Sunday, July 10, 2005

Big City Scam

Little bit of time, little bit of computer access, bit of a blog post.

This story made its way to me, because of course my friends think I know everything about every aspect of airplanes, even though the airplanes are incidental to the story.

It begins on the sidewalk in a busy downtown area of a large Canadian city. A man in his late twenties is standing at the corner, right where people stepping off the crosswalk will pass him, holding a creased and pencil-marked tourist map while speaking with a north England accent into a cellphone. He's saying something like, "no, it's no use, I can't get there."

The scam target stops and looks, says something like "Can I help you at all?"

The man looks up, says, "hang on, there's someone ... I'll call you back."

"Where are you trying to get to?"

The man sighs and thanks the target, and apologizes that he's very tired and irritated but do you know where there's a tourist centre that's open? "I've been all the way down to this one here on the map, but they are closed for plate glass repairs and I went to the community policing station over here but they were the very most unhelpful people I've ever met. I even got the constable's card so I can lodge a complaint. This is such a horrid city, no offence intended, but I really hate it here."

"What kind of tourist information were you looking for?"

"Well you see I've got three hours before my flight and I've made a mistake, it's--we're not all this bloody stupid in England--but I'm very tired driving back from Winnipeg. I knew my flight was at one forty-five but I seem to have got the wrong day what with the time zones and all, so my flight left yesterday. Bloody Air Canada says that I have to pay a date change fee."

"Ah yeah, probably $500 or something?"

He says they're charging twenty-four pounds, and something about having already used all the travellers cheques with the rental car and he's trying to cash a sterling cheque but none of the banks will accept it. You see where this is going, but it's entertaining enough that you stay tuned.

"Which banks have you tried?"

"I've tried all of them."

Much more on the nature of banks, and Air Canada and how tired he is, and if he misses this flight he'll have to pay $1200 to change the ticket, and his grandmother and the rental car. The police told him to take his laptop to a pawn shop, and this city is so big compared to Torquay. He leads up to it as though he's just suddenly got the idea--it must be fun doing scams, if you have no conscience--that maybe, "Oh I can't believe I'm doing this..."

At this point the target decides to test the story a little. "I'll tell you what. I'll call Air Canada and put the change fee on my credit card. You can write me a cheque, and when you get home send me some chocolate."

"Oh that would be marvellous--but they said it has to be cash."

"And you're running a scam. Air Canada takes credit cards. Good bye." And the target walked away.

The scammer actually had the nerve to chase after him and say, "I can't believe you think I am trying to trick you! I wasn't raised that way." He couldn't produce the air ticket--it's "in the glove compartment of the rental car." My friend extricated himself from the renewed conversation, and kept walking.

A phone call to the community policing station revealed that an annoying British man hadn't been there ranting about an air ticket, so the officers were informed where he was, what he looked like, and what he was doing. There's not much they could do. It's not illegal to stand on street corners and pretend to talk on a cellphone. It's not even illegal to tell strangers stories in the hope they will offer you money. Perhaps he could be done for tax evasion: I doubt he's paying GST on his takings. I wonder how much he makes in a day.

Reading his story in a blog, you can see holes you could fly a 747 through. But it's a clever scam. Here's some of the points:

  • The scammer doesn't approach anyone so
    • he can't be arrested for harrassing people
    • people think, 'I approached him, so how can it be a scam?'
    • he speaks only to people who are predisposed to help strangers.
  • He appeals to the person's desire to defend the honour of their city
  • He badmouths organizations that many people dislike (Air Canada and the police)
  • By saying he has been to the police and they have failed to help him, he rules out calling the police for assistance
  • A built-in excuse for mistakes or inconsistencies in the story--because he's so tired from his drive
  • He never asks straight out for the money or promises to repay it, to make it harder to charge him with fraud.
  • Like all scams, the details required to check his story are inconveniently located
  • Any questions the mark asks him become part of his database, so he can refine his technique

So moral of the story: help people if you are so inclined, but never give cash to strangers.


Aviatrix said...

Be reminded that I'm Canadian, so my definition of "north England" is "sounds like Dr. Who."

Yes, I'm out and about. My back hurts, but I'm not letting it stop me.

Anonymous said...

All sorts of cads and bounders move to the Torquay area.
Glad you're up and about, how long now untill ground school?

Avimentor said...

My experience with Canadian "big cities" was much better. I dropped my wallet in a shopping mall in Toronto and was panic-stricken when I realized it was gone. This was in the days when you just needed a driver's licence to cross the border. I had to drive back to Detroit the next day and needed some sort of ID to cross the border. The US Embassy was about as helpful as a sprained ankle.

I got back to my hotel and the desk clerk said there was a package for me. It was my wallet, credit cards and money still there, along with a nice note. The person who found it saw that it contained a card for the hotel where I was staying and insisted on remaining anonymous, sans reward.

If this had happened in a US big city, all my credit cards would have been maxed-out before I even realized my wallet was gone.

Jeangenie said...

You're quite right, Doctor Who (in his Christopher Ecclestone persona) does have a northern accent. But Torquay is in the south-west, and people from there have a very different accent - the two are about as similar as (I'd guess) Vancouver and Quebec accents. But of course he'd be banking on the unfamiliarity aspect.

Anonymous said...

The possibility of a northern accent in Torquay is very high, especially scouse.
It is full of cads and bounders.
There is no airport but there is a weekly flight Toronto-Exeter(Go 20miles south, there you have Torquay).
Give the guy your money.

Aviatrix said...

It was you, wasn't it, Andy.

Anonymous said...

They cannot get him for GST (=VAT, for Euro readers) evasion unless he makes at least 30K gross revenue -- there's no requirement to collect GST if you bring in less than that.