Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Seduced by a scam

These frauds get more and more clever and sophisticated.


By JOELLEN COLLINS

I consider myself rather sophisticated when it comes to reading e-mails. Having a Web site, I encounter a daily barrage of spam and scams. I get repeated appeals to fulfill someone's dying wish by accepting loads of money to honor their bequest. I have too many e-mails where the title "Dearly Beloved" warns me this is yet another appeal from some stranger with "cancer." I am repeatedly informed that I have won some fabulous lottery or am related to someone with my last name who wishes me a fortune (if I only send him or her confidential information or pay a "slight surcharge"). I have long ago learned to ignore and delete these messages.

It is probably inevitable that the plethora of e-mail scammers have found even more appealing ways to get our attention. Now I get mail with the actual logo or letterhead of many agencies, even including the FBI, my banks and other official-seeming sites, that warn me that if I do not answer their request immediately for further info I will be removed form a credit card, Paypal or other services. I have even learned to avoid those offers to put me on the first page of Google. Thank goodness I know that organizations do not request information by e-mail and so I have successfully evaded all claims so far on requests for personal information.

Last week, however, I got a request through my Web site (alifeinstitches.com), an order for some of my hand-appliquéd pieces. I have been attempting to market these via Internet, with mixed results. Obviously I love the creative effort, because otherwise I would have given up long ago. I enjoy making and selling my hand-appliquéd scenes portraying people's family memories, vacations, exotic locations and passages, putting these into fabric pieces that I sell through my Web site, generous local venues, by word of mouth or at various crafts festivals, the most recent in San Francisco.

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I don't know why I almost took the bait on this latest solicitation. Maybe it's partly because I have to open e-mails from the connection with my business Web site, and also because this person indicated an interest in buying six (count'em) works of mine. This appeal actually offered me money, instead of asking me to pay anything (I thought). I was a little suspicious because the client asked for three pieces that had already been sold and are portrayed as samples of the individual orders I can do, and because the grammar was a bit iffy. I generally ignore e-mails to "undisclosed recipients" and any appeal that is couched in terminology filled with misspellings and grammatical errors. I figure if someone wants something from me, the request can be in intelligible English.

So I was wary but decided to see what this was about. I sent back information about my pieces and prices, with no personal or financial information. I signed up to have Paypal handle this transaction and other Web site business and prepared for the other shoe to drop. It did, and I am very glad I sent the solicitor an e-mail saying "no thanks." I still cannot figure out how he was going to swindle money from me when he said he would offer his credit card account number, but there was something smelly about the "private courier" who would pick up the merchandise, and a couple of "modest fees" to be deducted from the total (his full payment for the order). Supposedly I would not be separately charged with Western Union fees. I did think it was suspicious that he would pay shipping fees of $1,300: my lightweight work could not possibly accrue those exorbitant charges.

I then did some research and discovered someone with the same name listed as a former scam operator, running something very different from what I experienced.

Enough. By this time I felt really stupid, falling for the ego appeal of someone who liked my art, even compromising my history of being wary of phony appeals from people who bilk the innocent for whatever they can get. I realized that even if I got stuck with only $100 of "Western Union" fees, that amount from hundreds of other foolish people would add up to a large amount for the scanner.

All I wish to share at this point is my shame at almost taking the hook offered by someone who "loved my art." Buyer beware, especially as these frauds get more and more clever and sophisticated.






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