Def Con Art Garfunkel
November 12, 2006 2:34 AM   Subscribe

I would like to hear personal anecdotes related to scams, scammers, or scamming.

I'm always fascinated by the subject of cons, from both the point of view of victim or victimizer. Especially stories where the target gets the better of the scammer (like that infamous ebay iBook story).

I haven't read anything too interesting all week and I need a little pick-me-up, so please indulge everyone with your personal exploits.
posted by Mach3avelli to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if you've seen the site 419eater yet, but it's devoted entirely to pulling one over on the scammers. One guy even got a scammer to send him a $100 bill.
posted by sipher at 2:59 AM on November 12, 2006

Well, there's always airnxtz. (It's the anniversary tomorrow, as it happens).
posted by greycap at 3:07 AM on November 12, 2006

The Gothamist has a couple of threads about common street scams in NYC here and here
posted by kimdog at 6:02 AM on November 12, 2006

Here is a page of scams from Barcelona.
posted by goo at 7:00 AM on November 12, 2006

I was in Istanbul 10 years ago with my girlfriend. There is a common street scam there, where a couple approaches you speaking English, trying to ingratiate themselves. Eventually they convice you to follow them to an oriental rug shop where they pressure you into buying crap for exorbitant prices. I was aware of this scam as it appeared in the Lonely Planet guide I had read before going. So I very pleasently surprised when it actually happened to us. They were a couple. He was a little short and she had died dark blond hair. At first I played along, talking to them. And then I decided to see what they would put up with.. So I started talking about how wonderful I think boob jobs were, and how I thought his wife should get one .. the guys face quickly became flustered while the girl started laughing hysterically. I didn't hang out with them for much longer as my gf wasn't into it. But I'm sure I gave these guys a story..
posted by blueyellow at 7:15 AM on November 12, 2006

I was in a diner near the Brooklyn Academy of Music and a guy came in claiming he was diabetic, didn't have any money and was about to go into shock (bullshit, I've seen someone on the verge of it)--and this was not too far from a hospital. He demanded a cheeseburger from the owner, who told him he knew people in that situation were given hard candy. The scammer claimed studies showed that sandwiches would be better and the owner said okay, he'd give him a hamburger. "No, cheeseburger", and the owner made it for him.

I also had the guy who claimed a child had been killed in Fort Greene park come up to me near there, but I said "That's too bad" and walked away before he could demand money.

In the US anyone soliciting for a charity must carry a license.
posted by brujita at 7:23 AM on November 12, 2006

Check out the story of the p-p-p-Powerbook.
posted by found dog one eye at 7:42 AM on November 12, 2006

Not a personal story, but if see if you can watch "The Real Hustle" series made by BBC tv. Loads of scams, often quite entertaingly done.
posted by crocomancer at 7:46 AM on November 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

I was 'caught' by the 'shit on shoe' scam in Delhi many years back:

As I was walking along, a little Indian chap starts yelling 'shit on shoe!' and pointing at my feet. Sure enough, there's something rather unpleasant on my shoe. It just so happens this chap is a shoe cleaner and can rescue me from my plight. At this point it dawns on me that the 'shit' hasn't appeared by accident, but I was more than happy to pay the few pennies the guy wanted for plying his true trade in such expert style.
posted by hmca at 8:00 AM on November 12, 2006

It was 1988; I was a 19-year-old college student, and taking the train into New York City Penn Station to visit my girlfriend. I made the mistake of wearing my Boston Red Sox cap, so that and my boyish appearance shouted "Naive tourist!" As I'm approaching the escalator, a tall friendly African-American approaches me, asks me if I need a taxi, and warns me that because of the Madison Square Garden concert, there aren't any regular taxis, and I need to use one of the registered taxi hailers to obtain a taxi, which he can do for a reasonable price. We walk a block or two near Penn Station, as he pretends to hail cabs and say hello to cab drivers, and it slowly dawns on me that this guy isn't providing anything resembling a legitimately service--luckily, I'm cheap and I'd been refusing to let him carry my bag so I wouldn't have to pay him an extra tip. I tell him that I won't be needing his service, and he protests how much time he's already spent with me; I give him a dollar to go away.
posted by commander_cool at 8:08 AM on November 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

In the US anyone soliciting for a charity must carry a license.
True in some states, not in others. Doesn't stop your average con artist, in any case.
posted by beagle at 8:36 AM on November 12, 2006

I got hit by a phone scammer a few months ago, while at my office. Somebody called me, and said something like, "This is Rosie from the front office. What model is your copy machine?" I said, "Who is this? I don't understand." (I didn't understand her because there is no "front office" at my office.) She kept insisting she was from the "front office" and needed the copy machine model number. I became very frustrated, but didn't suspect it was a scammer. "I'm sorry, I have no idea what you are talking about." She hung up.

