Anatomy of a Scam, Rappahannock Style

By Audrey Regnery
Special to the Rappahannock News

I smelled a rat when the reservation came in. It was too good to be true, too unusual, too stilted. Yet a sale like this was, at first blush, hard to turn down.

“We will like to make holiday booking in your lovely hotel,” the email said, “to celebrate my wife 50th birthday along with my children. I will be requesting for 3 double bed or king bedrooms for 15 days.”

The days in question? The last two weeks in March.

“Kindly get back with total cost for 3 double rooms or 3 king size rooms.”

The children, they said, were 19, 21 and 24.

My first reaction was that we would have, if they showed up, a family fight on our hands to end all family fights. Fifteen days in March, in Rappahannock County, with three kids 19 to 24?

Even Monopoly, Scrabble and all the Netflix movies in the world would get old after a couple of days.

“Normally,” I wrote back, “it would be $15,681.30 for those rooms for fifteen days.”

But my generosity got the best of me and I told them they could have the place, breakfast included, for a cool $15,000.

“And by the way,” I wrote, “payment up front, no refunds, no checks. Credit card only.”

Old Markus, as he called himself, couldn’t have been more pleased.

“Thank you so much for the offer,” he wrote. “The final total cost is reasonable, go ahead and make the reservation.” And he provided three Visa cards.

“Charge $5,000 to each and send the receipts back to me at 3 Marybank Ave in London, and thank you very much.”

So into the systems went the Visas. Wasn’t I surprised when the charges cleared the bank? Maybe this was legit. Maybe they just didn’t speak very good English. Maybe they would show up?

But maybe, I wondered, did these unsuspecting folks think they’d be staying in DC for two weeks, not Little Washington? But just for safety sake, I put the money in a different account where there’d be no chance of a “claw back” by Visa.

But then the fishy odor arose again. The email confirmation — to the email address Markus had provided — was answered by somebody saying what are you talking about? We don’t know anything about 15 days in Rappahannock.

“Maybe I should call Visa to see what they know,” I thought.

The cards had been cancelled, I was told, but Visa could not tell why. This was not our problem, said Visa; you need to call Chase Manhattan, who issued the cards.

“Definitely stolen cards,” said Chase. “The cards have been cancelled and are void.”

But if that’s the case, I asked, how come the $15,000 is now in my account?

Must have slipped through the cracks, answered Chase. “We just have a large number of fraud cases and are way behind. But we will look into it.”

After several more days came the clincher.

“There is a huge problem in my life at the moment,” wrote Markus. “I rushed my wife to hospital last night, she collapsed while trying to serve our dinner. Today she was diagnosed of CANCER after series of test and scan and still in coma.”

And by the way, he wrote, “due to my unpleasant and terrified mood I lost or misplaced my wallet with other credential like credit card . . . ” And would you be so kind as to refund my money on this other credit card?

Not interested in giving Markus $15,000, I ignored his plea, waiting instead to hear from Chase. But Markus wasn’t giving up easily.

A second email, threatening to destroy my business if the money was not credited to his account, arrived several days later. After a couple of more calls to Chase, they asked that the money be returned to them.

You would think that would be the end of it all. But you’d be wrong. As I write this, I am still waiting for return of merchant charges of over $800 from Visa and Chase for the benefits received from the stolen money going through their system.

Will I get it back? Probably, but it could take weeks.

A word to the wise: be very suspicious of smelly deals, and don’t rely on the credit card companies to look out for you: they won’t. Let your guard down, and you could be out $15,000.

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