A SCAM – NOT WHAT YOU THINK
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This one does not involve us telling writers about pretend agents “selling” mss to pretend publishers. It’s about us.
Someone working the old Mystery Shopper con is using our corporate name on checks which appear – with stunning authenticity – to be drawn on a Buffalo bank for $4045.00.
According to the cover letter, signed by a Susan Niel Ph.D, Director of Human Resources at Agent Research and Evaluation Inc., you are to deposit the check in your account. No more than two days later you’re to go to Western Union and send $3000.00 to an address given in the letter and write a report on the transaction. The rest is to be spent in another series of prescribed purchases, also reported upon. You get to keep the merchandise and a portion of the money.
Of course it’s not us; we’ve never been in Buffalo, much less banked there. Of course the check, which shows up in your credit column as soon as you deposit it, bounces a few days later. Of course by then if you follow their instructions you have spent a minimum of $3000.00. Did we mention that you are in possibly big trouble and definitely considerably poorer?
Okay, as elaborate scams go, it’s not The Sting. But it has some clever bells and whistles. Our corporate name actually uses & not the word and. It does not, however, have a comma before Inc. (A fact which has been driving Beverly the grammarian crazy for thirteen years.) The address shown on the checks is 334 E. 30th St. in NYC. We did indeed do business there from 1997 until 2002. (Next we were at 25 Barrow St. in NYC until April of 2006 when we moved to Philly.) Is this mix of fact and fiction deliberate? Are these jerks somehow lessening their criminal liability by making one change in the legal name of our company and using an old address? We have no idea. We are discovering that it is very hard to get to the people who are supposed to investigate mail fraud. It took Bill literally hours to reach a live person at the Postal Inspector’s office. (They’re under funded. What else is new?) He still hasn’t gotten through to the Federal Trade Commission.
The scammers make use of the fact that we get an absolutely clean bill of health from the Better Business Bureau. (They have been very cooperative, incidentally, and callers will now be alerted to the facts.) It also worked in the scammer’s favor that Google shows us number one in the world for agent information. Those who checked those resources came away feeling reassured. Only the more savvy among them actually clicked on the Google listing, got to our website, and saw we were about writers and books and literary agents. And sniffed the scent of rodent.
A few of the wise ones noted our site gave complete data about who we are and how to reach us and called our office. That’s how we were first alerted to what was going on. In fact the fourth or fifth caller was a conscientious Kentucky State Trooper who gave us more information as well as faxed us copies of the letter and the check, and we later heard from someone in the Hood River, Oregon police department. So far we’ve been contacted by folks in those states and others in Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Maryland.
So, since Beverly doesn’t write thrillers, the plot idea is a gift to the novelists among you. (Hint: Do It Better, and come to us for a Customized Fingerprint when the ms is done.) If you have received one of the checks, don’t deposit it, it’s worthless. And if you have anything substantive to add to this small and nasty drama please call us. If you’ve received one of the letters please fax us copies of whatever you’ve got (215-563-6797). And in case you’re in his jurisdiction, here’s the contact data for the trooper: Sgt Grey Crockett, Kentucky State Police, Richmond KY (859-623-2404)
We know this doesn’t come close to Wall Street risk-takers almost bringing down the entire global economy, or a Ponzi scheme that cost people their life’s savings, but it does seem to be a tiny part of the general sense of wanting something for nothing President Obama has been talking about. If these folks put all that energy and inventiveness into something legitimate they could make money legally.
Needless to say, after this we felt in need of a good laugh. You too? Okay, try this. Seems someone in the office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of NY included one of those e-mails from a dying banker in Nigeria among the evidence meant to show a judge the numbers of people Bernie Madoff victimized. Here’s the link if you want the full skinny: http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2009/03/wow_i_needed_that.php
Last minute update: Two points. First, Bill just reached the right someone at the Postal Inspector’s office and learned that the people perpetrating this scam are – we are not making this up – in Nigeria. And the bit in the previous paragraph was written before we knew that. Second, as we were making up this e-zine we were called by a woman from CA who was down to her last $87 and looking for a job when she got the latest missive to be sent to the unwary: the same $4045.00, but this time in the form of a cashier’s check. She deposited it. It was immediately shown as funds available in her account and she’d spent $3700.00 ($3000 of which she sent back to the scammers) before it bounced. She is now not only broke and without a job, she’s liable for an additional $3700.00. And the only way to stop this, the postal inspector tells us, is get the information out there. They have tried getting the Nigerian authorities to take action. Without any luck.