After that bewildering conversation, I did a Google search and learned that it is a well-known scam. Fly-by-night office supply companies will call existing businesses, pretend to be from the "front office" (assuming, I guess, that in many businesses there is such a thing) and ask for the copier model number. If they get the model number, they then send the company a shipment of overpriced toner cartridges with an invoice, which they are hoping will be automatically paid by the company.

Here's an explanation of the scam.
posted by jayder at 9:22 AM on November 12, 2006

Was walking alone on a suburban London residential street, and this van with a young couple in it randomly pulls up and tries to sell me speakers off of it. ("Look, our bill of lading only has 6 speakers on it, but they put 10 in the truck! Want a deal?") Pulling up to random people on the street struck me as a poor way to dispose of unaccounted-for inventory, and besides, I didn't live in London and had no need for speakers...

Um, someone cracked my eBay password, and leveraged my feedback to put up a motorcycle for sale. I noticed pretty quickly and eBay fixed it equally quickly.

Hotel parking lot in LA, with a guy and his very young son, chatted me up about my car then performed some minor cleaning on it while apparently demonstrating for other detailing services he offered, then when I declined, tried to charge me for the minor cleaning, insisting I agreed on a price. Not a good scene, he played off the kid, and ended up with a little bit of money because my gf was there and sided with him...
posted by trevyn at 10:44 AM on November 12, 2006

About a year or so ago here in LA, a friend and I got approached by a woman (well-dressed and well-spoken, but in a not-quite-right-way for the time of evening and her claim of being a schoolteacher) running some scam about AAA -- "my car's about to be towed, but if you have AAA and can call them for me to arrange a tow, blah blah." I smelled scam right away, but my friend (bless his less cynical heart) immediately offered to call AAA. Of course, AAA isn't going to tow her on someone else's account -- and, of course, there's no car anyway; she just wants cash for the "tow" -- so the whole thing starts unraveling. Finally she just asks outright for 50 bucks, to which we obviously say "no."

A few weeks ago, I'm going into a pharmacy in my neighborhood, and the same woman approaches me in the parking lot with the same line. I say, "sorry, you've tried this scam on me before" -- to which she replies, without missing a beat, "oh, I'm sure I have." Then she goes right over to a woman a couple of feet away who has heard our exchange to ask her about AAA. Turns out others have run into her (though at other times she evidently asks for $21 instead of $50).
posted by scody at 12:31 PM on November 12, 2006

The van with the "extra" speakers happens all over the world. It's like a franchise.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:35 PM on November 12, 2006

Oh and do try to see "House of Games" by David Mamet.
posted by ouke at 12:54 PM on November 12, 2006

Just google for these assholes - a very common and ongoing scam involving domain names.

Here is one of many alerts about those turkeys. They call my employer all the time from Indian call centers. I tell them to go fuck themselves every time, but they haven't gotten the hint yet.
posted by drstein at 12:54 PM on November 12, 2006

Well, I'm pretty sure I was being set up for the "Jamaican Switch" or some variation of it after reading about it from the list of scams mentioned in a list of scams previously linked on MeFi, though I didn't know it at the time.

The story's kind of long and I don't want to gunk this up with an avalanch of text, so I link to my blog entry about it. I hope this is ok.
posted by kkokkodalk at 1:28 PM on November 12, 2006

I bought a used car last month. I paid a hefty sum extra for the 2 year warrenty. Last week I went to get work done on the car. It seems the warrenty company is already out of business.

I am out the cost of the warrenty plus the 800 had to pay to get the car fixed.

I am currently working with the BBB... etc.

I am sure he will go bankrupt and start another new company very soon. Beware.

(I still love the V8 lincoln LS.)
posted by Slenny at 4:34 PM on November 12, 2006

There is an interesting story in this weeks (er, last weeks?) New Yorker about the Nigerian money scam. Turns out the guy writing the article is in Lagos (he's actually writing about megacities and slums) and he pointed out that one of the problems with investing in Nigeria is that so many banks are wary of it because of all the various Nigerian email scams. Anyway at one point he's meeting with some guys and they go into this big deal about how there is a some hidden loot somewhere in town, left over from the previous junta or whatever and if the guy will only front them some cash or provide them with some bank info they can all get rich... needless to say the guy refused. Funny to see the Nigerian email scam in real life...

