Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Scam That Almost Caught Me

I have almost been a victim of an incredibly expensive scam.

It began last week when I put the Fusion on Cars.com. Since that posting I’ve had three brokers call offering to sell the car for a fee – each of them guaranteeing success in the sale. After the second broker call I received an email that began the scam.

The first email, from a Kelvin Klaser or slimmy07@gmail.com, asked, “Is the posting still valid.” He asked about condition, and gave several indications that he hadn’t actually looked at the ad. While this should have been an immediate red flag, I didn’t want to be rude and reply “Why don’t you look at the cars.com ad.” I did direct him to the video walk around. He noted that he was out of town and would complete the deal online. He also told me that he would have the car picked up and shipped overseas.

The next email he offered to purchase the Fusion at the asking price and to pay via Pay pal, to pay the fees for receiving a payment via Pay pal. Only he didn’t call it just that. He seemed to know how to use Pay pal that marked him as an advanced user. I took a day off from the deal and began to think about what I had to do to complete the sale. I had a list of what had to be done on Monday in order to complete the sale.

In other words I was sure that this was going to be a quick sale that would enable us to get rid of the Fusion and not lose money on the deal. On Monday I read an email saying that I should invoice him via Pay pal and he would get the payment to me. I created the invoices on Monday – Pay pal will not let you invoice for more than $10,000, so I had to create three invoices – two for the car and one for the cost of the receiving the cash.

Things were going fast, and I didn’t feel right about the whole deal. I had the good sense to post my ill feelings to facebook, and had the good friends who warned me about what was going on. Deb Levy came thru with a description of the exact scam that I was now involved in.

So I went to the bank and reported. I went to Pay pal and cancelled the invoices. Then I opened my email. I had four emails. Two from Kelvin and two purporting to be from Pay pal. According to the emails, Kelvin had deposited over $18,000 into my Pay pal account, but it was being held pending my sending $1500 via Western Union to his shipping agent in the UK.

I responded by telling Kelvin that the deal was off. If there was to be a deal it would have to be by cashier’s check and that I would not be sending any money anywhere.

I was able to do that with confidence because his scam had followed the list Deb showed me nearly verbatim.

Then I called Pay pal – something Marjie B. Anderson advised. They assured me that there was no money deposited and on hold for me. I reported Kelvin to Pay pal (spoof@paypal.com) and to Google (all the email addresses were gmail addresses).

The key was “send me $1,500 and I’ll send you $18,000 and pick up your car.” Because I would not get burned that way (I’ve never been tempted to send money to a Nigerian princess/Suffering Pastor/Millionaire to be Oil Magnate). I also don’t have $1500 to send to anyone right at the moment. That’s why I’m trying to sell the Fusion! But I followed along to the crucial moment of the scam, even though my gut told me there was something wrong.


Part of the answer is because I’d never encountered this kind of scam before. I’ve been scammed face to face many times by people who got money out of my pocket and into theirs with all sorts of sob stories. This scam was different.

The steps in the scam are:

1. The scammer makes contact asking about the validity of the posting – no mention of the product. You will fill that blank in for the scammer.
2. The scammer cannot meet you face to face because he’s out of town.
3. The scammer promises to pick up the item through a third party.
4. The scammer needs to complete the transaction quickly. Pay pal seems to be a way to get things done quickly and gives the seller a sense that they will be safe.
5. The scammer promises to pay more than the asking price.
6. Finally – and this is where the scammer pulls the string – the money includes a payment to that third party who will pick up the item to be shipped overseas. You have to pay the shipper and then you can get your payment.

Now that I know the steps I’ll be a little better prepared for the next phishing email.

But I also got caught in this because I wanted the sale to be real. It was my desire that made me almost fall victim to the scam. The Buddha was right about desire.

Thanks Deb Levy and Marjie Benbow Anderson for excellent advice and to all the rest of my facebook friends for reassurance that my gut instinct was right.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What I Have Against Mormons

I am not going to vote for Mitt Romney, but I’m not going to vote for him because of his policies, not because of his religion. The U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits offering a religious test for office. In fact, prior to Kennedy Presidents were supposed to just be nominally religious. Reagan professed some sort of Christianity, but never doing the basic thing that Christians do – attend worship. Still, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t care what sort of faith, if any the President has.

I am not anti-Mormon. On a personal level I’ve known a number of Mormons, and they’ve all been good people. Intellectually, the Smith narrative, while it has essential problems with credibility, is a compelling narrative. The image of the colony’s members, the bee hive, an image of a busy and constructive vision of the American work ethic.

What I have against Mormonism is not the theology. I don’t know Mormon theology, but what I have heard makes it seem to me to be a kind of American works righteousness theology. It seems like a Calvinism with costumes and Indians. It’s a bit odd, but so is the Lutheran doctrine of the real presence.

What I have against Mormonism is the implicit notion that no other religion is either right or adequate for an ordinary human’s needs. I think that the impulse comes from Joseph Smith’s anxieties in the burnt over district. As I recall from my American Church history courses, Smith looked at the competing revivalist impulses and felt that they couldn’t all be right, and he wanted to be right.

