While starting a new business this September, I fell victim to a scam. It was an old scam, but packaged in a brand-new way.
I needed a concession stand to sell a new food product. After looking for a few months, I was disappointed with what was available locally. I used Craigslist, trailer dealers, even eBay. I found another one on craigslist and contacted the seller. They wanted to sell using eBay’s “Vehicle Purchase Protection” program. I’ve heard of it before, so I wasn’t too worried. The seller and stand were in different states (far from me) and wanted to use a third-party shipping agent, but they provided very specific details and pics, even answering some very detailed questions from me regarding fuel and waste capacity. Stuff only a concession owner should know. I’m wary, but not bad.
I gave a few searches for concession-trailer scams. Didn’t find anything. Not once. A concession stand is a pretty specialized piece of equipment. One wouldn’t think a con-man would bother waiting-around for someone to grab at that, I guess.
The EBay reference, the detail, lack of concession-stand fraud: all this helped me feel a little better about the transaction. I went for it.
Oddly, they wanted payment using Western Union. Yes, this should have been a big red flag for me, but, in my defense, I wasn’t familiar with using wire services. I’ve relied completely on bank transfers, credit-cards, and Paypal for moving money when I needed. But, my wife uses a similar service every month to send money to her family. She showed me how easy it was. Soon $5000 was on its way.
But to whom?
I assumed these Western Union account numbers were only associated with a specific city office and person (with proper ID). Afterwards, the wife tells me that the account numbers work anywhere.
“What about an ID?” I ask.
Sometimes?! Maybe not at all? But that would make for a really easy scam. Someone would just need wire transfer number and any old name and…
Even before the trailer was supposed to arrive, I started checking. I check seller’s address against county tax records from her state- wrong family.
I track the agent’s phone number: a fax machine in the wrong city.
EBay’s “Vehicle Purchase Protection” program- shut down for months. And, there had been a recent rash of expensive CAR scams using EBay’s name. They used exactly the same form advertisements that I received. But, because no one had done a concession-trailer scam before, I didn’t find it in time.
The night of delivery, I already had reports into craigslist, ebay, and the FBI, all ending ” … it seems these scammers are branching-out into new areas. Not just cars anymore.” That morning, I was at the local police station giving a report. I’d been scammed, just like all those other idiots. I wonder how many people just walk away as dupes without reporting because of embarrassment. Luckily, I was too angry to be embarrassed.
I’m pissed. I start digging through the internet to see what I could find. I start tracking the agent in NYC. I find his apartment, how much he makes, his parents in Florida…
That can’t be right.
The fax number was in Chicago and this guy’s info was too easy to find. I call his parents to get his number. Ten minutes later HE CALLS ME. This wasn’t the guy. He’s scared shitless that his identity was stolen. I tell him to check bank and credit statements. Two days later, local police tell me they talk to him to and come to the same conclusions.
The only lead is the office where the money was picked-up. Western Union records pickup times, dates, and locations. Maybe even a video feed would have picked-up the culprit during the transaction. But, Western Union won’t divulge that info to customers, even with a local and federal case ID numbers. They even admitted they won’t contact the police when informed of fraud.
The police must contact them. But, what police?
This scam works so well because it crosses state lines. Apparently, even after 9/11, jurisdictional cooperation is still a major issue. Advertising done in one state, culprits in a second, and victims in another: the jurisdiction of who to report this crime to becomes a major issue. In order to start the process, you must report these crimes to you local police department. They can do some cursory checking, but , like they told me…
“Sorry, but our jurisdiction stops at the border’.
By the time the police in the proper jurisdiction have been notified, the perpetrator (and evidence, apparently) is long gone. This is where the FBI is supposed to step in. They had all the information first. They are supposed to coordinate these types of interstate investigations. But, to this date, neither I nor my local police department has received any info from them. With all the anti-terrorism efforts, my little 5-grand problem probably got lost in their spam folder.
Western Union had what meager evidence there was, but it may be lost now. I found the original advertisement site still up for a while, and then a new one popped up on a different server. Everybody’s been notified, but I know I’m wasting my time. No sting operation is going to happen, and my cash is still gone. I’m back to getting the business ready, but this lesson still stings.
If the business doesn’t work-out, at least I now know one that will pay well.