me/mail me after the payment is done Today
As soon as posible.

Best Regards
Sincerely
Adrian

How incredible! I had yet to confirm my decision to do business with Adrian, much less send him any money, when, lo and behold, the product was already on its way. Either he was the most naively trusting soul on this planet or he assumed I was. Forget Denmark, my sweet prince, something’s far more rotten in the state of Romania.

I was becoming increasingly certain that I would never receive my flat screen TV from Adrian, but, caught up in the business at hand, I was determined to see it through. I clicked on the link he provided to find an absolute confirmation from the Premier Fast website that they had verified the package (apparently Premier Fast also serves as a third party referee to assure that the interests of both buyer and seller are protected) and that my Sony KDL-40XBR2 40 Bravia XBR LCD HDTV was already at customs being checked. I would have been a happy man knowing that a respected shipping company had verified all the details of this transaction for me were it not for a few niggling details.

The Internet is the ultimate two-edged sword. It is a totally unaligned medium owing its allegiance to neither buyer nor seller, and providing equal access to both to receive or deceive as they please. If you seek, you can find the history of any website: who owns it, how old it is, how often it has switched IP addresses, and so on. There’s nowhere to hide among the billions of published pages when powerful search engines are at work.

It turns out that Premier Fast had just rejoined the web community, within minutes of Adrian’s e-mail to me. According to www.whois.domaintools.com, the Premier Fast site (together with the tracking data for my shipment) was registered on October 9, 2006 – the same day as Adrian’s latest e-mail – with Wild West Domains, Inc. by a Sue Maderic, allegedly of Louisville, Kentucky. The contact telephone number for Ms. Maderic provided on the site forwards to another party. Notwithstanding such disturbing factors, a statement on the Premier Fast website seeks to calm the troubled waters: “Since 1987, our company has been more than a shipping company. It is a company built on integrity. A company with a legacy of quality services and competitive prices. A legacy we intend to continue. The guiding principles for our company haven’t changed much in nearly 20 years, integrity is our history, quality has always been our promise and being competitive has made us one of the strongest company in the industry.”

It’s possible that the site is being updated on a deal by deal basis. That might explain why there were nine changes and seven unique IP addresses in two years. Further investigation revealed other discrepancies. According to the Company Info page, Premier Fast is based in Groot-Bijgaarden, Belgium, while the information on their Privacy page moves their main office across the channel to London, U.K. Neither of the two telephone numbers on their website (one in Romania, the other in the United States) is operative. There were no numbers for the Belgium or U.K. head offices. The U.S.A. number has a 323 area code followed by 693, indicating that it is in Montebello, California (just east of Los Angeles). A Google search revealed that this same phone number was used on a now-defunct website, www.fast-couriers.net (which coincidentally shared many of the same graphics with Premier Fast), which is listed on Fake Bank Database of the Artists Against 419, a site dedicated to uncovering and closing down scam sites on the Internet. The following rather chilling message is posted on the Artists Against 419 website:

WARNING: Please be aware that the fake banks, lotteries and companies on this list are used by dangerous criminals. We don’t encourage anyone to engage in any form of communications with them. If you chose to communicate with them, for whatever reasons, you will be doing so at your own risk.

Unfortunately, I came across this cautionary tip only after I had given Adrian a call in Romania. The number to call when sending him my funds was apparently one of the few genuine pieces of information he had given me. It was an interesting conversation, filled with probes, thrusts, and the inevitable parries. When I expressed astonishment at his ability to airfreight a 79.2-pound package door-to-door from Bucharest to California at no additional charge, he responded that he had a $60 coupon exchangeable for free freight service. When I asked him to fax or email me a copy, he said it was no longer in his possession. To put his coupon story into perspective: I later called the airfreight service with which I’ve had a long-standing contract rate. Their charge would have been $1,213.16 – over two hundred dollars more than I was supposed to pay Adrian for the entire transaction.

I repeatedly asked Adrian for the contact numbers of his satisfied customers (he averred there were many of these) and the name and telephone number of the person he dealt with at Premier Fast. He assured me both pieces of information would soon be forthcoming. He also promised he would send my television “on trust” and would accept my promise to pay him only after I had inspected it as proof that he was legitimate. Shortly after our conversation I checked the Premier-Fast website and discovered that my shipment status had changed from “Customs to Check” to “Being Held for Payment.” Apparently Adrian has had a change of heart. His encouraging emails and demands for payment have dried up. He, like the Premier Fast website tracking and guarantee of my purchase, seems to be shutdown until further notice.

I’ll let you pick the moral to this story. Some possibilities that come to mind are: “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”; “look before you leap”; “by the time the fool has learned the game, the players have dispersed”; “a fool and his money are soon parted” (or elected, according to the late American humorist Will Rogers). While on a political vein, I’m reminded of a wonderful observation, attributed to both Abraham Lincoln and P. T. Barnum, that clearly anticipated the vagaries of web commerce: “You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.

Given the vast numbers of people surfing the net, it would seem that some of the time is all it takes to make a passable living stealing, lying, deceiving, and otherwise doing all the unfortunate things that patsies are born to endure. As Barnum also supposedly said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” So if this time I managed to slip through Adrian’s net, I don’t imagine he’ll be losing too much sleep over it.


Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. He was a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews Editor’s Choice Award and the USABookNews.com Award for the Best Metaphysical Book of the Year.

©2004 – 2018. Jean-Claude Gerard Koven / All Rights Reserved.


 

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