This conviction that their way of being faithful is The Right way to be faithful leads to sending largely untrained young men out for two year cycle tours in which they attempt to convert people regardless of their current spiritual connections or life vulnerabilities. This conviction that they are right and we are wrong leads Mormons to baptize the dead, so that they have a chance to decide to be Mormons in the next life.

My experience with Mormon proselytizing goes back many years. I was pastor of a small congregation outside Charleston, SC. One of the girlfriends of one of the teenagers came to our congregation and in the first year I was pastor, actually joined the congregation. She broke with the boyfriend, but remained active in the life of the church. She was bright, thoughtful, well read, wanting to discuss ideas, and strangely vulnerable. Her senior year in high school she came to me for counseling. She was, she said, pregnant and wanted an abortion. We talked about alternatives. She thought that her parents would respond punitively if she told them of her pregnancy or carried the baby to term. Would I drive her to Columbia for an abortion?

I agreed, and on a Saturday morning I drove her to Columbia, SC. I waited and took her home. She said very little on the way home. She said that she was convinced that this was the right thing, but I felt that there was still a need for support. But I was in my third year in the parish and I didn’t know how to support her, much less how to bring some sort of reconciliation between herself and her parents.

She disappeared from the congregation’s life for a while. When next I saw her she told me that she had decided to convert to Mormonism. She’d been visited by missionaries. They read the Book of Mormon with her. They asked her to pray over it; was it the true word of god, was it right? The prayer convinced her, she said, in a somewhat faltering voice that seemed to me to be filled with doubts, vulnerabilities, and regret. Yet she was convinced that she should be a Mormon, had told the missionaries that she would convert, was scheduled for baptism and planning to go to BYU in the fall.

While I said to her, “If you feel that’s best, then I’ll support you,” I was seething on the inside. I thought very quickly of my one ex-Mormon member. She was afraid that the missionaries might find her. What she thought they’d do, I have no idea, but she was genuinely fearful of the consequences of leaving the Mormon faith.

What this boils down to is that it seems to me that Mormonism lacks the epistemological modesty that is useful for civility in contemporary civilization. They’d like to be considered just another Christian denomination, but don’t actually consider the rest of us as equals. We are the gentiles to their true religion. I find that annoying.

Monday, June 18, 2012

It's No Sport

I’m a fan of MSNBC, mostly.

I don’t care for Chris Matthews. He seems to be happy only when he can point to Democrats not doing what he believes will be a winning strategy. I used to be a fan of Chuck Todd. The commercial the station is running right now has set me off Todd. “Politics is a sport,” he proclaims. It’s a sentiment that I think Matthews would echo.

But he recognizes, or whoever wrote the copy recognizes, that this is a bad metaphor. Therefore he immediately issues a disclaimer (a cognitive disclaimer) “but it’s a sport that could mean live or death . . . “ Something like that. In other words, it isn’t a sport at all, at least not sport as we allow sport in this country.

Politics is often treated as a sport by the chattering classes. They think it gives them a measure of objectivity – I’m not advocating for either side on this, but just reporting on who’s ahead. That is not objective reporting, neither is it fair and balanced. It’s easy reporting, leading to empty speculation about what campaign x or y must do to gain advantage.

Sometimes this is called the “horserace.” Reporting on the horserace is simply a matter of reading the polls and then watching for anything that might move the polling – such as a candidate who says “The private sector is fine . . .” Which, in the context of 27 months of continuous growth is a relatively accurate statement. Or wait for a candidate to say “I’m not worried about the poor, there’s a safety net . . .” Which, given the overall vision of the party isn’t a gaffe, but a vision of how we treat the poor. But those statements can move the needle on the polling meter, so there’s reason to play up the statements, out of context, as a way of gauging the horserace.

What this does is make for a cynical electorate (among those who are paying attention) or a disengaged electorate (those who’ve tried to pay attention, but don’t care for political box scores). What this does not do is give us the information (boring) that we need to make a basic decision.

Which economic plan will actually do what it claims to do?

Why should we, or should we not, extend some methods of becoming citizens to those who’ve come without documents?

Is there are way to increase revenue, or is the idea of taxing the most wealthy a fools dream, because the wealthy will just avoid paying the taxes?

And while we’re on it – what happened to Greece’s money, to Spain’s money, to Ireland’s money? These countries didn’t go bankrupt by paying benefits – otherwise they would have been bankrupt long ago. So what actually happened? Rachel Maddow had a story about this several months ago. Was she right that the same greedy bastards who crashed the U.S. economy also crashed Greece’s economy? Where did that money go? Who got rich while Greece got poor? Do we Americans have any culpability for this?

Those are the kinds of stories I want to hear about. They aren’t sport. They require a whole lot more legwork and reporting skills than covering the current political standoff as if it were a horserace or a baseball game or a boxing match.

Find a new metaphor, Chuck Todd! This one isn’t at all helpful.