Less than a day after I posted my old Compaq Laptop on Ebay for sale, and a week before the auction was to end, a person by the name of Richard Hudson, with the email address of firstname.lastname@example.org, bought the laptop with the Buy It Now option. He then sent me the following message:
Season's Greetings to you.I am Richard Hudson from Pocahontas,Arkansas,US.I'm contacting you concerning your item on Ebay which i eventually became the winning bidder for your item.Morever i'm presently serving our beloved nation here in Iraq with the United Nation and i intend sending this item to my wife who works with the American Embassy in Nigeria as a visa Officer.You shouldn't worry about the shipping fees to her okay?.I'll take care of it with my Personal FedEx Account # after payment so you won't need to pay any money when mailing it to her over there.I will be making my payment to you via PayPal,So get the package ready for immediate or next day shipment okay.Make sure you send me your PayPal Email Address so i can immediately make out my payment to you for this item purchase.You are to mail it out immediately you get the confirmation mail from PayPal.Mail me back it's urgent.
It doesn't take a genius to smell something fishy here. If the bad grammar and punctuation don't give it away, the word "Nigeria" certainly raises alarm bells for anybody who has heard about the plague of Nigerian 419 scams on the internet. If you haven't heard about them, I suggest you Google for "nigerian scam" and you'll find plenty of information on this bizarre and disgusting phenomenon.
Fortunately, my scam radar was alert, partly because I had recently read the New Yorker article "The Perfect Mark" about this same subject. The article tells the story of a psychotherapist -- an upstanding citizen by most standards -- who has been suckered by a Nigerian scammer into sending most of his savings to Nigeria with the hopes of making a large return from a convoluted business scheme that was -- guess what? -- entirely fabricated.
It's actually a very sad story because this scam ruined the psychotherapist's life and ended up putting him in jail. However, you can't feel too much sympathy for this guy because his misfortune is partly due to his own fault.
Going back to my story -- at this point, I was quite certain I was dealing with a Nigerian scammer, but I played along because I was curious as to what his next step would be. I told him to PayPal me the money and I'd ship him the laptop. (I didn't realize when posting the auction that Ebay allows you to enforce immediate payment by PayPal for Buy It Now sales. Because I didn't use this feature, the scammer was able to steal my auction using Buy It Now without putting any money down. It also showed the scammer I was a new seller who obviously wasn't versed in defensive tactics for Ebay sellers.)
Here's the scammer's reply:
I have made out my payment to you for this item purchase and the exact amount of
what i bought from you has been deducted from my account,So check your mail for
the confirmation mail from paypal.Get the Package ready for immediate Shipment.You are to take the Package to any FedEx Location close to you for drop off.Paste the
information below on the package and make sure you fill the international airway bill
form correctly with the information below.Then do me a favour by putting the item
worth as $300.00 so as to reduce customs charges against her when receiving it over
there.Ship it via international priority.Then a tracking number will be giving you which
you will then send to paypal at email@example.com and your account will be credited with the exact amount of what i bought from you immediately.Hope to hear
from you when you have it maild out today.Have a nice working week ahead.
FedEx Account Number :- 170083695
NAME:- RICHARD A.ESTHER
ADDRESS:- 17B ADESHINA STREET
There are too many flaws and red flags in this email for me to go through all of them, but the fact that Richard's "wife" is named "Richard A. Esther" makes it blatantly obvious that not only is this a total scam, but also that the scammer isn't very bright.
The Nigerian scammer expected me to ship him the laptop without first making sure the payment has cleared. He thought he could trick me into thinking that PayPal would only forward me the money after I send PayPal the tracking number of the actual shipment at the very legitimate-sounding email address "firstname.lastname@example.org". Riiiight....
A quick search on Google for "email@example.com" landed me on another guy's blog who suffered from a similar scam. (That link is dead now, but I did find another link to this Ebay forum posting, where another person tells a very similar story.) I replied to the scammer telling him that our communications are over, but if he ever gets bored while bravely serving the country, he should read the blog posting I found as well as the New Yorker article I mentioned above.
I contacted Ebay and told them what happened, and after a couple of days, they sent a long and detailed reply telling me what I should do to get reimbursed for the auction and describing what steps I can take to protect myself in the future. I think Ebay has actually handled this incident pretty well, and I can't blame Ebay entirely for what happened. There will always be online scams, and Ebay can't completely block it from their site. However, I think that Ebay should place more noticeable warnings for sellers regarding such scams on its website -- at the very least, next to the page where you can enable the Buy It Now option.
I think it's sad that somebody would invest so much mental energy into devising ways of ripping people off rather than making money in legitimate ways, of which there are many. But then again, the effort on the scammer's side may not be very high because he probably attempts the same scam on many potential victims. If he tricks a certain perentage of his victims into sending him relatively expensive items without paying for them, he can probably make a relatively good living, especially for his country.
Well, I hope that this posting raises your awareness and helps you avoid such scams on the internet if you ever come across one. Being informed will help you avoid these traps, just as the New Yorker article I had made it easier for me to recognize and avoid this particular scam.
Sometimes all the spam, viruses, scams, malware and other forms of digital filth that thrive online make the 'net feel like a lawless, dangerous, ugly place. But then again, all the horrible things that happen in the real world make the 'net seem almost clean in comparison.