A confidence trick or confidence game (also known as a bunko, con, flim flam, gaffle, grift, hustle, scam, scheme, or swindle) is an attempt to defraud a person or group by gaining their confidence.

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We all like to think that we’re too cool and sophisticated to be taken in by the scams and confidence tricks that are circulating around these days. We delete the requests from that Nigerian Oil Minister looking for a British bank account in which to deposit $500,000 - and ignore strange E Mails from “our bank” asking for our account details as they are updating their records. We are not going to be taken in - because we too smart, aren’t we? Aren’t we?

Well here’s a lesson for us all. A friend of mine who has nous and street sense to spare was recently taken in by a scam clever enough to fool even the most vigilant. Unlike most confidence tricks, which rely upon the greed or vanity of the ‘mark’, this appeared to be a straightforward business transaction conducted through an established and respected organisation - and it went like this…

photo of money

With a holiday coming up and a cash flow problem my friend Dave decided to sell his Nikon SLR camera. He placed a listing for the camera on Amazon with the price set at £250. Shortly afterwards Amazon sent him an Email saying that a potential buyer had contacted them and was the camera still available? Dave replied that it was. The following day Amazon sent another E Mail saying that the buyer - a woman living in Northampton - had placed the money with them and they would pay it into Dave’s account once the camera had been posted. It was to be sent to her husband who was working overseas in the oil industry. Now Dave is no mug and when he saw the postal address that Amazon had sent him - in Lagos, Nigeria - his suspicions were immediately aroused. However he had all the paperwork from Amazon and as they were already holding the woman’s money he pressed on.

That afternoon he posted the camera to the woman’s husband in Lagos using Parcel Force International. He then E Mailed Amazon and told them that he had posted the camera, gave them all the identification numbers on the Parcel Force receipt to pass onto the gentleman in Lagos. He then sat back and waited for his £250.

The following morning - just 12 hours after the camera had been posted - Dave received another E Mail from Amazon saying that due to an administrative error their original listing for Dave’s camera had not been cancelled and now another purchaser had appeared and also paid for the camera. According to their E Mail Amazon were now holding £500 for Dave rather than the £250 he had asked for! They asked Dave if he would please wire the £250 overpayment back to the second purchaser who lived…..oh no!…. in Nigeria! By now the alarm bells were really going off for my friend. He had done business with Amazon before and knew that any refunds are sorted out by and through Amazon. Amazon would never ask any client to send money directly to a purchaser. This time Dave, feeling stupid and gullible, phoned up Amazon to find out what was going on. They told him that they had no record whatsoever any of these transactions, either in Northampton or Nigeria. Dave protested. He was holding Amazon E mails, with Amazon logos and they had been sent from an Amazon office via an Amazon E Mail address…but as Amazon immediately confirmed - they weren’t and they hadn’t! Dave had been scammed.

Although they looked like authentic Amazon E Mails with an authentic Amazon E Mail address, it was a clever deception. The fraudsters had simply copied Amazon E Mails, and created a fake ‘look-a-like’ Amazon E Mail address. Dave thought that he had been dealing with Amazon but he wasn’t. It was a front, close enough to look like the real thing - close enough to deprive Dave of a valuable camera - and close enough for the scammers to try to swindle Dave out of a further £250.

Dave contacted Parcel Force and asked if the camera package could be stopped in transit - but it was already on its way to Nigeria. The police said they would check out the woman living in Northampton - but advised Dave that she was probably just a creation of the scamming team in Nigeria. A quick dip into Streetmap and the absence of any matching address in Northampton proved that the police were right.

Dave is now a changed man. Once confident and self-assured he now feels like a complete mug. It wasn’t just a camera that he had lost but his own self-esteem. Be warned, the scammers that got my friend Dave are still out there casting their net for you.

“Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t, why should we? They talk about people and the proletariat; I talk about the suckers and the mugs. It’s the same thing.”

Graham Greene

The confidence trick outlined above took place at the beginning of August and involved a person living in St. Margarets. His name has been changed in order to save the poor fellow any further embarrassment.

– from Martyn Day