Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Evil Will Always Triumph Because Good Is Dumb

Bonus points if you recognize the above quote. ^__^

Unfortunately, it is sad but true. Sadder even because I like to think that I'm a somewhat intelligent person, and I almost got lured into doing something very, very stupid.

As you may or may not remember, my roommate moved out due to unexpected circumstances, which left me scrambling to find someone to fill the apartment. I posted on the usual suspects: craigslist, roommates.com, etc.

About a week into the search, I got what looked like a promising response. A young woman named Lizzy Knith sent me an email, describing her interest in video games and her plan to study fashion design in the US in the fall.

Only one part of the email seemed a little off. I'm a British, wrote Lizzy. A British? Perhaps it was some bit of Brit-slang I had not heard of, perhaps akin to the recent trend of lolcat-speak. I can has roommate?

Lizzy and I began a correspondence. It seemed like a good match; her interests were nearly identical to mine. She was chatty and personable and we soon agreed that she could move into the apartment on June 10.

Then Lizzy told me that she was going to ship a few things from London to my apartment before she actually flew in; her furniture, her sewing machine ("which I just can't live without!"), and the car her parents had given her in honor of her trip to America.

When I mentioned this to S., he said "but a British car won't work here."

I agreed that was rather strange, and I debated for a while about how to word the email back to Lizzy. Surely I would insult her intelligence by implying that she was unaware that in Britain, they drove on the opposite side of the road.

She wrote back: "Oh, no, it's all right. We had the steering column transferred to the other side of the car."

The things technology can do these days!

And then I got the most recent email: Lizzy wanted me to know that her first month's rent and security deposit, as well as the money to pay the movers bringing the furniture, was on its way. Her uncle, who was sponsoring her trip, was sending the payment to me by money order.

Where does said uncle live? In Benin.

And where is Benin? (Daniel, I know you know. ^__^)

Benin is in Nigeria.

This is the new version of the "Nigerian Scam." Unlike the poorly-punctuated emails of yore, urging "Kind Sir or Madam" to send money to a poor displaced businessman, the scammers have figured out how to spell and how to sound reasonably articulate. They can also hold up their end of a conversation.

The game, this time, is to lure people (mostly students) into accepting money orders from young, perky potential roommates. After the victim deposits the money order, the scam artist will write back saying that the roommate can no longer take the room (usually there's a mysterious illness, or a family tragedy). The victim is then asked to send the sum back to the scam artist. The artist collects the sum, and the victim collects nothing, particularly after the bank discovers that the original money order was counterfeit.

I went back and ran Lizzy's first email through a search engine. Sure enough, it appeared in near identical text on a scam warning site, although "Lizzy" was now "John" and the oddly-phrased "I'm a British" became "I'm a Canadian."

I feel so, so stupid. Obviously as soon as I got the message about the Nigerian money order I knew, but I spent two weeks (and two weeks I could have been looking for a *real* roommate) corresponding with someone who didn't even exist.


I've cut off the correspondence, of course, but I wonder if the money order had already been sent, and if it will ever turn up in my mailbox. I'd rather it didn't.

Anyway, that's that. If you're looking for a roommate in the near future, don't get tricked like I did.

Oh, and btw... you can't actually do that thing with a car that "Lizzy" told me was done to hers. Just so you know. ^__^


Daniel said...

Benin isn't IN Nigeria. It's a country just west of Nigeria. Porto Novo is its capital. It borders on Gulf of Guinea. Yay for Benin!

I always confuse it with Togo, though. It's like New Hampshire and Vermont...I get them confused!

Blue said...

Check again. Benin is a country, but it is also a Nigerian city.

I'm sure "Lizzy" hoped I would think of the country, too.


Daniel said...

Who knew?? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benin_City

Anonymous said...


whew! Good escape! This scam does take a few forms - one of my friends, a yoga instructor, had someone contact her for private yoga lessons and send her a MO for payment - she got lucky - her bank checked the MO before they deposited it and when it turned up fake, she was able to report it.

I did like the "changing the steering column" story - was just trying to figure out if it was possible!