Story Time: How I Was Involved with a Scam

Don't Fall for These COVID-19 Scams
Source: Boston Magazine.

Story time, folks.

This incident happened almost two years ago to this day. Although I wasn’t the direct target of the scam, I was somewhat involved in the events that unfolded over the course of a crazy and tense afternoon. Looking back, the signs should’ve been all clear, but alas, when money’s involved, it blinds even the most humble of men…

The story begins on an overcast, slightly-chilly October afternoon. I’d just moved out of my old flat to a new one in France, and I was reminding my business inside when I received a Facebook message from my former flat-mate, P. Considering that we’d gotten along while living together, I was happy to hear from him. We caught up for a little bit before P dropped the question:

“Hey, could you help me with something?”

“Of course, what?”

He then asked me if I could come over to help him translate something from English to French. P wasn’t very fluent in French, so I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal to assist him. However, I asked him just what exactly he needed translated, and he gave a strange answer:

“Well, I want to sell my bike for some money, and there’s this client who wants to get it. However, the client’s not in town to do the transaction in-person, and he doesn’t speak English. So I need someone to help me translate into French.”

P’s girlfriend (who spoke French) was at work, and I happened to be free, so weird as the request was, I went over to the flat, just a 10-minute walk from mine.

As the client wasn’t in town to pay and pick up the bike, we had to reach them by phone. My spidey senses tingled when I saw the number, because it was not a French number; it looked to be one from overseas. I asked P if his phone could take international calls without getting charged, and he said it was fine. So we dialed the number…

There was a lot of crackling and feedback coming from the other end. It was really difficult to discern any noise other than that. Eventually, I heard the client on the other line, a male voice with an accent in French (presumably from somewhere in Africa). I exchanged a few words with the client, who said that he would pay for the bike by having us first pay $250 (P was selling the bike for $300), and then he would pay the difference with $550. We would have to go to the tobacco shop to purchase pre-paid cards and then give him the code to them. Then he would pay us for the bike.

I was utterly confused: why would P have to pay for something that he’s trying to sell? Isn’t he supposed to be earning money, instead of paying for it? Any case, I relayed the information to P, and he seemed to be on-board with it. We then hung up with the client, and we decided to head out into town to get the pre-paid cards.

P withdrew $250 from the bank, and we headed to the tobacco shop where he purchased two pre-paid cards. I swear the vendor looked slightly suspicious at us, wondering why P would be putting so much money into the cards…or maybe the vendor didn’t care and just wanted us out of the shop.

Any case, we were told to call the client once we secured the pre-paid cards. I got on the phone with him (still crackling static due to bad connection) and gave out the codes to receive the money. The client thanked us and promised to have his side of the payment soon before hanging up.

P and I loitered in front of the post office (where we were instructed to wait for the client’s payment), waiting about 15-30 minutes. It was also starting to get late in the evening, and P asked me to call the client again. I did and, after two dropped calls, the client answered. I asked when will P get his payment for the bike, and the client said soon, but actually, $250 isn’t enough, and that we would need to send an additional $150 for the deal.

The client then hung up and I, super confused at this point, relayed the information to P. He hesitated, slowly coming to realize that maybe– just maybe– he had been scammed. As well as possibly getting scammed again. P told me that we won’t give the $150, and we soon headed back towards his flat. Along the way, the realization of the situation sunk in even further, and I could see P’s shoulders droop, head down at the shame of falling for this trick (which is surprisingly common).

I admit, I’d fallen for this scam, too. Even though I wasn’t the one who lost money, I had no idea that such a scam existed. I should’ve listened to my gut early on, first when I heard about “paying” to sell a bike, then the overseas phone number (which later I found out was in the Côte d’Ivoire, almost 7000 kilometers away), and then the pre-paid cards. It wasn’t until I looked up online the “pre-paid card” scam, which is a common way for scammers to extort money from victims due to the card’s difficulty to trace.

I especially felt really bad for P, who wasn’t earning a ton of money from his food-delivery job and was desperate for some extra cash. After all, he was a foreigner like me whose French was limited, and he was trying to make a living in the country. After I bid goodbye to him in front of his flat, and I returned to mine, where I sat back and tried to process all of this for the rest of the day.

It was quite the adventure to be had, and hopefully a lesson learned. In fact, I hung out with P a few months later, and he said that, while it was shitty, losing $250 was only two week’s worth of his paycheck, anyway– he could catch up with it. Thankfully, we’ve learned and moved on, and I think that’s the way with surviving scams in the future.

Stay safe, everyone!

— The Finicky Cynic

Check me out on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/thefinickycynic

4 thoughts on “Story Time: How I Was Involved with a Scam

  1. SP

    I agree, learn and move on.

    A scam happened to me in Paris, but was from someone who I thought was a friend. I don’t care so much about losing 50 euros but it sucked that there was a friendship involved. Wasn’t just me though, he stole my other friend’s credit card and suitcase full of clothes..

    1. rebbit7

      What a horrible “friend” you had! Did he/she swindle you out of your money? Some people just can’t be trusted, and you were fortunate that it was only 50€ gone, rather than an entire bank account. Hope you never come across a crook like that again!

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