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The First Of Two Amazing Scams

A Business Trip To Paris

Thirty-nine years ago, I was in Paris attending a meeting on behalf of IBM. There was a break. It was March, but the weather was unseasonably warm, so I strolled over to a cobblestone square with a view of Notre Dame. There were tables and chairs scattered about. I sat down and began writing postcards.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a strange sight – a half-dozen children, the oldest perhaps seven or eight, moving towards me while thrusting sheets of newspaper, held horizontally, in my direction.

In an instant I felt small hands grabbing at my trousers, my pockets, and my suitcoat. One of them got hold of my breast-pocket portfolio – a type of flat wallet, one that held my passport, travellers checks and cash.

What ensued was the battle of the portfolio. I finally wrestled it back, but the child had been strong and tenacious enough to tear the corners off all my French francs.

I went to the police. They were polite but basically told me I had been foolish. The children, they said, are gypsies, sent out by their parents to rob unsuspecting tourists. It was a chronic problem. The locals know about it and forcefully shoo them away. Tourists are stunned and immobilized – until it is too late.

And what about my francs, worth about US $2,000?

The gendarme shrugged. “Monsieur, without the serial numbers, they are worthless. No bank will accept them.”  Fortunately, IBM absorbed the loss. They also issued a company-wide warning to anyone heading to Paris.

39 Years Later And A Second Scam

The Apartment Hunt Scam

amazing scams

Fast-forward to last week.

Having recently lost our city apartment/office due to the building having been sold, I was looking, online, for a new one.

I signed up with a bunch of rental sites, giving them the criteria and preferred location.

Sure enough, one of them sent me a notification.

The place sounded perfect. One bedroom, in a nice condo located on the same street where we had been previously. There were pictures and a floorplan. The place even had a parking space and was listed at $1,600 a month, utilities included.

What was not to like?

I sent a note through the rental website saying I was interested.

Soon after I got an email from the renter, someone identifying himself as “Elder Frederic.” He said he’d recently gotten married, moved to another city, and no longer needed the condo.

He also said he had opted not to use a real estate agent, but would rent the place himself through Airbnb.

I reiterated my interest but allowed that I would want to see the place first.

“No problem,” said Elder Frederic by return email. “Just make a deposit of the first and last month’s rent through Airbnb.  If you decide you are not interested, it is fully refundable. Once I receive notification, I will have a key at the concierge desk so you can view the apartment.”

He sent the Airbnb link. It had all the usual Airbnb language regarding refunds, etc. It also had glowing reviews of the apartment and Elder Fredric.

My first attempt to send the deposit failed – I learned my bank sets a transfer limit of $3,000 per 24-hour period.

Elder Frederic was nothing but patient. “Try again.”

So I did, this time breaking it into two tranches, 24-hours apart.

It seemed to work. But then I received an email from Airbnb asking for another $2,900 – a number that made no sense.

I sent an email to Elder Frederic. “Call me.”

Fat chance.

Elder Frederic (whose emails were accompanied by a photo of a pleasant-looking 50-something) didn’t exist. I’d been scammed. When I contacted the police, they were polite but basically told me I had been foolish. It was a chronic problem. Sure enough, a quick check of postings showed I was by no means alone. Scores of people reported exactly the same scenario, including the bogus Airbnb site.

The moral of the story? Be very, very careful out there. And never trust anyone named Elder Frederic. Although I did just get an email from Younger Frederic about a two-bedroom apartment that looks very promising.

About The Author

Robert Waite

Robert Waite

Robert is Managing Director at Waite + Co., a communications firm with offices in Boston, Ottawa and Toronto. He also teaches at Seneca College. He has more than 35 years experience leading communications, marketing and government relations functions for some of North America’s largest firms, including Ford, IBM, CAE, CIBC and Canada Post. He served as Press Secretary to Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-MA) and Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) and in the Reagan Administration. He is a three-time winner of the New England Press Association’s Best Column Award. He can be reached at bob.waite@senecacollege.ca.
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