Oh, Internet. Time and again you do your best to hurt me. But like any soul-crushing addiction worth the chase and inevitable heartbreak, I just can't quit you, baby.
Your latest temptation took me to one of your oldest lairs of seduction: Craigslist.
Recently, I came to the infamous site to sell a piece of furniture--a convertible office desk that had served my family well over the years and was in search of a new home since, as my wife had made clear, "it was taking up too much damn space in ours."
I'll admit, this ad isn't showcasing my most flattering copywriting or product photography. But the post manages to tell the story of a sturdy desk with some quality to it.
After some internal debate, I decided to delete the part about how I wrote three unproduced screenplays and my first novel at this bad boy. If I were famous enough for that to be a selling point, I probably wouldn't need to sell a second-hand desk in the first place.
I submitted the post to Craigslist just after finishing my workday on the Friday of the July 4th weekend. There I was sitting on my back porch, half a pint into my first beer of the night thinking about ANYTHING but the piece and the ad when I was contacted via email by a would-be buyer...Vincenzo.
Suddenly, my weekend of patriotic celebration started looking like it might be bolstered with an easy $200. Vicenzo was interested in getting down to business and moving the conversation to text...
An extra $50 just for holding the piece and taking it off of Craigslist! Done.
Little did Vincenzo know, I had the desk available on Facebook Marketplace as a backup. So of course, I could comply and remove the post from Craigslist. (Full disclosure: precisely no one contacted me via Facebook to inquire about the piece.)
At this point of the evening, I was in that wonderful place the good Lord created between beer number one and three and thought Vincenzo really knows a deal when he sees one. Not only that, he's such a professional that he has a team of movers ready to handle the goods in his traveling absence.
Admittedly, Vicenzo's grammar wasn't exactly stellar. Not a red flag. Most of us don't spout model prose when we text. (I usually blame auto-correct for my fat thumbs and stunted English.)
In all likelihood, Vicenzo is a guest in our fair country, which was built by hardworking and tireless entrepreneurs like him, who should be celebrated on the day (or weekend) of our nation's birth. He's obviously a veteran shopper and savvy furniture flipper. That's a thing, right?
Now, the check is in the mail, and the plan is in place. But after the long 4th of July weekend passed, the real fireworks begin.
So, how much do you think the aforementioned check should be? How much do "movers" make in this type of arrangement? I figured it had to be less than the sale price of the piece. Otherwise, why bother?
Knowing the check had been delivered, Vincenzo got fairly aggressive with the phone calls. Made sense. He's a businessman and wanted to move things along.
Then, I retrieved the check from my mailbox and opened it:
What's wrong with this picture?
If the first thing that popped your eyes was the amount, then you're just like me. (The stretched bank logo is another, less obvious give-a-way.)
Vincenzo and I had agreed on $250 for the sale price of the desk. Now, I had a check for that amount plus an extra $2K that I was apparently expected to hand over to the "movers" in cash after depositing this check and withdrawing the moving fee.
At this point, my phone was blowing up. Vincenzo was done texting and wanted to guide this last leg of the transaction over the phone.
I bought some time by texting that I'd be on a work call for the next hour. That got him off my back long enough to drive up to my local bank and confirm what now seemed fairly obvious.
The check was fake.
Now, I had a choice to make. Do I call Vincenzo and unleash a torrent of f-bombs admonishing him and his attempted ruse? Or do I take the high road and end communications by blocking his number?
See for yourself how the table-turning confrontation went down:
At this point, I had a bit of respect for Vicenzo for not turning tail and scurrying into the comfort of the Internet. Maybe he'd indulge me by explaining his plan. (I'm a writer after all and this might be considered research.)
And now, our exposed and cornered scammer makes a desperate plea for justice, still clinging to the role of an honest buyer not wanting to leave an admission of guilt via text record.
After a short pause, I decided I'd had enough fun for one scam and went for the close...
I suppose that brings me back to where I started. Anyone out there want to buy a desk that supported me when I wrote my first novel and three as-of-yet unproduced screenplays?
Fred Smith is an author and screenwriter who learned the art of dealing with scam artists and prank callers in the 1990s, back when the bad guys had a code of gamesmanship and flair for creativity.
You're on his personal site, so stick around. It's fun here.