Oh yeah, EVERY TIME I post something for sale on Craig's List I get an email saying, "I would like to buy your item..." Basically its some sort of shipping scam - they want you to send the item using their shipping account for cash on delivery or something like that. Basically anytime I list anything on CL I have to say in the add, "No internet scams, please." That seems to do the trick.
posted by wfrgms at 5:05 PM on November 12, 2006

Had a guy try to sell me various car CD players out of a van in a strip mall parking lot. Could've been a variation of the speaker scam posted above.

At the Centraal Station in Amsterdam, some seedy lookin' guy started following me as I was making my way towards the hostel I'd booked. Very insistently tried to carry my bag, said he knew shortcuts, etc. The hostel knew of him and threatened to call the police on him. He wanted 50 guilders for his supposed services.

Most recent one was a cold-call from a fly-by-night company trying to sell satellite TV service. I listened at first, then became suspicious of their extraordinarily low prices. Googled the business name they'd given me while I was still on the phone with them, and that
was that.
posted by aerotive at 5:07 PM on November 12, 2006

Oh I forgot a recent one. These two kids, involving a boy maybe 10 years old, and a maybe 15 year old girl. They'd show up at my apartment building once or twice a week trying to sell chocolate candy for $2/piece. I'd also see them at the grocery store nearest me and walking around the neighborhood going to various apartments.

Many times they were being driven around
in a big SUV. Mean looking guy driving it.

I got fed up with this and asked the girl what the hell was going on. She went on a rant about her "fucking lazy" father and that her and her stepbrother were being forced to sell these candies.

They eventually stopped coming around a few months ago. I assume the father will just kill the whole family + himself at some point.
posted by aerotive at 5:18 PM on November 12, 2006

A few years ago my dad was being treated for prostate cancer at the University of Chicago Hospital. At one point I was alone in the waiting room (and I was only about 20 at the time) and a man approached, showed me his Medic Alert bracelet that said "diabetic" on it, and asked for money. Anyone can get a Medic Alert bracelet - I'm not dumb. I didn't have any cash on me anyways. (Oh, and my dad's fine.)

Earlier this year in the CVS parking lot, we were approached by a foreign girl collecting for some college group... can't even remember what it was, but we said no.

Once at the gas pump, some guy approached me and said he needed $20 and he'd swipe his credit card to pay for my gas. I smelled a scam and told him no, I didn't have any cash on me. (Besides, I had already used my credit card for pay at the pump.) I searched the Net when I got home and found out it was probably a stolen credit card.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:47 PM on November 12, 2006

The copier toner scam people are really rude on the phone, too. I used to get them when I was a receptionist. Asswipes. I read some great responses to the query about the model number of the copier, though, and I hope someday to be able to answer:

...model number of your copier?"



"It's a really old copier."

Nigerian scam emails, tons of them on my personal email. We also get the email scam at work where people from a foreign country want to rent an apartment or condo and pay for it in advance, in a lump sum. I've actually gotten those people to mail me money orders made out to my dog's name.

So far, Clover's collected $20,000 in money orders.

The money orders are faked, of course. They look pretty real, though.
posted by Savannah at 10:43 PM on November 12, 2006


I took one 419 scammer for quite a ride:
posted by ShawnStruck at 5:56 AM on November 13, 2006

I don't remember which city I was in, I'm thinking Buenos Aires, but I observed a scam I had heard about before - mustard gets squirted onto a poor guy, helpful man starts wiping it off and swipes the poor guy's wallet in the process.

My friend got burned by scam at the Ghanaian/Ivorian border. About 6 of us were all changing money at the same time with about 10 different money changers. They kept rapidly offering us different rates, and showing us on their calculators how much we would get in exchange. Our heads were swirling, but we didn't realize it. When it was all over, and we'd all made our trades, guy A came up to my friend and said that one of the other guys (B) had made a mistake and owed her money. Guy A shoved a bunch of bills into my friend's hand. At first she was pleasantly surprised at his honesty, but then when she recounted her money calmly and outside the hustle and bustle, she realized that she had been ripped off anyway. We figured that for some reason Guy A (ringleader?) didn't want Guy B to rip her off quite that badly, so he gave her some of the money back.

