The Terrain That Never Was, Anatomy of a Cyberscam
People get scammed everyday online. We know this and yet it keeps happening.
Why? Because decent people want to believe they are dealing with other decent people? Yes, sometimes. Or, because people want to believe in something even when it is too good to be true.
Hey. It could have happened to me. Well, it could have but I’m a deeply cynical, grumpy old man with a background writing about scams.
We’ll get to that in just a moment.
Here’s the thing, though, to bear in mind as you read my story. Ultimately every online scam comes down to money. Whether its stealing your identity, credit card and bank info, stealing your heart in a romance scam or offering to sell a car at a ridiculously low price or even offering to give you money if you help them launder it.
There’s lots of information about all kinds of scams here.
I wrote about romance scams years ago for Chatelaine but little has changed.
In fact, it seems to be getting worse. These people prey on loneliness, which to me, having won and lost at love more than a few times, is the lowest blow of all.
Sometimes they reach out to you such as the CRA scam which plays on fear of the CRA and wanting to do the right thing.
So here’s my yarn.
In Spring 2017 I was shopping for a newer car to replace my 2003 truck. I don’t buy new because I only drive 11,000 km a year and a new vehicle depreciates faster than I can pay it off so I buy good, three or four year old, used vehicles.
And that’s how I “met” Warrant Officer Klaus Lewis, stationed in Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada.
It seemed strange right off the top. I’d posted on Kijiji.ca that I was looking for a 2013, 2014 GMC Terrain SLT, preferable the V6 with a sunroof, in black.
And then a week later on Autotrader.ca, there it was. Almost exactly what I was looking for and, gasp, $10,000 below what other Terrains were selling for in the GTA.
Of course, I figured there was a catch, since I am, by nature, a cynical bastard. Forty years of news reporting does that to you.
But, I thought, why not. It’s a giggle and you never know:
On Tue, Mar 28, 2017 at 10:02 AM, Ian Harvey <iharvey@XXXXX> wrote:
I’d like to see this vehicle.
Can we chat about it? I’m in Scarborough. I can pay you cash.
I can drive out today to see it.
What has it had done in terms of maintenance and what does it need (I’m prepared to invest in the car to get it where I want it)
Within minutes of me sending the email – you see I didn’t just respond to the email specified in the ad, but also to the reply function within Autotrade.ca
Within seconds Autotrader.ca sent me an automated email.
|Your autoTRADER.ca vehicle inquiry for 2013 GMC Terrain AWD|
|You’ve sent an inquiry to a seller regarding the following vehicle 2013 GMC Terrain AWD Protect yourself from Fraud. Read our Do’s and Don’ts for buying a used vehicle Some quick Do’s and Don’ts Never send money via wire transfer or PayPal Always view the vehicle in person with a friend Ask for a copy of the vehicles Car Proof to validate the history Do you suspect fraud? Report this Ad.|
And really that was the first clue.
Seriously, this car is $10,000 below market. It’s a red flag off the top and Autotrader.ca knows it. You can’t say I wasn’t warned.
But an hour later this is what came in:
First of all I want to thank you for you interest in my 2013 GMC Terrain AWD, I want to let you know that is in great condition, super clean, 100,000 kms, no dings, no accidents, garage kept, service records up-to-date, clear title no loan or lien on it. The car is registered in ON, it’s e-tested and certified, the title is clean and you won’t have any problems registering the car in your name. I am selling the car because I am in the military and my unit will be sent back over the seas. I don’t want it get old in my garage. The price is low because I need to get rid of it as soon as possible.
To conclude this deal in a timely manner, the financial part will be managed by uShip. I believe you know what uShip is if you buy and sell online often, if you don’t I’ll be glad to walk you through the process, let me know if you are still interested so I can get back to you with additional details. The car is available for local pickup or delivery and the price is $8500.
Thanks for your time,
Warrant Officer Klaus Lewis
Wow. He’s a Warrant Officer in the Canadian Armed Forces!! And he’s going to be deployed soon!!
Okay, anyone recognize the red flags?
First by claiming to be a Warrant Officer he’s leaning on our respect for our soldiers, wrapping himself in the Maple Leaf and conveying “trust.”
Trust me. I am in service of our country. I am a hero. A good man.
So since we left Afghanistan in 2014, where are Canadian troops currently deployed?
