Stings, Scams, Stories, and Suckers
I’m a sucker for a good story. Does anyone remember the movie The Sting? It’s the story of a couple of con artists and how they bilk money from a mob boss. To do so, they set up an elaborate scheme and get the mobster to believe their story.
There’s a less than elaborate scheme that has succeeded in conning me out of money twice. All it takes is a good story.
On September 30, 2006, Dwan Fields knocked on my door. He said he was a high school student and part of a program that would give scholarships to students like him that sold magazine subscriptions. He said he was from New Jersey, and this program was flying him around the country to do this. I tested his knowledge of New Jersey, and he passed the test. It didn’t take long before I let my guard down, and I ended up making out a check to Jaguar Sales, L.L.C. and was given the following web site to check up on my subscription. While I ended up getting my subscription to Forbes magazine, which I didn’t really want in the first place, I ended up paying an exorbitant price for it. Dwan really wanted me to pay in cash, but I ended up paying the entire subscription by check. I thought nothing of this strange request, and I ended up getting my Forbes subscription, so I didn’t bother to process the possibility that this might be scam. Of course, other people have experienced a similar pitch with Jaguar Sales, L.L.C. and had paid in cash didn’t fare as well as I did. If I had thought to visit the Federal Trade Commission’s web site, I might not have been suckered again.
Today a boy named Omar claimed he was from El Cerrito and selling newspaper subscriptions for the Oakland Tribune in order to win a scholarship contest. The subscription amount wasn’t too much, and I thought I’d help the kid out. Again, the kid sounded genuine, so I went ahead and got the subscription. Apparently, I could have also purchased a subscription to the Alameda Times-Star, Daily Review, or The Argus. Omar told me to make the check payable to “The Oakland Tribune,” so I did not think this might be a scam, either. This despite the fact I used to turn down almost incessant calls from the Oakland Tribune about “free papers” and other dubious marketing techniques before I removed myself from their list.
Assuming that I get my Oakland Tribune and little Omar was telling the truth about the scholarship contest, did I fall prey to a scam? Well, consider the following. Even if there really is such a contest, the chance that the Oakland Tribune or whomever is sponsoring it will give Omar and every other kid a scholarship is unrealistic, and the chance that Omar will win one of the few coveted ones is also unlikely. On the other hand, Omar and kids like him are getting suckers to buy the Oakland Tribune, which probably doesn’t fare well against other area papers like the San Francisco Chronicle. Thus, it appears that if Omar were telling the truth, then the Oakland Tribune successfully performed a sting on the both of us.
If Omar lied, then he was pretty good at appearing genuine and might consider becoming an actor or an entertainer.