Tuesday afternoon I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when the phone rang. I picked it up. A man’s voice with a heavy foreign accent said, “Hello, Meester Wat-er-mon?”

“Speaking,” I answered.

“I have for you a check for two million dollars, which I can mail out to you. Do you still live at 123 Main Street?”

OK, I thought, clearly a telephone scammer. Usually I just hang up on these creeps, but sometimes it can be fun to play them along for a while. Since I was feeling argumentative, I said, “Of course.”

“Oh, good, Meester Wat-er-mon, because you have been selected by our computer to be awarded two million dollars, and you have definitely won.”

“Sounds like a scam to me,” I remarked. Usually, calling the guy a scammer up-front makes him hang up on me.

“Oh, no, this is not scam. You are guaranteed two million dollars, tax free, when you have received your receipt number from our central processing location.”

“How do I go about that?” I asked, pretending to take the bait.

“You will mail us a check for $495, to cover our administrative expenses, and tax filing records with IRS. As soon as we receive your check, we will send you by certified mail your receipt number, and I will personally fill out the paperwork to process your check for two million dollars.”

“Tell you what,” I suggested, “just mail me the two million and I’ll send you back the $500.”

“Oh, no, I cannot do. We must receive your $495 check to establish your account and issue necessary receipt number. Then I will handle all paperwork to send you two million.”

“What did you say your name was?”

“Bob Smith,” he lied.

“And what company do you work for?”

He told me, and it sounded impressive, but I neglected to write it down.

“And what is your address?”

He gave me a street address in Los Angeles, which I did write down.

“At what phone number may I reach you later?”

He gave me a number in the 876 area code.

“OK. I need to check with my bank to see if I can come up with $500, and I’ll call you back.”

“Yes, Meester Wat-er-mon, I look forward to personally handling your account and will work to deliver your two million dollars as soon as next week.”

When I hung up The Princess came into my office. She had heard part of the conversation. “Just what do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“The guy’s a telephone scammer, and I want to play with him for a while,” I explained.

“You be careful,” she advised, giving me the look. “This guy gives me the creeps. I think you’re dancing with the devil.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not giving him any personal information.”

“What do I do if he calls back and I answer the phone?”

“Don’t say a word, and just hang up.”  (As it turned out, he did call again, she answered and promptly hung up on him.)

I looked up the 876 area code, which is for Jamaica. I googled the Los Angeles address, which turned out to be phony — big surprise. I was considering making a phone call to my buddy in our local police force, to see if he was interested in getting involved, but it was late in the afternoon and he had probably gone home.

About an hour later, my scammer called back. “Hello, Meester Wat-er-mon, did you call Meester Brown?

I didn’t know the phone number he had given me was for Mr. Brown.

“No, not yet.”

“Well, we need to receive your check for $495 so I can get your paperwork started.”

“I’ll tell you what. You get the paperwork going, and get your hands on the two million. Then take out your $500, and by the way, keep ten percent of the two million for your trouble. Then mail me the balance.”

“Oh, no, Meester Wat-er-mon, this I cannot do. I must have first your check for $495 to issue the receipt number. Then the corporation may release to you your two million dollars.”

I kept him on the phone for a half hour, asking questions and proposing various ways we might get around all his bureaucratic requirements. I asked him such things as how many suckers bit on his scam in a month, but he artfully avoided answering any such questions, insisting that his was a legitimate offer to give me my winnings of two million dollars. Apparently, if you keep talking to a scammer, he figures you are an easy mark that will eventually be reeled in. I thought maybe the meet-him-in-person trick might shake his confidence,

“Well maybe I could meet you in person and give you $500 in cash, and save all the trouble of writing checks and keeping track of paperwork. What’s the address where I could meet you tomorrow?

“I will be in New Jersey tomorrow.”

“OK. I will fly up there in the morning and meet you. “I’ll bring along $500 in cash so we can get the ball rolling. Now what’s the address in New Jersey where I can meet you.”

“He gave me an address on Franklin Street in a certain town in NJ, which I wrote down. Also, his personal phone number, another 876 area code.

“OK. See you tomorrow.”

I googled the NJ address, and found it to be a little ambiguous, because there is both an east and a west Franklin street in this town. One was on a residential street, and the other a cemetery.

The next day I did call my friend at the police department, and gave him the story. He told me I was wise not to bite on the scam, but if the perp was in Jamaica, the bad-guys would be out of his jurisdiction. He said the half hour I kept the scammer on the phone prevented him from scamming someone else for that long. I gave the cop the two phone numbers, which he said he would pass along to CID, but he didn’t think his department would do anything other than maybe publicize warnings for folks to watch out for such telephone scams. Apparently, law enforcement has enough local crime on its hands to bother with international crooks.

Wednesday I got another call from “Mr. Smith.” He said he was on the road to Los Angeles to award another lucky winner his two million dollars. He didn’t seem upset that I had not met him that morning in New Jersey. He wanted me to send him a check for $495 so he could start the paperwork. I told him I was busy right now and would call him back. For some reason, I neglected to return his call.

The next day he called again. “Hello, Meester Wat-er-mon. I am holding your four and a half million dollars certificate, but you have not yet been issued your receipt number, because I have not received your $495 deposit.

I noticed that my two million dollars had more than doubled overnight, but I didn’t remark on it. “Is it all right with you if I record this conversation?” I asked.

“OK,” he answered. Apparently, he was so confident in his foreign location, he didn’t care what evidence I collected.

“Well, let me tell you what has happened,” I explained. “I got a phone call from my bank this morning, and somebody has stolen my identity and emptied out my bank account. They got every last penny, and now I can’t pay my rent. Some of my checks have bounced, and the bill collectors are calling on the phone. I don’t have any money left, so I can’t send in my $495.”

“Oh, no, this is terrible. Did you say you don’t have any money at all?”

“That’s right. They cleaned me out”

“You know you should never give out your personal information to anybody,” he said, giving me advice so that I might avoid scammers.

“Yeah, well it’s too late for me now.”

“Why don’t you give me your cell phone number so I can call you later when you get back on your feet?”

“No that won’t work either, because they’re gong to shut that off, too.”

“OK, goodbye.”

The Princess came into my office, having heard most of the conversation from the next room. “Exactly who was scamming whom?” she asked.

I gave her my innocent smile.

We’ve had no more calls from our crooked friend in Jamaica.

Later, John.

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