I have an old lens for sale. It’s a slower lens, I bought it for about 1200€ back when I was still more of an amateur than I am now. It’s a great lens, but when you’re starting to work on a more advanced level and you need fast glass, this one just doesn’t do the trick anymore. Yet, it’s a beautiful lens and perfect for someone just starting out and wanting something with a long reach. It’s a Sigma 170-500mm, APO, f/5-6.3. Just before the days of image stabilization.
Anyway… I put it up for sale on the Finnish Tori.fi, hoping to find the lens a nice new owner.
I was of course happily surprised that after a week or so I received a message in my inbox through Tori.fi from a guy named Chris Thompson (email@example.com).
Onko sinulla vielä tämän kohteen myynnissä?
Meaning literally translated: “Hi, do you have this item still in sale?” My Finnish is far from perfect, but between the lines that reads already “Google Translate”. But hey… English name of the sender, that’s ok. It’s an effort, I’d say. So, happy I may have found a buyer for my piece of glass I reply to the message in Finnish, confirming that the lens is still for sale.
Several hours later I get a reply from Chris again:
Kiitos vastauksesta. Olisin halunnut tulla katsomaan sitä ja maksaa käteisellä, mutta olen pois kaupungista juuri nyt. Haluan lähettää tämän ystävälleni joka asuu Lagos Nigeriassa lahjaksi. Lähetän rahaa teille, sisältäen postikulut maksut kautta pankkiin, mutta minä tarvitsen sinua assit minulle postitse paketin Nigeriaan haluaisin tietää kuinka paljon se tulee maksamaan postitse Lagos Nigeriassa ja kaikkiaan rahaa maksaa. myös lähettää minulle tilitiedot, jotta voin siirtää rahaa tilillesi mahdollisimman pian.
Thanks for your reply. I would have loved to come and take a look at it and pay you cash, but I’m out of the city right now. I want to send this to my friend who lives in Lagos Nigeria as a gift. I will send the money to you, including postage charges through your bank, but I will need you to assit me post the package to Nigeria.
let me know how much it will cost to post to Lagos Nigeria and the total money to pay. also send me your bank account details so that I can transfer the money to your account as soon as possible.
First in Finnish, and then just to be sure in English, so that if Google Translate has screwed up, I could still understand it from the English version. And I understood it very well. Both the Finnish AND the English version. As soon as I saw Nigeria all the red flags went up and the angels sang Christmas carols with alarm bells.
Nevertheless… I’m always willing to give a person the benefit of the doubt (ahem), so I replied:
I’m not sure if you prefer English or Finnish, but I can also write in English.
I’m not in a hurry with selling the lens, so I will wait until you are back in town so you can have a look and pay in cash if you like the lens.
In that case you can also take care of the sending yourself, because if I send it I will only send it insured. The costs for sending this lens insured are about 250€ extra, so that would be quite a big sum extra on top of the 400€.
Let me know when we can meet.
Now it takes Chris only one hour to reply:
I would have loved to come and take a look at it and pay you in cash, but I’m buying this as a birthday gift and want it to get to Nigeria before the birthday is over. send me your bank account details so that I can transfer 650 euro to your account. thanks.
Of course it is very likely that Chris is out of town for awhile and that he wants his friend in Nigeria to have this before the birthday is over, so I still give the guy the benefit of the doubt (ahem). So I tell him it’s too bad we don’t get to meet and send him my bank details and ask him from which bank I can expect his payment. To which he fairly immediately replies “Bank of America” (which of course makes perfect sense, his IP being located in the US and Finland not having a Bank of America).
So the next day I get a mail from Chris:
I have transferred the money to your account. please go to the post and send out the package to Nigeria immediately
this is the name and address of the receiver
Name: Peter Emmanuel
Address No. 84, Ijesha Road, Ijeshatedo
Zip code: 23401
let me know as soon as you have posted it out.
I also get SIX mails from the Bank of America. Or so am I supposed to be thinking. Logos unproportionally stretched into oblivion, AND hot-linked from a variety of other websites (of companies that have done or are still doing business with Bank of America and which have the logo hosted on their website). And the email address it came from was firstname.lastname@example.org. One would think, logically speaking that is, that it would come from a bankofamerica.com email address, but then again… what do I know…?
