City Paper is not for tourists
I’m not particularly stupid.
If I were to walk into a room of 20 or more uncomfortable adults, I’m sure I wouldn’t have the lowest SAT scores there. I mean, I can carry on a conversation about the weather or the new pope for a minute or two with most people, and I do drive a Toyota. Am I not, therefore, perfectly capable of placing a classified ad? I thought so.
At the end of January, I wanted to sell my old bed. I placed an ad in the Washington City Paper.
“Vintage Oak Bed-full size frame, $75 OBO.”
The day after the ad appeared, I received my first e-mail from “frank tommy.” He had a client, he said, who wanted to buy the bed and would like to see photos. He said so in an English that, as we ESOL teachers say, was not his L1.
I wrote back, describing the bed and telling him I did not have photos. frank tommy, always lowercase, wrote back the next day. “Thanks for the information, i have explain everything to my client he want appreciate it want to the you the amount you charge on it. He request your name, address, and your phone number to logde the payment to you, he want pay you america poster order which is easy to cash. he will also arrange for the shipping in your house when payment arrive. if this condition is okay by you mail to back to prepare your payment as soon as possible.”
I didn’t see any reason to provide my address or phone number at this point, which I told him in my response. “This is a bit unorthodox, to say the least,” I wrote. “I’ve never heard of an American Poster money order before as currency. Let me check it out first before I agree. As far as shipping goes, if you can’t come and pick it up and handle the shipping from your end, it could prove to be very expensive. This may not prove to be the investment your client wants. Think about it.”
A week later, frank tommy wrote that his “client is satisfy about the condition of the Vintage Oak Bed My client is really in love with it. and i have already make up his mind to pay the amount you charge on it.” His client would be sending a money order and making the arrangements for pickup. He had shippers to handle the arrangements.
“It still seems like a lot of effort for a little bed. Your client must surely be someone with a strong penchant for Americana, oak, or bed. Anyway, tell your client to send the money order…” and I gave my name and address, adding, “Once I have successfully redeemed the money order, the bed is his.”
Yes, it did bother me that someone would want my little bed sight unseen, but then, I wanted to sell it. I could use $75, and frank tommy was my only potential buyer. Odd, but I really did believe that maybe his client was just a collector.
Then a couple of weeks went by, and I heard nothing from frank tommy. So I wrote and told him that if I didn’t hear from him soon, I was going to readvertise the bed. He wrote back immediately, assuring me that his client wanted the bed and that “busniess require trust and understanding you will sonn receive it here is the tracking number you can track it. via ups.” He had a shipper, a “Carmer Jones,” and he wrote that the “check has be sent to you last week. don’t be surprise when you see the money order the amount on it will be greater than the amount you charged. this is because its carrys the shippment money and the payment the it arrives i will give you the shipping company name and address in which you will send the diiffrence to them so that they will come and pick it. you will just send the moeny to them through western union so that they can quickly cash it and also come and pick it. Best regards.”
The check arrived. Or, rather, the checks arrived. There were three money orders from San Antonio, Texas, each for $940—a total of $2,820. And I immediately started receiving e-mails from the shipper, Carmer Jones, with requests for directions to my home and instructions on sending the money to Manchester, England.
I was taken aback. I put the money in a drawer for four days.
I told my 16-year-old son about it. He said, “Keep the money.” And then he went out to tell his friends.
I couldn’t figure this out at all. Even if the dollar is doing poorly overseas, it seemed like an unrealistic exchange rate. But whatever it was, it couldn’t be money laundering—not for $2,820. All I could think about was the Russian Mafia—I couldn’t help it. I go to the movies. I believe in the movies—especially since frank tommy had my name and address. I certainly wasn’t willing to give up my own hands for a $2,745 profit.
I asked a friend who finds comfort in being smarter than I am what he thought was happening. All he could do was laugh and say, “How did they find you? I’ve got some things in the basement I’d like to sell.”
I thought and thought about those postal money orders. I’d take them out and look at them and put them back in the drawer. In the meantime, Carmer Jones was writing and writing. frank tommy was writing and writing. They each were saying that they wanted me to go to the bank immediately and wire the money to England. Apparently, the shippers were only in my area for a couple of days. They were leaving on Friday. It was now Thursday. They wanted to pick up the bed.
I contacted frank tommy and told him that I was surprised by the amount, and about the Western Union costs—some $300—which I would have to deduct. I wrote him, “Since you have trusted a stranger with such a large sum of money, I will go to the bank and then to Western Union.” I did. Bank of America, where my son has his savings account, cashed the money orders without question. Western Union forwarded the money to Manchester, England, and I notified Carmer Jones. Then I waited for them to ask for directions for pickup.
I never heard from frank tommy or Carmer Jones again.
I figured, well, life is odd. Anyway, I got my $75 and still have my bed. I wrote to frank tommy recently and told him that if he didn’t mind I would donate the bed in his name to some charity. It’s a nice old bed. Of course, he didn’t reply.
Then, a week later, my son came into my room. “Mom, did you see this?” he asked and gave me the overdraft notices on his savings account from Bank of America. The money orders had been worthless. His bank had deducted the money from his account—indeed, had closed his account—and wanted him to bring in a deposit to cover the overdraft.
I later learned that, since this fall, international forgers from Nigeria, Ghana, and Eastern Europe have been scamming Americans with counterfeit U.S. postal money orders. But the bank, when notified of my plight, basically said: Too bad. When asked if the bank was doing anything to protect its customers—either notifying them when postal orders don’t clear or even contacting the authorities on their behalf—George Owens, a spokesperson for Bank of America, said, “We believe that you should know who you are dealing with.” As for my son’s depleted account: “Customers know they have an agreement with the bank. If any check is returned for any reason, they are to cover it.” In other words, I—or in this case, my son—was liable. I suppose I should be relieved that at this time neither of us is under investigation for bank fraud.
Who knew that postal money orders could be counterfeited? Don’t answer that.
And, until next time, “Vintage Oak Bed-full size frame, $2,820 OBO.”
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Robert Meganck.