(E-)Baying for blood.

My quiet minute with my necessary shot of caffeine was rudely interrupted yesterday morning as Bigfoot belted into the kitchen, his laptop grasped in his teenage paws. “Mum! Mum! I’ve found one ! An iPhone, and it’s brand new and it’s perfect and its cheap and can I… please, please, please, please, pleeeeease?????”

I looked into his face, and saw the same pleading puppy eyes as when he asked for Lego when he was little. What a shame that the toys he’s dreaming of ten years later are ones that his parents can’t and won’t buy, even for themselves. « Even your best Bambi eyes won’t get you one », I muttered darkly as he shoved the eBay ad under my nose. “You only need a phone to telephone and send text messages. The day you find one that does the washing up and cleans the loo, I’ll think about it, though”.

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

I glanced at the ad. It was reassuring : 3 photos of a perfect white iPhone 4s held in delicately manicured, feminine fingers. Still under guarantee. 32 go of memory, 175 euros. I told my budding geek that the price was suspiciously low, and that it could be either a fake or broken. As his worldly-wise aunt was to point out later, if it’s too good to be true, it generally is.

He nevertheless sent a mail off to the email address : a certain « Silvie Marchant » from Carcassonne. Bigfoot pointed out that the name was very French middle class and the ad was written in good French. Well, son of mine, I don’t know…. Isn’t the correct spelling of “Silvie” supposed to be “Sylvie”? Now, let’s just google the lady. Surprise, surprise : Google and the phone directories showed no existence of  “Silvie Marchant” in Carcassonne.

In the car with Emmamuse on our way to bargain hunt, the phone rang. Bigfoot’s voice rang out over the loudspeaker : the lady’s away from home for health reasons, the poor woman had just lost her husband, but she can deliver the phone today via a delivery man, please please please please?

I drew in my breath and suggested that it was strange for her to reply so quickly if she had health problems, that if she was tearing her hair out with grief it seemed unusual to give priority to selling a phone, and that it was surprising that the brave lady still checked her mails on a suspiciously regular basis, despite the painkillers and Prozac.

On my return home, I read the email, saying that someone would come by to deliver the phone. Nothing about payment, nothing about speaking together for more details about object for sale. Curious, I  sent a reply asking for further details of payment. I called the mobile phone number and got an anonymous voice telling me that it’s the answering machine for tel n° 06 ….  and please leave a message.

Keef the Thief

Keef the Thief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I began to smell a rat:  A, 21 carat gold, diamond-encrusted, cheating, scamming rat with a big, fat bank account regularly fed with innocent people’s money. This feeling was confirmed when my phone rang less than ten minutes after sending the mail. An undisclosed number did nothing but make me even more suspicious. Rather than a French lady with a local accent, exhausted from sickness and grief, I heard a very strong African accent belonging to an insistent man who announced that he was going to pop by to deliver my phone and pick up the money, that very afternoon. Oh, and don’t worry, the transport has already been paid for.

“Hold your horses, sunshine. Who gave you my number ?” I retorted. “Uhhh….. the seller. She’s away, so she asked me to deliver it for her”.

Bigfoot followed the conversation from the sofa, and his face fell slowly as he listened to my side of the conversation. “What delivery company do you work for ? …..Oh, you’re not working for a company, you’re just doing it to help, and you just happen to have nothing better to do today?”

I bit my lip as the fury rose in my throat.  “I see.  That’s really too kind of you. She is very busy, very bereaved, very unavailable and very ill, but she strangely still has time to sell a phone and read my emails, and even had time to call you to deliver something I haven’t agreed to buy yet……but she doesn’t have time to call me first? I find that a little unusual, don’t you? Well, for the moment I haven’t spoken to the seller in person, and until that’s done, I’m not buying anything. Clear? Goodbye”.

Afterwards, I took Bigfoot off to the kitchen, hit my keyboard with a vengeance and typed  “Iphone scams on E-bay”. Google obligingly turned up trumps with a long list of forum discussions between distraught people who had “bought” a phone in strangely similar circumstances, with similarly worded emails, no replies to their calls, and ended up with no phone and anywhere between 150 and 350 euros missing from their bank accounts. The crooks are from Benin or the Ivory Coast and ask their victims to transfer the money via Western Union. I return to my son’s mailbox, angry, and tell the seller that I refuse to buy without seeing her and her phone in Carcassonne on her return.

Broken Piggy Bank

The reply was as expected and confirmed the scam : “I’m abroad, and don’t want to have to wait so long for my money”. I wrote an email saying that the deal was off, and left one last message on “her” mobile phone : “I hope that you find the time between your grief, your illness and your holidays to brush up your E-bay act : Other people may react like me and wonder if you aren’t ripping people off”.

But it wasn’t over yet…… Today, my mobile phone has been ringing nonstop (18 times, and counting) as the voodoo iPhone doctor bombards me with calls. Bigfoot’s mailbox had a message from “Olivier”, who was apparently “Silvie”‘s alter ego and most probably plays the role of the delivery boy too. He/she confirmed my order in incorrect French and explained in detail how, when, and where I should organise a transfer to “my family” in deepest, darkest Africa, where someone carelessly named “Prudent” was no doubt impatiently awaiting my cash transfer to buy himself a REAL iPhone. I’d just have to give the nice man the code on arrival so that he could check that I wasn’t pulling the wool over his eyes…..

The ebay ad now mysteriously claims that the phone has been sold.  Bigfoot is disappointed, but he’s learned something : unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there who abuse other people’s confidence. It could have been worse though ; he still has his savings. Now we’ll just wait and see if Silvie, Christophe, the delivery boy and Prudent pop round later to give it a try anyway. Could be fun….

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