Easy check and they were all in Canada or short term training exercises.
Also, CFB, as he signs off, stands for Canadian Forces Base. Another mistake because it would need a location such as CFB Gagetown.
The next red flag? He needs to sell quickly. So time is of the essence. You see in sales psychology, creating a false sense of supply – buy now, quantities are limited – or limit on the price window – these prices won’t last – serves to excite the buyer subliminally and they are more likely to act on impulse.
The other red flag: The use of a third party agency to facilitate the deal.
This is classic. It creates the impression of security because it’s easy to look up uShip online. And yes, they are legitimate.
Of course, he throws the name of uShip on the table as if anyone who buys and sells on line is aware of them. The truth is, I buy 80 per cent of my things online and, no I have never heard of them.
So I called them and asked, if they facilitate this type of transaction.
They said no. They only have a transaction ability to pay for shipping.
Oh, and there’s the third flag. He’s made no mention of shipping costs.
So what, I’m getting a car for $10,000 below market and free shipping?
Yeah, it’s getting fishier by the minute.
So I write back to him. I decide, I’m going to have some fun since I was kinda slow with work that week and I needed a good Facebook gag. I posted the exchange daily and my friends and I had a good laugh at the mini TeleNovella.
On Tue, Mar 28, 2017 at 4:22 PM, Ian Harvey <iharvey@XXXXX> wrote:
Where can I see it and pick it up? And When?
The next morning (which clues me in that he is in a different time zone, certainly not New Brunswick) he writes back…
I’m glad that you are still interested. I will do my best to explain you the whole process. At the moment I’m stationed at a Military Force Base, CFB Gagetown. The car is already at our Military Logistics Department from CFB Gagetown, NB ready to be delivered. uShip is like a third-party in our deal. I have signed a contract with uShip because they are able to take care of the whole sale (even if I am not there when the sale will take place), meaning that they will ship the car to your address and also will handle the payment for me. They will keep your money into a protection account until you get the car and will release it to me after you agree to keep it. The most important thing is that this company offers a return policy and to eliminate any concerns you will have 5 days to inspect the car. If by any reason the car is not as described, or if you find any problems with it I will pay for the returning fees and you will receive your money back. I’m sure it won’t be the case because the car is in excellent condition.
To make this deal happen I must ask uShip to send you the terms and conditions/invoice, but before I can do that I need your approval. So in order to move forward with this deal I just need your full name, full shipping address and a contact number so I can register the deal with uShip, and after that they will contact you with further information on how to buy my car.
The shipping costs and insurance during transportation are included in the price.
Thanks for your time
Warrant Officer Klaus Lewis
So here’s the narrative. uShip are legit. They will facilitate. He’s paying for shipping, it’s all safe and secure. There’s a five day return window.
What could go wrong? Safe as houses!!!
Right. And that’s a red flag. By assuming a disproportionate amout of the risk the seller is really setting the hook into the bait and waiting for the sucker to bite.
So I write back and up the ante.
So glad it is still available. This is for our daughter’s prime transportation. She’s in a wheelchair with serious chronic A-type fibrosis and multimelinoxia, which are very rare childhood diseases.
Taking her places is a big challenge since we don’t have a vehicle but our church has rallied to help us and through generous donations, bake sales and bottle drives, we’ve raised $10,000. This will go towards the Terrain which we will get fitted to make it wheel chair accessible.
This is surely an Act of God to find a vehicle like this which is very suitable for her needs. God is guiding us in this and we trust in Him. We can’t wait to see the vehicle though my wife is excited to be able to touch it since she’s legally blind.
I will be doing the driving. That is as soon as I pass my driver’s test. I have no legs as a result of a childhood train accident so the driver’s controls are also going to be specially adapted for my disability.
Again, thank you. You are truly Heaven Sent. This Terrain is a miracle.!!
If you send me the details for UShip I will get them a certified cheque to complete the transaction.
We assume we will pay the taxes and registration fees here in Ontario once it arrives? Do we have to make arrangements to have someone drive it from a delivery site somewhere in the GTA. Do you know what hours they are open.
Thank you again and praise God for he is merciful.
Now I’m trying to sound like a geek. I want to fish him in as much as he’s fishing me in so I embellish my naivety just a bit. And add in the God references and, of course, the sad story about the litany of disabilities in our poor family. I thought the church fundraising was a nice touch.