We also experienced some hotel scams in Delhi - "police barricade" blocking any access to our hotel, so we have to go to a hotel the taxi driver knows. Then the hotel was all booked, so we had to go a hotel the taxi driver knew. We had been reading about those scams on the plane ride into Delhi, so we just laughed and told the driver we didn't fall for them.

We heard about a food poisoning scam in Agra (India) - tourists eat food, get sick, and the restaurant/hotel calls their own doctor who treats the person for an exorbitant rate.
posted by Amizu at 7:28 AM on November 13, 2006

Never try to buy drugs on the streets of Amsterdam. This is what will happen to you. (self link)
posted by Brave New Meatbomb at 8:37 AM on November 13, 2006

When I used to live in Athens, GA this old lady loved to go around to patrons sitting outside of the restaurants and coffee shops. She would hand us a note saying she was deaf, mute, and a few other calamities. Walking around downtown one night, we saw the same lady yelling in very plain English at another old guy and responding to his words.

Re: Printer toner. I feel for you. I'm the IT guy here and those people get quite angry when I don't want to buy their stuff.
posted by jmd82 at 8:51 AM on November 13, 2006

I work at a medical supply company, so we get our share of Nigerian email scams. I cover our switchboard for about two hours a week and cannot wait to use the "model number seven" with the next toner person that calls. Thanks Savannah! :)

Once I was in a Michael's (fabric/craft) store. I was looking at scrapbooking supplies or something and a nice looking older man walked up to me. He was probably in his mid-fifties and wasn't the best dressed man I had ever seen, but wasn't sloppy either. He handed me a card with alphabet in sign language printed on one side and a message printed on the other about donating to his charity for deaf people. I read the message and gave him $3 to $6. I continued shopping. About 5 minutes later, the manager of the store was running through the aisles, looking for the man and alerting his employees to look for him as well. I figured it was a scam at that point in time... I still feel stupid about it.

If I think of more, I will be sure to add to the thread. This is interesting.
posted by youngergirl44 at 12:16 PM on November 13, 2006

I've been scammed out of $20 to help a guy "pay for his flat tire" in Berkeley and Alameda. Both times he was dressed very professionally (different outfits), even had a business card. Still, what buisnessman can't use a credit card or ATM card or call a friend, etc?

The first time seemed legit (the guy seemd scared/ panicky about getting home), and the second time years later it all seemed too familiar, but somehow as it was happening it seemed ok. Then it hit me like a freight train about 5 minutes later- it was damn near the same guy the second time.
posted by Four Flavors at 12:33 PM on November 13, 2006

When I used to live in Athens, GA this old lady loved to go around to patrons sitting outside of the restaurants and coffee shops. She would hand us a note saying she was deaf, mute, and a few other calamities.

Ha! I totally know that lady. I've lived and worked downtown for over 3 years now, and I've been so blunt with her in the past that she recognizes me and crosses the street.

Did you ever meet Jazzy Jay while you were living here?

Back in my small hometown, when I was in high school, there was a guy who always needed $30 dollars "for diapers" and a ride somewhere. He tended to pray on sympathetic high schoolers, and managed to pull off the scam on at least 5 people of my immediate acquaintance before word got around.
posted by Famous at 4:48 PM on November 13, 2006

Oh, yeah. The "I need money for diapers or $baby_product.. oh my poor innocent BAAAYYBEEEE!!" one is a really successful one. I've heard of people forking over $50+ at a time. Of course, there's no baby.

I saw a guy on BART once get up and start saying that he just got out of the hospital after cancer treatment. He was about 30 seconds into his speech when a guy behind me loudly said "Don't give this chump any money. He's on here every other day with the same story." The shyster said something along the lines of "How do you know I haven't had cancer?"

The friend I was sitting with was an oncology nurse with many years of experience. She started asking the guy really simple questions and asked him to describe *anything* about the treatment.

He couldn't, and bolted off the train at the next stop.
posted by drstein at 8:48 PM on November 13, 2006

There's a scam that targets interpreters. I am a translator, not an interpreter, but that doesn't stop me being sent the occasional email.

A high-ranking man, usually a bishop from Ghana, is coming to my town, or a town in which he thinks I live, for an important meeting, and is bringing his wife with him who wants to go shopping but (you guessed it) speaks no English. She needs an interpreter for three days of solid work, top prices paid. In fact, he's so keen to secure my services that he will send a money order in advance. Which will turn out to be too big, I am asked to pay it into the bank and send the difference by Western Union... then the cheque bounces... usual story.
posted by altolinguistic at 2:51 AM on November 14, 2006

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