On the Internet, No One Knows You’re a Crook

The internet does not take days off. That’s good because I have a lot of trivial information I need to look up on holidays. For example, I need to know what the head of the Greek goddess Athena looks like and how much can I reasonable ask someone to pay for a used motorcycle. Also, I need to know if the area code 714 is close enough to me to be a legitimate inquiry for buying said used motorcycle. (It’s not.) Yep, the internet continues to churn out its fingertip-accessible information 24/7-365 (366 in leap years,) allowing scammers of all stripes and spots to continue their scamming free of all those pesky bank holidays.

The Sunday scammer, as I call him, though he said his name was George Collins (because that’s a more believable name than John Smith, I guess) wished to find out about the used motorcycle I had listed for sale on the internet. I was immediately skeptical when I saw that the area code was out of state but people move and keep their old numbers for sentimental reasons, so I gave “George” the benefit of the doubt and replied to his first inquiry: “yes, the bike is still for sale…” He wanted me to send him additional information, the location and asking price, both of which were in the ad. At first I thought perhaps I was dealing with a simpleton, or a college student who didn’t read the syllabus before asking the due date for a paper. Then I got a third text.

He informed me that “the movers will come pick it up” and he was “a verified PayPal user” and would wire me the money. (Mr. Worf, go to red alert.) Seriously, does that kind of scam actually work? My immediate reaction was terror that someone in a truck was on the way to my house to steal my motorcycle, and I had to take a moment to remind myself that it was locked in my garage in a small town with lots of nosy neighbors in broad daylight. If you’re going to scam someone, inspiring a knee-jerk reaction of cop-calling is not the best strategy; scamming is about trickery, not terror. Clearly George did not get his diploma from the Nigerian Prince School of Internet Fraud, though admittedly, his spelling was a little better than the average Nigerian royal.

If his plan was to orchestrate a fake PayPal transfer for which funds did not exist, I am not clear why he skipped to the part about “movers picking it up” before he got me to agree to a phony payment. George was not taking his time with the nuances of his hoax. He was skipping the foreplay of the con game. You’ve got to put your mark in the mood, not skip to the bingo of the act. Don’t skip the pleasantries. Never mind that he asked me my name and location in his first message, which was a creeper move to begin with.

PayPal is actually a pretty safe way of transferring money. If you are dealing with a reputable third party intermediary like eBay or Amazon. Even with those relatively trustworthy sites, the money is held for up to 30 days before it’s confirmed as legit funds and paid to the seller. Basically, George’s transparent master plan was to send me the “money” via PayPal, send a truck (I guess) to haul off my motorcycle, and then reverse the payment before PayPal can confirm legitimacy of the account. Clearly, this guy is not a rocket scientist. He’s not even a very good criminal. Who buys a motorcycle sight-unseen? Who sells a used vehicle to a stranger for anything other than cold, hard cash? Has this scam ever actually worked? Seriously, George: Get a real job. My last message to George was “Cash only.” He never replied back. I guess he’s on a tight schedule. So many scams, so little time.

In summation, if you’re scamming someone on the internet, you can do so on weekends and holidays, but you can’t skip the nuances of your con game. A sucker may be born every minute, but as P.T. Barnum well knew, it takes some showmanship to get the job done.