He writes back:
Their payment method accepted is bank transfer. They don’t accept certified cheques. All the documents including the ownership and the bill of sale with my signature on it, will come along with the car. uShip will handle all the paper work.
If you wish to go on with this deal and in order to open a case at uShip, send me your full name, shipping address, phone# and they will contact you with more details (invoice, payment instructions, buyer and seller protection policy)
They will call you with delivery/pickup instructions 1 day ahead so you can communicate what time schedule work best for your to receive the car.
Thanks for your time,
Warrant Officer Klaus Lewis
He gets my “address” and writes back
Ian, I have sent your details to uShip and I got the invoice. Can you please check your email for the invoice, also look into your bulk/spam/junk folder too, sometimes messages get lost in there.
Please read the invoice carefully so you can understand the entire process and let me know when you can complete this transaction so I can make all the arrangements for delivery.
Also I have a friendly advise, don’t tell at the Bank office that this is the payment for a internet car purchase because both of us will be extra charged with some extra fees for making e-commerce. We can avoid paying this extra money. If the Bank teller ask you, just tell him that the money are for a relative/friend.
I am not willing to spend some useless money, I hope you will understand why I am asking you this.
Warrant Officer Klaus Lewis
A yeah. Another key step in a con. Keep it a secret. Don’t tell the bank what’s going on because they might put an end to it, or in this case lump in extra fees.
Why is that his problem? The sender pays the freight in a bank transfer. Again, another red flag. They’re so obvious I just wonder why so many people get taken.
I want to have more fun so then we have a family issue.
On Thu, Mar 30, 2017 at 11:55 AM, Ian Harvey <iharvey@xxxxxxx> wrote:
Yes I got your email.
I am at the hospital now getting some treatment on an ulcer on my stump…but I should be back this afternoon and we are going to try to get to the bank ASAP.
At this point we’re all having a laugh on Facebook because I’m posting the emails as they come in along with my responses. It was a good three day soap opera.
He writes back in the afternoon.
Ok, no problem, I understand you…
In which hospital are you?
If you can find a way to go at bank today….because the payment must be made in 12 hours.
Keep me posted,
Warrant Officer Klaus Lewis
Like he really cares which hospital I’m in? LOL. Still, he’s going in for the kill, “the payment must be made in 12 hours.”
But here’s another red flag. When does the 12 hours start and end. It was never specified.
So I keep the ruse going.
On Thu, Mar 30, 2017 at 3:42 PM, Ian Harvey <iharvey@XXXX.com> wrote:
Bit of a problem
We have the money but the bank won’t transfer it because the Pastor who holds the account – don’t forget the money was held in trust after the parishioners raised the money for us – isn’t here to sign off on it.
We’re working to find him but the bank says they need his signature not just his verbal…we think he’s at a meeting with the local refugee support committee but he’s got his mobile turned off…
We will contact you as soon as we get an ETA.
When does the 12 hours expire because I only got the email at 11 a.m this morning….so we should have until 11 p.m. to complete correct?
The trouble is the bank closes at 5 p.m.
Could we stretch this to tomorrow if need be. We can add $200 for the inconvenience.
He’s still thinking he’s in with a shout here because we’re offering more than he was asking. Now that’s also a classic move in a scam….add value in the middle of the deal, knowing full well that you’re getting something for nothing. Except I’ve turned it around here.
So he writes back
Ok, no problem. Let me know if you can complete the payment tomorrow morning otherwise I’ll cancel the transaction because sincerely I have a few potential buyers.
I’ll wait until 1 pm tomorrow.
Keep me posted.
Warrant Officer Klaus Lewis
Now I know he’s getting suspicious. But he smells money so he stays in and I write back:
On Fri, Mar 31, 2017 at 9:51 AM, Ian Harvey <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Just to let you know we’re meeting Pastor at the bank at 12 noon. We have to go to the hospital to have my daughter’s colon cleansed because the excitement of getting a vehicle has been too much stress for her and because of her condition it has caused a blockage in her bowels.
This is not the first time and they are very good at dealing with her so we’re getting picked up by WheelTrans for 11.30 a.m. and we’ll make it to the bank with time to spare.
Just one thing. Pastor would like to put a story in the church newsletter about finding you and your patience in helping us. Could you send us a picture of you in your dress uniform. I know the Canadian Forces always have pictures of their servicemen in dress uniform for formal announcements.
