Dear President-elect Obama,
I know you have more than enough to do, what with saving the economy, providing universal healthcare, extracting our soldiers from Iraq and catching Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Or is it Pakistan?
All the same, I wish you’d take just one morning off to fly up to New York FBI Headquarters on Federal Plaza in Manhattan with a great big bucket of ice water. Give that ice water your most athletic toss. Dump icy gallons of it on all the special agents who surely must be sleeping under their desks.
Tell ‘em,”Wake up guys! This means you. NOW!”
What makes me think they’re asleep? Well, President-elect Obama, here’s my story.
Mystery shopper scammer tries to
snare the Crank’s beautiful girlfriend
Some time back in December, the New York Crank’s beautiful girlfriend received an e-mail solicitation asking her to make money in her spare time doing mystery shopping right in her own neighborhood.
Right, you guessed it, Mr. Obama. This is becoming one of the most shopworn scams in the book, with Internet warnings about it posted everywhere from hither to yon.
Nevertheless the beautiful girlfriend figured, “What the hey. On the outside chance it’s legitimate, I’ve got another excuse to go shopping on my lunch hour.” So she shot back a return e-mail saying okay, she wanted to mystery shop.
A few days later, the forgery arrived in the mail.
Forged check for $2,800 comes complete
with step-by-step self-scamming instructions
The Crank’s beautiful girlfriend received the forged check shown above (I’ve crossed out her name and address for obvious reasons). It came in a USPS confirmed delivery envelope (also above) showing it had been mailed from a post office in Massachusetts.
Enclosed with the check, evidently home made on somebody’s computer graphics program and drawn on a non-existent account on a bank in Arkansas, was a note that said in part:
Accompanied with this letter are the funds you will use to carry out your Mystery Shopping duties. As soon as you receive the funds, I want you to send a confirmatory e-mail to your supervisor; he in turn will provide you with instructions and guidelines on how you are about to go about your Mystery Shopping duties…It is important to note that you are to wait for his instructions before you carry out your Mystery Shopping Duties…And that in turn, President-elect Obama, was soon followed up, by an e-mail demanding that the Crank’s beautiful girlfriend go to the bank, cash her check, take the money to a Wal-Mart in Secaucus, NJ, buy $100 worth of “any” electronics equipment, and hold out $500 for herself. The remaining “change” of $2,200 was to be converted into a MoneyGram and sent to an address in Katy, TX.
How many desperate Americans
have been suckered?
Wow, Mr. President-elect! Can you imagine how many out-of-work, desperate and financially-marginal Americans have been suckered out of $2,200 by these scammers? Because by the time the victims deposit the forged checks in their own accounts and the checks bounce, the con artist will have picked up and cashed his MoneyGram in Texas and moved on.
These check forgers must be the Poor Man’s Bernie Madoff, doing to those who are starving for work what Madoff did fto those who were thirsty for outrageous investment returns.
Some anti-scam websites advise people who’ve gotten this far simply to tear up the check and forget about it. But not us, Mr. Obama. We figured, “Whoa! Some naïve person who’s teetering on the edge of poverty and home loss is going to fall for this and tumble into the abyss. Or maybe lots of naïve people will fall for it. This is mass forgery, mass deception, mass theft. And we’ve got a way to stop it.”
That way was to play along and pretend the beautiful girlfriend had cashed the check and ordered the MoneyGram. Then all the FBI would have to do was send a couple of guys from the Houston office over to Katy, TX. And when the scammer showed up to pick up his MoneyGram, they could slap the cuffs on him and haul him off to the pokey on charges of interstate fraud, wire fraud, check forgery and using really, really bad punctuation in his e-mail instructions.
All we needed was to get the FBI to tell us when to tell the scammer that his MoneyGram was on the way.
Does “Carlton Your Doorman” now
eat Qualuudes and work for the FBI?
So here’s what I did, Mr. Obama: the next morning, check, e-mail printouts, and USPS-franked envelope in my briefcase, I went to my office and called my local FBI office. When the automated system picked up, I pressed the right buttons to speak to a live person.
Well, maybe “live” person is too strong a word to use for the individual I spoke to. Remember “Carlton Your Doorman” from the old “Rhoda” TV show and later from a TV cartoon show built directly around the doorman character?
Well, the FBI person sounded exactly like slow-speaking, sleepy-voiced, super-mellow Carlton Your Doorman, only more so. It was as if I had reached Carlton your Doorman at FBI Headquarters only to discover he was strung out on qualuudes.
I told Carlton Your Doorman Of The FBI exactly what was going on and what I had in mind. I asked if he wanted me to bring the evidence in that same day, if the FBI wanted to come and get it, or…
“You can just mail it in,” he said, slowly and sleepily. He sounded perhaps a trifle bored.
“No no, I think we have to act fast,” I said. “The guy keeps bombarding my beautiful girlfriend with e-mails asking if she’s cashed the check yet. If he doesn’t hear from her, he may decide something’s wrong and pull up stakes…”
“Well, where are you?” asked Carlton Your Doorman Of The FBI.
I told him I was in my office on West 36th Street.
“Oh, it only takes a day for the mail to reach us from there. Just mail it in,” said Carlton.
Case, ummm, forgotten
President-elect Obama, I mailed the documents some 60 minutes later, pausing only to scan a copy of the documents for myself and to write a cover note entitled:
RE: Apparent interstate fraud, check fraud and Internet fraud, and a short-term opportunity to catch those who are responsible for it.
And among the things I said in the cover note were:
…somebody may be showing up in Katy to claim the funds, and this might be an opportunity to catch some of the people involved in this scam. Please also note that that the envelope in which the check came has a USPS delivery confirm number on it, which, if genuine, means that there is a record of someone checking to see whether [Crank’s girlfriend’s name redacted] has received the check. I’ve enclosed everything we have concerning this including the check, the envelope it arrived in, a note enclosed with the check, and various e-mail correspondence. If someone would be kind enough to contact either me at either of the telephone numbers above, or [Name Redacted] at [telephone number redacted] — or by mail — to let us know what happened as a consequence of this correspondence, we would greatly appreciate it. I am sending this by mail (despite a rather tight window for finding the person or persons involved in Katy, Texas before he/she/they disappear) on the insistence of the FBI operator that the way to do this was by mail.And guess what, Mr. Obama?
I never heard from the FBI again. Although I bet plenty of financially desperate victims have heard from the scammer since then.
Do you need to expand the FBI budget?
Mr. President elect, I wonder if the problem is a personnel shortage at the FBI. I’m willing to bet that FBI you get is the FBI you pay taxes for. Your predecessor was such a tax cutter that he may have cut personnel at the nation’s leading law encorcement agency just to make up the income shortfall.
Or maybe your predecessor had ordered the Department of Justice to put so many special agents on Osama bin Laden that they don’t have time any more to track down domestic criminals — except maybe for Muslim families who wonder aloud where the safest seat on the airplane is.
But hey, if you don’t get the FBI — or somebody — cracking on interstate crime, there’s going to be a whole lot more of it. And posting Carlton Your Doorman to answer the FBI’s phone won’t solve anything. Mr. Obama, you need get up to New York with that big pail of ice water.
The New York Crank