Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Buy It Later: A Short Story - Part 3

Here it is, the third and final installment of "Buy It Later", where you'll hear me say "My moral compass doesn't swing that far."

I decided that the chances of this complete stranger living in New York knowing anything about my situation was pretty remote, so I decided on the good Samaritan approach and told her someone was using her eBay account to run a scam. Her shocked stutter confirmed that I played the odds correctly.

I hung up and within 30 minutes our phone rang and caller ID showed it was Meri from New York calling me back. This made me a little suspicious about how she was able to get my number, but I later found out that despite using a calling card in an attempt to mask our caller ID, it didn’t work and the result of my ignorance was Mia’s husband calling back to let me know that a few months ago someone hi-jacked his eBay account and he’d just gotten control of it again last month. I believed him as much as I could.

The next morning the bank called to let us know that they were working on it and the first good news was my 10% litmus test was passed. She felt we had better than a 10% chance of getting our money back.

My wife then called the Heinz County Sherriff’s department to file a report with them and as the story was retold to the Sergeant he answered in his Mississippi accent by sighing “Awww Sh&%”. It wasn’t exactly the words I might have chosen, but it definitely conveyed my feelings.

He instantly became our greatest asset in Mississippi as he got subpoenas for the email account, the bank account and about anything else he could think to subpoena. He then told us that one of the managers of the fraud department over at Trustmark National Bank used to work at the Sherriff’s department and he would go over there and make sure things were being handled properly for us.

Following his instructions, my wife called the bank and asked for the deputy turned banker. She was instantly assured that Sergeant Lofton had already called and was on his way over at that moment.

Whatever impressions I might have had about Mississippi being a bunch of backwoods, lazy and slow, rednecks just got thrown out the window and sunk in the delta. This Sergeant Lofton was on the ball and the ball was rolling fast.

Not much else transpired for a few days. Well, unless you count the 4 additional emails from the scammer assuring us that our car would be on a truck shortly and we’d have the tracking number as soon as he had it, but he’d gotten caught up at work and wasn’t able to take care of it. Then it was parked at the shipping company’s garage, but it wasn’t loaded on a truck so no tracking number was available. Last we heard was, “It’s a beautiful vehicle and you need to take good care of it when it arrives.”

My wife had a hard time keeping him on the hook with the hopes that it would somehow help the Sherriff’s department with the investigation. It made her feel weird communicating with a criminal. My moral compass doesn’t swing that far so I fed her lines to type in response. I even set up a bogus hotmail account to try to lure the criminal back in to trying to sell my newly established hotmail alias the van with hopes of being able to then turn it over to the Sheriff’s department and letting them reel him in.

Shortly after, the email stopped coming, hope diminished and thoughts of losing $8,000 began to shrink. Saturday came and we knew it would be Monday before we would hear anything from anyone about it as we served our weekend prison sentence without knowledge one way or the other.

We never did get a nibble on our fake hotmail account.

Monday morning came and we told and retold the story a dozen times to friends, family and anyone who would listen. It was a kind of therapy going over and over our story, so when we heard from the Sergeant that things were wrapping up, we were delighted.

Arriving home Monday, listening to the machine I returned the call to US Bank and heard the sweet words that “there was a problem with our wire transfer and for some reason the money had been returned to our account.” Thinking there had been some kind of glitch in their system; the poor banker must have been quite confused at my joyful response.

“That’s great!”

“It is?”

“Yeah, thanks for letting us know, we’ve been working on getting the money back in our account.”

“Oh, uh… okay.”

What we eventually learned is that the seller / slimy criminal is somewhere outside the United States, most likely in Asia somewhere. He went phishing for eBay account information and caught Mia’s account in New York. He used that information to set up a fraudulent auction. He then took out an ad to hire a “Transfer Manager” who would be responsible for opening a bank account and then monitor account information. When money was transferred into their account they would follow instructions provided via email and wire money to an off-shores account, retaining a 7% commission for their efforts.

Mr. Cathy, the “Transfer Manager” who had our money was very quick and willing to transfer our money back to our bank account after Sergeant Lofton had a kind and gentle conversation with him about his obligation as a good citizen who wants to avoid a night in jail.

Mr. Cathy, come to find out, was also a previous employee at Trustmark National Bank, had been fired or laid off or something and was not flat broke. Making another good decision he decided to break into his ex-girlfriends place, steal the computer and toss it in a ditch while she was in the shower. I’m sure it had something to do with wanting to make sure his Spider Solitaire record wouldn’t ever be beaten. Or maybe it was because he had some evidence on his computer that he didn’t want subpoenaed by my new hero, Sergeant Lofton. I’m going to go with my gut and stick with his Spider Solitaire record.

Where do we go from here? Well, we could press charges against Mr. Cathy, but we’d have to go to Mississippi and then return for court, which his attorney would most likely file a continuance 3 times meaning we’d have to travel a total of 5 times to Mississippi to make it all happen.

Probably not going to happen. Summer in Mississippi doesn’t sound like that great of a proposition.

The moral of the story is this: If you’re going to get scammed and then get your money back and want to press charges, make sure the criminal is in Hawaii or Southern California or some other great place worth visiting five times.

So with our money back, the criminal in some other country and the pawn in the scheme visiting every Best Buy and Circuit City in Mississippi to hone his Spider Solitaire skills, we headed back to our computer to find a suitable vehicle to buy; A little wiser and a lot more cautious this time, but still on the look. This time, I think we’ll wait on the Buy It Now method and look in person. There’s nothing wrong with buying it later.

There you have it folks, my true life story of being scammed and getting our money back. Hope you enjoyed this short story more than I enjoyed living it. To my mom and dad, you can quit worrying, start sleeping and quit calling to get all the details.