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Sunday, May 29, 2005

"Fraud Alert!"

A few days ago I logged onto my bank account online with the University of Illinois Credit Union. Waiting for me in the inbox was a message sent out to all of the bank members from the bank's central office. After reading the title of the message, "Fraud Alert!", I was left with the immediate sensation that I had something to do with all of this.

As I have graduated and moved out of Champaign and back to Chicago my apartment back down south is going unused. Now i'm paying rent for the set of bedsheets and dust-bunnies that I left behind. Of course this wasn't the original plan.

Originally I was hoping to sublet my bedroom for the remainder of the summer. I placed an ad in the Daily Illini and followed through on the plethora of inquiries I received with descriptive e-mails and links to the sublet webpage. Many nibbles, no bites.

Then I received an e-mail from a man named Thomas Pink.

Hello, My name is Thomas Pink,Am from Greece.I saw ur advert on ur room for rent ,and i took interest in it.i would be coming to the US on a business trip which will last for 3 months. i would like to know if its available.If so i will like to know the total amount for the room for 3 months
Thank you.

Thomas' lack of punctuation and grammatical correction convinced me that he was really from a different country. Eager to get to business I sent him a follow-up e-mail several days later explaining to him the cost of the apartment for the summer and payment methods. I didn't hear back from him and, for a while, thought I lost a deal.

Then after a while he wrote back with urgency:
SORRY FOR NOT HAVE GOTTEN BACK TO YOU FOR SOME DAYS BACK.I WAS CALLED ON A FORTNIGHT AGO THAT MY FATHER DEVELOPED STROKE SUDDENLY IN THE EVENING,THEREFORE I HAD TO RUSH TO SEE THINGS FOR MYSELF, INFACT HIS CONDITION IS VERY CRITICAL...

Thomas' father was in trouble and he had to rush to the UK to "see things for himself." I sent my condolensces and told him I would wait for the money orders that he had already sent.

Now here's the tricky part. In a future e-mail Thomas would later explain that he had a business contact in the states that owed him money. This business contact was to send me the money that he owed Thomas plus the money that Thomas owed me for the apartment. I was then to deduct my portion of the total in rent and fees and wire the remaining balance to England. Now, this remaining balance wasn't going to Thomas but to his agent in the UK whose name was "Salami Hamed."

Salami Hamed.

With two cold-cuts in the same name, I knew that something wasn't kosher. I brought up the story to my family at the dinner table the day before cashing the money orders. My stepfather's mom said, "Maybe it's a terrorist that's trying to use your apartment to establish a terrorist cell in the U.S. You know how many young, smart, and foreign people there are at your university..." I sensed the paranoia creeping within my mom and considered her exhortations as the mandatory warnings of a concerned parent but little else. I was going to cash those money orders and make me some money.

Sure I thought something was up, but to a broke college graduate every little bit counts. While in line at the bank waiting to cash the thousand of dollars in money orders my thoughts were divided between how I was going to spend the surplus and whether or not the FBI were tracing me right then and there. Would they shove me into a non-descript minivan as I walked out of the Union? Or would I walk away a freeman and finally be able to afford that laptop i'd been eyeing?

I gave my money order to the banker. She stared at them, flipped them over, looked at them closer, and flipped them over again. "Aren't you going to give it a whiff?" I almost wanted to say before she slipped it through a machine. "Sweet," I thought, "iBook here I come." She ran it again through the machine and looked at the money order some more. Something was wrong. She told me to remain in place as she went to the back of the Credit Union for her supervisor.

It's not going to be that bad, I thought. What, six, seven months in prison for attempted fraud? Besides it would probably just be minimum security. I could play cricket with the rest my fellow inmates before our daily rations of bologna sandwiches and jello-cups. They could teach me computer hacking tricks and I could show them how to burp the ABCs.

The banker returned with a portly woman who carried herself with the air of one who is the supervisor, of one who means business. I remembered watching the shows about those guys who cheated the Vegas casinos on the History Channel and thought to myself that I too was about to be "back-roomed" like they were. I wondered what my masked silhouette would look like on-screen as I related my story of crime some odd years later. I would have to make sure that the voice-alteration wouldn't make my voice sound too robotic or high-pitched.

"Please step into my office," the supervisor said to me and we made our way forward. "These money orders do not appear to be real money orders," she explained as we sat across from each other in her office. Spurious, dubious, counterfeit, not real. I explained to her my situation with complete honesty. She suggested that I go to the cops. I was relieved enough that she didn't call them on her own and told her that I would try to see to it when I found some free time after graduation, which was only a few days away at that time. Now instead of getting hustled by internet thieves i'm hustling the system working weird hours and scoring better employment on my own. I'M MAKING MY OWN LOOT AND NOT STEALING IT FROM OTHER NATIONS,THOMSA,YOU FOERIGN MISSPEELING SCUMBAG.

And, after instances just like mine i'm sure, the Credit Union has responded with mass e-mails and flyers posted all over their offices. Hopefully no one else get played by Thomas Pink the Fink.

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