Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why do we call them scam "artists," anyway?

Taking a break from the regularly unscheduled program to bring you news of some recent scams.  

The hubster recently thought he found a great deal on some silver peace dollars on eBay. The ad was for 100 peace silver dollars for $399. The seller was from China. Hubster thought he had come across someone who didn't know the value of what he had for sale, and we would get a great deal because of it. I thought the seller had probably inadvertently left an additional "9" off the price tag. Neither of us really thought it was a scam.

The hubster ordered one. (He considered ordering several, as others had done, but then decided to see what happened with the first one first). I figured he would get some sort of email back, saying the price had been incorrectly reported or some such, and the deal wouldn't go through. But after a couple of days, the credit card was charged for $399.

A week or two later, we received a package in the mail with ONE coin in it: some foreign coin that was about 10% silver and probably worth less than $20.

Long story short, the hubster sent back the coin, had no luck contacting the seller, and then proceeded to argue with eBay daily for about a week, until they agreed to refund the money. It was refunded yesterday.

Incidentally, the seller had a 99% positive rating from something like 700+ people. He was suspended from ebay--but probably will just open a new eBay account. EBay refunded our money to us from their own pockets, but the scammer still walked away with the cash from our transaction, plus money from everyone else who attempted to buy the same deal we did.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In unrelated scammer news, a coworker shared with us today that someone tried to scam her 93-year-old mother. Her mother received a phone call that went something like this:

Grammy (which is what her grandson calls her), this is Patrick (her grandson's name). I'm in Canada and I've gotten into some trouble. I was riding with some friends, and we crossed the border, and got stopped and searched. There was some cocaine in the car. It's not mine, I don't know anything about it, but now I'm in trouble and the Canadian police want $5800 to let me go. Oh and please don't tell mom about this, I don't want her to worry.

The police are going to call you in a few minutes and tell you where to send the money.

"Grammy" told the caller he didn't sound like Patrick, to which the caller replied, "Well, it's because I'm calling from Canada." Grammy then tried to call both her daughters, but couldn't get ahold of either one. The "police" called Grammy, asked for her address (which she gave them) so they could locate the closest place for her to go to wire the money, then sent her to a grocery store with both a Western Union and a branch of her bank. They gave her an address in Peru to wire the money to.

She went to the bank booth. Thankfully, her daughter works for said bank (though not at that branch). She has worked for them for over 30 years and everyone knows her. When Grammy told the cashier what she wanted and why, the cashier tried to tell her it was a scam. Grammy got irate with her. The cashier said she wasn't going to give Grammy the money until she (the cashier) talked to Grammy's daughter. (My coworker thinks her sister may have put some kind of flag, or signature privileges, on Grammy's account--I don't know all the details there and didn't ask). They were finally able to get the daughter on the phone. The daughter then got Patrick on the phone, who was of course fine, and nowhere near Canada (or Peru). They finally convinced Grammy it was a scam. Crisis averted.

Even though the first scam affected me more directly, I think the second one pisses me off more. People who prey on the elderly are slime. They took the time to find out her grandson's name, her nickname, and who knows what else.

My coworker thinks they may have gotten the info from her father's obituary in the newspaper (he passed away less than a year ago). She reported the incident to the police, but they said there's not much they can do about it. They said they would look into the phone number the scammers called from, which had the Quebec area code. She asked if they had someone who could come give a talk about scams such as this one at the retirement community where Grammy lives, but they said they didn't have anyone. My coworker's sister is going to get someone from the bank to do it.


  1. Kris, older people are often easy marks for con artists. My parents got involved in a real estate transaction some years back. When I heard the details I told my mother it was a flat out con, and a common one at that. She replied "your father and I are good judges of character." They got ripped off royally, my brother had to hire an attorney and spent a fortune getting them out of the mess they got themselves into. He was not able to recover their money entirely but he got most of it back.
    I don't buy a lot on ebay but my daughter buys and sells on it, and it is usually reliable. Then along comes something like you ran into with the coin, ever so often. Your husband did well to get most of your money back. The world is full of predators, and not all of them are scary looking. Some of them could give the serpent from the garden a run for his money.

  2. Those jerks should be tarred and feathered. Grrrr. I get so angry when I hear about stuff like this. It makes me worry about my own parents.

    I'm glad you got your money back. We were talking last night about buying some silver, but it would have to be a face-to-face transaction.

  3. I was on ebay when it first started gaining momentum. I learned early on that you could artificially elevate your "positive" feedback by buying digital goods for pennies.

    For example, someone would sell a food recipe for ten cents. You would buy the recipe and the seller would email you the recipe (no costs involved). IF the seller sent you a bill, which most of the time they didn't, you'd only be out ten cents. The crux of the scam was that the Buyer would leave positive feedback for the Seller about how great the item was. Then the Seller would leave feedback for the Buyer about how quickly they paid, great communication, etc etc.

    It was easy to tell who did this because you could click on the expired auctions to see what people had been buying and selling but people that weren't computer savvy didn't know how to check. And from what I remember, PayPal (now owned by eBay) was REAL quick to refund money to the Buyer when a dispute came up between Buyer and Seller.

    Not sure nowadays, don't go there much anymore. Glad you got your money back. I've learned that one a few times: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  4. These stories really make me mad. These people are scum, but unfortunately there are a lot of them around and not always easy to identify. Good thing you and your husband got your money back. There are a lot of scams targeting the elderly, it is just sad when they fall for it. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Sorry to hear about that happening to your parents, Arsenius. I worry about my mom; I consider her fairly gullible, and the right person could figure out how to scam her.

    RW, this was our first time attempting a non face-to-face silver transaction. Probably won't do it again.

    OJD, that's good to know. This seller has been suspended so we can't look at his expired auctions any more. But I will keep that in mind if we ever use eBay again.

    AP, I'm right there with you. And it seems like the number of scum increase more rapidly than the number of honest folk. I'm glad he got our money back too, for his sake. He was beating himself up pretty badly over this.