Every day you hear stories about well-meaning people getting ripped off through clever scams and believe it will never happen to them. Well, it happened to me.
As I writer, I occasionally check Craigslist for leads and have actually gotten a few jigs through it. The few people I’ve worked with were locals who I had the opportunity to personally meet.
A couple of weeks ago I answered an ad for a writer, never expecting to hear back. A week or more later, I received a follow-up email from someone claiming to be “Joe Arave” proposing that I write a series of four articles on nutrition and health for $400 per article; this came shortly after I published a piece on obesity and, naïve schmuck that I am, thought the writer had read my article. [See The Politics of Obesity: The Fattening of the Nation, CounterPunch, October 28-30, 2011.]
“Joe” pitched me with the following come on:
My Name is Joe Arave , am glad that you replied to my post on Craigslist, I need a writer who can write me an Article as i do present this to some Orphanage homes every Week. Please do let me know if you can do this while i will need you to make the Article on 4-6 pages. Am willing to offer you $400 weekly as you will always write this for me Every week. I need you to write me an Article on FOOD / NUTRITION and if you have any other interesting topic, please do let me know. I hope to read from you soon.
“Joe’s” contact info was in the UK and he claimed to be on a business assignment. Clearly, the guy needed help with his writing and I thought I could make a little money and learn more about a subject that I didn’t really know a lot about.
We had a couple of further exchanges about more professional issues like copyright, target audience (adults or children), thesis or belief he wanted to express and subjects for articles. He also claimed that his parents had once written similar articles. “Joe’s” replies were always very vague and didn’t feel legit.
He then sent me the following message:
How are you today? Am really very sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I got a message from my Financier in the State that the check has been issued and mailed which will be deliver or have been delivered to your address Via FedEx Courier Service today.
Also my Financier issued out a check for the sum of $1,950 whereby your fee has been included with the fee for the Publishing of the article which is the Publisher fee, So here us what you will be doing for me now by reading and follow the following instructions am giving below.
I want you to proceed to you bank and get the Check cashed or you deposit the Check in your Bank Account as soon as the funds is available for withdrawal which should not be more than 24-48 hrs or if you can request for cash immediately you can do that after that You will have to deduct your fee for writing the First Article which is $400 weekly and have the rest funds will be for the Publisher as soon as the Check is cashed.
Please make sure the Article is ready in the PDF Format. I will wait to read from you with the confirmation that you receive the Check so that i can tell you how to get the funds to the Publisher.
I hope you understand all this and please do Email me back with the confirmation that you receive the Check.
Sounded a little weird to me, especially with regard to paying a publisher for an article. But as I am unaware how the “orphanage” sector operates and that there might be specialty publications targeted to it, I figured it was worth seeing how things played out.
A day or so later, I received a FedEx with a check for $1,950.00 from an insurance company based in Arkansas and I deposited it in my bank account.
I then received a subsequent email:
You will be sending the $1,550 added on the Check via Western Union Money Transfer to the name and address below:
Name : CHRISTIAM MXXXX
Address : 84 sw XX ave,
Miami FL 33193.
As soon as the funds is transfer to her i want you to get back to me with the transfer details.
[I’ve deleted the contact person’s name as a legal safeguard.]
The contact info made the exchange ever weirder, as it was not a publishing company. I’m a cynic and don’t start paid work until the check clears. But I thought, in for a dime, in for a dollar, willing to let things keep playing out.
“Joe” kept emailing me repeatedly over the next couple of days, checking if I’d sent payment to his Miami contact. I replied that I was waiting to see if the check cleared. Guess what happened?
I checked my bank and found that “Joe’s” check had bounced and my bank informed me that it was drawn to a fraudulent account.
Checking Google, I found that the check was drawn from an established insurance company and the listed sender of the FedEx mailing is an identified company employee. In addition, the Miami address is an actual place.
I’ve notified Craigslist; sadly, many of their postings seem scams. I’ve also sent copies of the relevant documentation to the FBI.
I really enjoyed Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film, “Catch Me If You Can,” about Frank Abagnale, Jr., who conned millions of dollars through check kiting schemes. But “Joe Arave” is no Frank Abagnale!
I’m not sure how “Joe” thought his scam would work. He probably assumed that I would either (i) front the $1,550 and send it to his Miami contact before the check bounced or (ii) that the bank from which the fraudulent check was drawn would clear it and only later come back to claim the money from me or take it as a loss. Obviously, neither work.
I can only assume that “Joe” played this scam with every schmuck who replied to his Craigslist post. And I bet that someone, or maybe more than one someone, did front the $1,550 and got burned.
The moral of this tale: Anyone can be the victim of a scam. Everyone should keep their eyes open to something that smells dubious and also keep their sense of humor as the game plays out.
From all appearances, “Joe” is not as smart as Abagnale and, one day, “Joe,” like Abagnale, will get caught. If he’s caught, I’m sure that “Joe’s” fate won’t be as charming as Frank’s.
David Rosen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.