Everyone knows the old adage and many have been stung by its inevitable truth. If it seems to good to be true then it probably is.
I consider myself quite worldly wise – well one couldn’t have lived through this many years and not learned plenty. We have all read and probably received scam letters by email, but some time ago I received one that was slightly different to the norm.
It was my birthday and when I opened the envelope containing what I thought was a birthday card, I found instead a catalogue from a travel company. The company was marking nine years in business and was offering a variety of prizes to celebrate. Inside were two scratch pads and so of course, I scratched them and lo and behold I was the winner of the second prize – $US160,000. Too good to be true?
Bear in mind that this catalogue came in an envelope addressed to me- not the usual scam email. I was required to call a number in Malaysia which I did and was told that I had indeed won second prize and would I scan and send the scratch card to their office. I did this and received a phone call almost immediately telling me that while I held the second prize card they couldn’t find my customer number. Not surprising as I had never heard of the company. Apparently a mistake had been made on their part and instead of a minor prize being offered to encourage people to use their company, a major prize that should have only been offered to clients, was included in the mail to me.
However, undaunted the folk in Malaysia said that this shouldn’t preclude my being given the prize and several telephone calls from them ensued. After a couple of days (and more calls) I was told that the sponsors had reluctantly agreed to pay out the prize but before doing so I was asked to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement. Apparently this was necessary in case any of the sponsors’ clients found out that it was being paid to a “non-client”. I did so and then was asked to call them in Hong Kong. I had already checked out both these companies and to all intents and purposes they are legitimate. The website of the sponsors in HK showed registration number etc and this checked out.
The conversation with the Operation (sic) Manager of the company went well and it appeared that I was to receive the prize, but wait, there was one small hitch before the money could be sent to my account a Letter of Authorisation was required from the HK Government; this to provide me with proof that the money sent to my account was winnings and not the proceeds from drugs or anything illegal. To obtain the Letter it was necessary for $7,200 to be lodged with the Government Department and my share of that was $3,600.
I told the man at the other end of the line that while this was all very good I should have to break a deposit to produce $3,600 (US or HK it was not clear) and so I suggested that he send me a letter saying that I was to receive this money and then my bank here in NZ would advance the funds. He explained that because I had signed the Non Disclosure as had he, he couldn’t do this. When asked what he would usually do in this situation I was told that the winnings would go into the client’s account. When I suggested that he open an account for me he demurred saying he couldn’t as all his clients “were holders of substantial funds”. So my dream of winning an unexpected bonus came to an end.
I did email my man in Malaysia who had been so very helpful and explained what had happened. I told him that while I was very comfortable dealing with his company I didn’t feel comfortable with this other company. He assured me that the company in Hong Kong was legitimate and then suggested that I get on a plane to meet the “Operation” Manager in person. Not going to happen.
A day or so later I received a call from him apologising profusely for the fact that the money could not be sent to me but telling me to look out for a “compensation package” that would be sent from his company and would I let him know when it arrived. Guess what, nothing has arrived.
So while this now is shown to be a scam it appeared to be legitimate:
- I had received a brochure by mail
- I had a ticket showing I was a winner
- I made one call to the number in Malaysia and all other contact with that company was made by them and by phone – so at their cost
- The requirement for a Non Disclosure Agreement added a degree of legitimacy to the whole thing
- The only other call I had to make was collect to Hong Kong. When I did this they called me back so that the call was at their cost.
And because it was a scam I have no problem in breaking the Non Disclosure Agreement I signed.
‘Perhaps that suspicion of fraud enhances the flavour.”
C S Forester, English Novelist 1899-1966