The very first response to my advertisement on Gumtree was suspicious – nobody from the US will buy a sixty year old piano in SA for a few thousand rand. While it is a very nice little Monington & Weston upright, it has little rarity value and its weight of 200kg would guarantee a sizeable transport bill.
In addition, similar pianos are on offer in America for as little as $300.
Although I received suspicious replies to advertisements before, I never played along to see how the scam works. Well, it was holiday and I had time to waste.
The wording of the messages and the usual spelling mistakes gave the “buyer” away, as well as the complicated story.
“Thanks for getting back to me, I’m from USA and really interested in buying the Item so am satisfied with the price and the conditions, I wont be able to come and inspect the goods due to my work right now my private courier will be coming for the pickup which is Parcel 2go Shipping Company.
“I’m requesting this transaction to be done via PayPal, i will be responsible for all the PayPal charges on this transaction and if you don’t have an account with PayPal, its pretty easy to register safe and secured to open one. Just log on to http://www.paypal.com and get your account easily with your email address Ok.,” he wrote, identifying himself as Thomas A Blair and asking for some of my personal details.
The spelling and grammar mistakes are apparently part of the modus operandi. According to an article published in Time magazine a few decades ago, the spelling mistakes serve as a scammer’s first filter, to weed out intelligent people that will be too difficult to con.
I included a few mistakes in my answers too, to show Blair I am a viable prospect : “I have a PayPal account but never used it. Not sure how it work. I checked now and updated all my details on it and should be working.
“I don’t know how to find the PayPal account number or email address. The amount is $600.
I see there is an invoice function on Paypal and I can fill that in, that should have all the details?”
I also included my telephone “nomber” to make communication between us easier.
The messages that followed were further proof of somebody sitting on a computer all day churning out multiple messages and maybe losing track of the messages he is receiving. He repeated himself and, interestingly, he didn’t talk about a piano again, only about the “goods” or the “item”.
“My shipping company will be responsible for the issue of my details, transferring the name of ownership and signing of all necessary paperwork will be done by the pick up agent so you don’t have to worry about that., And so as to prevent the damages.
“Note: You can easily register account with paypal on www.paypal.com for you to have your own paypal account, So kindly get back to me with your PayPal details like this below so can proceed with the payment immediately,” he wrote, once gain asking for a home address and telephone number.
Within an hour I received what was supposed to be a screen shot of a a payment of $1 000 from Paypal. Needless to say, nothing showed in my Paypal account.
Blair followed up with a message on Whatsapp the following day:
“As per the email you got which is similar to your payment confirmation you have to follow the steps and read the email carefully and complete the transaction Ok.
“Let me see if I can explain what you need to do now, I paid a total payment of $1,000.00 USD , $600.00 USD is for purchase and $350.00 USD is the transport costs to my home. I included the transport fee for the payment I made for you because I do not have access because I work as an oceanographer biologist offshore and the only online payment that my carrier accepts is via Bitcoin CORE (BTC) wallet transfer so I included $350.00 USD for the transport fee to your payment so that you can help me with it, so what you need to do is go to all Bitcoin CORE (BTC) that you know with the sum $350.00 USD and send to the transport agent’s address below
“I want you to know that its PayPal policy that you send the money from your side for security reasons and they are doing this in order to protect both of us.
“Note; You must visit the websites on your mobile phone or laptop https://changelly.com/buy and select BTC CORE and enter the amount in EUR and paste BTC CORE wallet address ( 3Ce41ckc7wQBZzS3FLrCUaBJz9vw4V59Ku), then enter your email to get the code and receipt and continue with the receipt your details and credit card immediately OK.
“After the payment has been made, a receipt will be sent to you and you scan the necessary information / receipt for Bitcoin CORE (BTC) and attach it to the confirmation email you received from PayPal and then send it to them for verification, which as soon as the Bitcoin CORE (BTC) receipt has confirmed, valid the total amount of $1,000.00 USD , will then be credited to your PayPal Account immediately, PayPal does this only for your safety so you have nothing to worry about.
“I want you to know that its PayPal policy that you send the money from your side for security reasons and they are doing this in order to protect both of us. I hope you understand now …..”
I understood immediately, and was severely disappointed that its was just a replay of the old advance fee scam and not something original.
I told Blair that I did not receive any money and won’t do any payments. He was very understanding and helpful.
“I understand you, but you have to understand that this is the only way the transaction can be completed, and you have to find a way of getting the required $350.00 USD if you don’t have it, you can lend/borrow from you co-workers, friend or relatives or get a loan from the bank and you can pay them back immediately paypal releases the total amount into your PayPal account, i assure you that this is a risk free transaction and everything is 100% protected by PayPal this is just paypal’s policy and we have to follow their policy because it is the only way the transaction can be completed,” he answered.
He got the last word when I called him out and told him I won’t fall for his scam.
“If you don’t respond to me today concerning the transfer, am sorry you left me with no other option than to contact Paypal of a possible legal action because the money is still on hold.. it’s up to you as well to act fast as I’d already made the full payment through Paypal.
“There is nothing I coukd do from my side to influence PayPal rules. It’s better you act according to PayPal request or I mail PayPal to suspend the transaction and carried out LEGAL ACTION,” wrote Blair.