It will be a wonderous thing to share this story with all the parishioners who have raised the money to buy this car.
He shoots back
You talk too much my friend. I’ll not send you any pics with me and I don’t care about your Pastor. If I don’t have the payment confirmation until 1 Pm this deal is off.
What? He’s doubting my honesty? And no more signature as WO Lewis?
I realize I’m getting to the end of this. I’ve stretched his belief and while my friends and I have had a laugh with a Facebook soap opera over three days, it’s time to bring this one home.
So, I send an email to the bank and to uShip, outlining the fraud and forwarding the “invoice” he sent me with the Croatian Bank details and the uShip invoice.
They thank me. I also try to call or email the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre but I can’t get through and their email is a form which goes on forever and is set up for victims.
I didn’t lose a penny, so it’s hard to report a fraud that didn’t happen.
I give it another shot:
I’m terribly sorry. You seem to be angry. Well, good news. Pastor went to the bank earlier, though we are still at the hospital.
The money has been transferred….please confirm….
He doesn’t respond so I try again.
Pastor says there seems to be a problem. They sent the money to the specified account but it is not being accepted? Could you check?
They’ve talked to the bank in Croatia and there’s a problem at their end.
The account seems to be frozen. And it seems to have happened today.
Trying to get more details.
Could you check on your end?
So it really is time to wrap up and give him a scare.
Oh dear. The Ured za sprječavanje pranja novca which I think operates as the Anti-Money Laundering unit ….aka the Croatian national financial intelligence unit has frozen the account pending an investigation.
They’re not saying much.
What’s going on? How can we get you this $8,700?
I have a cousin at Gagetown, Col. Jerry Johnson…he says he’ll walk over and give you the cash personally if you like?
Yeah…..this may be why the account is frozen.
From: Ian Harvey [mailto:iharvey@XXXXX.com]
Sent: March 30, 2017 11:48 AM
Subject: Attention: XXXX
Here’s the fraudster’s email which I am forwarding.
Clearly uShip doesn’t facilitate this kind of fraud and I thought you should know about it.
I will also be alerting the online scam cops at the RCMP
I’ve had fun stringing him along…so I’m going to up the ante on him by creating some story around why I haven’t rushed to the bank with his money.
And finally I give him the kiss off.
Do you really think no one is going to notice you were selling a vehicle $10,000 under market. And then the scam which is so obvious. The old I’m overseas but I can ship the car to you scam.
Like anyone is going to bite. You know of course that Autotrader has automated fraud alerts which go out when anyone responds to these ads….and that trying to get someone to respond directly isn’t much help.
Have a nice day asshole…we’ve all had a good laugh at your expense.
I thought the Pastor was a nice touch. BTW your scam was too easy check out and don’t ever fucking pose as a Canadian service man again. You’re scum.
Go to fucking hell.
From: Ian Harvey [mailto:iharvey@XXXX.com]
Sent: March 30, 2017 6:10 PM
Subject: Fraud Alert!!!
I thought you might like to know that this invoice was sent to me by a person claiming to sell a car through a popular car sales site in Canada.
If you look at this invoice you’ll see it specifies your bank and gives details for a transfer claiming it is for a company called uShip.
uShip does exist but it does not facilitate vehicle sales. It only ships vehicles (and other things)
And, of course, it does not maintain a bank account in Croatia.
I have alerted the national police in Canada and I provide the information to you as an advisory.
I have not suffered any financial loss, indeed I have been posting my correspondence with this idiot on my Facebook page and fishing him along…my friends and I have been very amused for the last few days.
However, it’s time to end the game. I hope this is of interest to you since I would think a bank has no interest in being involved in a fraud.
And there ends the saga.
My point in posting it here is to show how these scams are structured and for people to educate themselves. Please pass the link to those whom you think would benefit.
The bottom line is always the same: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Even if you think it’s legit, check, check and check again. It’s easy to find someone to confirm or deny things. Use the Internet, it is our greatest tool as well as being our greatest vulnerability.
Here’s a good take on basic awarness.
Here’s a good round up of the Top Ten Scams.
Let’s be safe out there in cyberspace, but more than that, let’s be smart.
1 thought on “The Terrain That Never Was, Anatomy of a Cyberscam”
“Klaus Lewis” needed to check his grammar…