The Executive Vice-President Deb Walden of Bank of America tells me that I have just received a payment of €650 from their valuable subscriber Chris Thompson and that all I need to do is send a scan/copy of the package slip as proof of shipment of the item to the bank, so they can release the funds into my account (angels singing ChrisT(hompson)mas carols with alarm bells). So… Off I go to the post office to get me a package slip, fill in the address, and my address, which of course is fake and make a scan of it which I send to the email address of Bank of America (the email@example.com one). Initially I wanted to make my address Huijaus 4 N 19, but I figured then it may have been a bit too obvious that I had no intention of actually sending the package.
The package slip as proof of me sending my precious lens to Nigeria
I received a reply from the Bank of America that they received my mail and that they would verify the information.
In the mean time I sent Chris a mail informing him that the package was sent, and at the same time I forwarded all the emails, including the Bank of America ones to Bank of America, the FBI, the Helsinki Police, Tori.fi and the African 419 scammers police department, as well as to the websites from which images were hot-linked. I haven’t received a reply from any of them, but I guess that’s not really my problem.
A day passes and I get a message from Bank of America saying that they have been unable to verify the postage of the item from the courier’s website, but I have nothing to worry about, because my money is safe with them.
At the same time I get a mail from Chris, asking me the tracking number for the package. I play stupid, and tell him that according to his bank I should send the tracking number of the package to the buyer unless I have received my money, and that I haven’t received my money yet, so I won’t be sending him the tracking number just yet. He instantly replies:
why have you not received the money? I have paid and the money has already been deducted from my account. so how do I know the status of the package? please let me know the status of the package
thanks for your understanding
To which I reply:
I don’t know why I haven’t got the money, yet. Ask your bank, they are responsible. I sent the package on Monday and sent a scan of the package slip to the email address your bank gave me. I’d prefer to get the money ASAP, too. I just sent off an expensive lens and I haven’t even gotten any money. This is starting to taste very dodgy…
To which he profusely apologizes and asks me if I have got any message from the bank about a shipping document that needs to be verified and I need to let him know so he can contact them about it and ask what’s going on (he’s such a sweet guy! ). I tell him that I got a mail from them saying they couldn’t verify the document, but that it’s probably because of the holiday (Finnish Independence Day was around that time). He writes me back:
okay maybe because of the holiday, that is why they couldn’t verify the postage. I will write them to know exactly what the problem is. I can assure you that you will get the money. I will write them.
So… He assures me I will get the money… And he continues a day later:
I contacted the bank to know why you have not received your money, but they told me that they have not been able to verify the postage.
please did you give them the right information?
what is the status of the package now?
please let me know so that I can talk to them. let them give you the money so that I can have the shipment tracking number to know exactly where my package is.
HIS package?? Riiiiight… So I reply to him:
Yes I gave them the right information. And I want my MONEY!
The package has left the airport of Helsinki, and I’m out of a lens and out of money.
I hope you’re not scamming me, because I will run to the police quicker than you can say package.
And his totally indignant reply:
OMG! how could you think of me scamming you? if I do, how will I be able to get the tracking number? I have been honest to you and I want to make sure that you get your money. I’m a very honest person. I will still contact the bank to make sure that you get your money.
That’s basically where the communication stops.
I got a couple of things in between that took up most of my time. Would’ve loved to keep him on a leash for awhile longer, even only so that he couldn’t go after other people’s stuff, but I think he got wind of it that I was actually pulling his leg.
Next time I’m going to send them an actual package and see what happens with “the money”.
In any case, aside from this being a funny story, it’s more of a warning. I’ve written about scams before, but this is one of those 419 operations that keep on going on all the time, and not only with photography items, but with everything. Be very wary about who you deal with. If people don’t negotiate about prices of items you sell, and are willing to pay a shitload of money extra for shipping without blinking, or if they bid generously over the set price of which you sell your item for, your red flags should go off. And if they want you to send it before paying you, even more red flags should go off. And if they want you to send it to Nigeria the red flags and alarm bells should go off so loudly your neighbors will bang the walls.
Be careful out there!
(By the way… The lens is found an honest new owner in Finland)