Internet Scam Foiled

Another foreigner attempts to separate me from large sums of money.

It’s unfortunate but true that the Internet is being used by con artists. Here’s my most recent experience.

The Hook

It started with a query using the form on the Flying M Air web site:

My name is [omitted], I want to book for an Helicopter /flight charter for my family because,during our stays in your your state,we will be going on tours around the town.

These are information for our Booking,
Preferred Date of Tour: 10th,11th,12th, and 13th July 2007 (4days)
Time: 1hr in a day.
Passengers: 4
1. MR. MR. [omitted] ——-weigh 130pounds
2.MRS [omitted]{My Wife} weigh 120pounds
3.[omitted] 16 yrs}weigh 95pounds
4.[omitted] 13yrs } 80pounds
Mode of Payment: Credit Card(Visa Card).

I want you to give me the total expensis for the 4days tour at 1hr per day.
I hope that you accept credit card payment.

It looked legitimate enough. The English was dismal, but that’s to be expected from someone whose first language isn’t English.

I didn’t read the message very closely because my helicopter seats only 3 passengers so I couldn’t accommodate his party. (If I had read closely, I would have wondered a bit about his 16-year old son weighing only 95 lbs.)

I replied as follows:

Unfortunately, we can take a maximum of only 3 passengers. You can try the following other companies, which both have larger helicopters:

Gold Coast: 623-935-3388
WestCor: 480-991-6558

If you call either one, please tell them Maria sent you.

Good luck!

I figured that would be the end of our exchange. But I was wrong. The next day, I got this message:

I want you to indicate the price for the 3 pers. one of us will be staying back each day.

This was a bit weird, almost as if he was willing to leave a member of his family behind just to use my services. But I reasoned it out. He may have contacted the other companies (or planned to) and wanted to work up pricing to be better informed about his options.

I replied:

For flights out of the Phoenix area, our rate is $795 for the first hour and $450 for each additional hour that same day. That covers up to three people with a maximum passenger weight of 650 pounds (290 kilos). There is a one hour minimum flight time for all flights out of the Phoenix area. The Phoenix area includes departures from Scottsdale, Deer Valley, Glendale, and Sky Harbor Airports.

We can fly throughout the Phoenix area and to places like the Grand Canyon, Sedona, etc. We cannot fly OVER the Grand Canyon — we do not have a permit to do that — but we can make arrangements with a company at the Grand Canyon for you to do that flight if you like. Prices start at about $175/person for canyon overflights. There are also a few restricted areas within Arizona where we can’t fly, mostly to the south.

We need at least 48 hours advance notice for all flights booked during the summer months. We accept payment by cash, MasterCard, or Visa, but we must have a credit card deposit to book flights.

If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

The Line

His response came almost immediately:

Thanks for your kind response, i would like to inform you that i have concluded arrangement with hotel/logistic agent that will book hotel and other take care of other service that will be requested from my family during the stay in the state.

I will send you credit card to deduct the total charges of your service and my logistic agent, because i don’t want to share the details with a third party,beside the agent runs a private and does not have a credit card facilities to runs his full payment.

So once you are in receipt of credit card,you will charge the amount of ($8000) then you deduct the cost of your service ($3180(for four days) and send the balance of ($4820) to my logistic agent whose information will be forwarded to you once you charge the credit card.

I am also aware that there will be charges for the credit card, i want you to mention the figure so that i will include it on the total amount that will be charged from my credit card.

I want you to confirm this and get back to me with your name, mobile number and address for my personal documentation.

The alarm bells went off in my head. Back in 2004, when I sold my old helicopter, someone had tried a similar scam. They’d offer to pay you more than they owed you for an item you had for sale (in my case, an R22 helicopter listed for $110,000) using a certified check. The additional amount was to be forwarded in cash to an “agent” somewhere in the U.S. (In my case, it was $12,000 for shipping fees.) Once the agent had the money, the check would somehow bounce and you’d be out the extra cash. Of course, all correspondence would be via e-mail and fax. I’m not quite sure how the cash was to be handed over because it never got that far.

In my case, I insisted on using an escrow agent, which would cost me an additional $500. (Worth every penny.) The R22 “buyer” — who was willing to pay $105K for the ship, sight unseen — kept ignoring my requests to contact the escrow agent. He finally stopped our correspondence and I knew a scam had been attempted.

Someone else I knew fell for a similar scam when selling an RV and lost $2,000.

The Sinker

I knew this was a scam. How many people tell you to charge their credit card for a trip when all you asked for was a deposit? We hadn’t booked anything, I hadn’t given him any total prices, I hadn’t even asked for a deposit. But he was telling me to charge his credit card for $8,000.

But I had to play it cool, just on the off chance that it wasn’t a scam. So I replied:

I didn’t mention anything about prepayment. All I need is a deposit. And I don’t take deposits until I have reservations booked. You did not make any reservations.

I don’t charge credit cards for more than the amount of my services. And I don’t pay “agents” from money collected by check or credit card. That’s a popular internet con that I’ve seen in the past. (I didn’t fall for it then, either.)

If you want to book a flight, let me know the details so I can draw up a contract. I will fax it to you for your signature and credit card information for the deposit. You can then mail or fax it back to me with the address I provide on the contract form.

If you have any other questions, please let me know.

And, as you can imagine, I never heard from this character again.

Don’t Be Conned

If someone contacts you via e-mail to offer you something that’s too good to be true, it just isn’t true.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t sell any large ticket item to someone you haven’t met personally without using an escrow agent.

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