Years ago, when I first saw a letter from the widow of a deceased Nigerian millionaire, I was confused. The email 419 scam was in its infancy. We've watched it develop from dishonest bankers to distressed widows to bizarre British lotteries that everybody wins. Four years later, you can't empty a spam folder without seeing three or four of them—but apparently there are enough people who see the internet as a terrifying and and inscrutable place where you click things and and enter bank account numbers essentially at random that these scams appear to be flourishing. (Alternatively, there might be an urban legent in Nigeria that one stupid American once fell for one of these—but I think the first explanation is more likely. Never underestimate the power of stupid people losing money on the internet.)
Unlike most spam, I occasionally enjoy the 419 spam. The scammers will write back to you. They will send you pictures of their families (or at least of people they say are their families). They will negotiate with you in broken English. Most importantly, they allow for reciprocity. Their spam has wasted my time. I can write back and waste theirs.
I recently learned of a new scam where the scammer places advertisements for purebred dogs in traditional venues for classified ads. When somebody responds to the ad, the scammer asks for money up front. Of course, there are no actual dogs. When the victim writes back and says, "Where are my dogs?" the scammer will try to get more money to pay various fake import costs.
I got Larry Moore's email address from Daniel "yetanotherdan" in the forum. Larry had tried to place an ad in his newspaper. Daniel had written to him saying he was thinking of serving Sauteed Dog with Shiitake Mushrooms at an upcoming banquet. By the way, he asked, how many servings could you get out of the dog? Larry thought there might be two servings in a dog. (By the way, if this paragraph upset you, you should probably not finish reading this. It gets a whole lot worse.)
When Daniel gave up on Larry, I took over.
Dear Larry Moore:
I hear frome a mutual friend that you're the go to guy for purebred eating dogs. I am in urgent need of a supplier. I've blacklisted at the local petshops, so it's hard to get a domestic supplier.
Dog flank, considered a delicacy in many cultures, is the secret ingredient in my lasagna recipe—and without my famous lasagna, my restaraunt will go under. I need to keep this a bit quiet. Most of my patrons don't know what they're eating and might be upset if they learned. (Hypocritical, I say.) Anyway, let me know what breeds you have available and in what quantities. How quickly can you ship them?
Hopefully you understand,
P.S. I prefer younger dogs. While older dogs have more meat, the puppies are tender. I think it's the tears that softens them up.
Larry wrote back telling me that Yorkies went for $600 while British Bull Dogs went for $750. (I am editing these letters for the sake of length. If you want the full text, including running comments, you can extract it from this forum thread.) Which of the two would I want? My dog breeds are a little rusty, so I did a quick image search.
A Yorkshire Terrier, apparently on a plate
A British Bulldog
A quick visual inspection revealed the Yorkie to be a much cuter dog. My restaraunt definitely wanted the Yorkies.
I took a little over a day to respond. I got an email from Larry:
Hello how are you doing well i am yet to hear from you i will like to know if you are still intersted in my dog do get back to me asap.
From this point forward, whenever I waited more than about 12 hours to respond to Larry's emails, I got a similar email.
Sorry for the delay. I am certainly interested. My Restaurant, the Pickled Dachshund in Brighton, MA could definitely use a new supplier. We most interested in the Yorkies because they are more tender, even though there is not much meat on them. How many can you offer? Do you have a volume discount? We will need quite a few. Can you assure me that all of the animals are pure-bred? I would need their papers. Are they registered with the AKC?
Our mutual friend who referred me, of course, would prefer to remain anonymous. In this country, dog-eating has a certain stigma and illegality. It's fairly risky for me to contact you—particularly because I don't know whether you're with the FBI or anything. However, our mutual friend has never steered me wrong and I feel I can trust you.
Had I gone to far? Was this too over the top even for Larry and his poor English? Nope! Larry wrote back.
Hello how are you doing thanks for the reply i will like you to know that i have 5 yorkies since that is your choice and they go for $600 each i assume you know that.If you are buying more than 3 i will take care of the shipping to MA for free as discount.Their health is %100 OK! (+3months health Guarantee),AKC registered, de-wormed.I will have the puppy shiped along with her certified health certificate, vaccination and worming record, copy of USDA paper, AKC registration application for the puppy, All of thier documents are upto date. So if you are interested let me know by forwarding your full name,address and phone number so that i can arrange for the shipping.The puppies will be delivered nextday after shipping, with express shipping service.get back to me with your full name and address ok.Have a nice day
I left Larry's email intact to give you a feel of how Larry writes. Everything he wrote had that Hello-how-are-you-doing-thanks-for-the-reply-i-will-like-you-to-know, unpunctuated feeling. I don't understand why Larry was so insistent about this health guarantee. I told him I planned to eat the dogs. I'm pretty sure that would void any concievable health warranty. He seemed to want an address.
Dear Larry Moore:
I think I would like all five—but I'm a bit concerned about the price you quoted. $600 is a lot for an animal that, ultimately, I plan to cook. The Brighton Pickled Dachshund is an upscale restaurant, but we don't have an unlimited budget. I'm glad you're willing to waive shipping—but I'd really appreciate it if you came down in price a bit, particularly if we're going to do continued business. If it helps, I don't need a continued health guarantee. (I can guarantee you that the dogs will not be in good health for three months. They will be in good stomachs.)
As for a shipping address, you can get in touch with me at this address:
301 Washington Street
Brighton, MA 02135
Where will you be shipping from? Oh, finally, how old are the dogs? As I said earlier, I am mostly interested in puppies. Puppies are much more tender. How much do they weigh? (I need to calculate how many servings. I estimate approximately 2 servings per pound of meat.) Finally, what is their hair like? Is it in a puppy cut or a show cut? I would prefer a show cut because I think I could make a very nice coat out of that. Could you send pictures?
As you may have guessed, 301 Washington Street is indeed the address for the Police Department.
When Larry wrote back, he sent pictures. As he said, "from the pic you can tell how airy they are." He also agreed to bring the price down to $550 and informed me that payment would be made by Western Union money transfer. (Does Western Union do any legitimate business? Usually insisting on a Western Union money order is like waving a big red FRAUD flag.) Finally, Larry said he would talk to a friend about finding more dogs for me.
At this point, there were a number of problems. Here are the pictures he sent me:
From this, I saw a number of problems.
After another of Larry's prodding emails, I responded.
I have been away from my computer for most of the weekend. One of the puppies you sent me looks pretty small. I won't get more than a serving out of it. Perhaps we could renegotiate and get a price per pound? I'm willing to pay about $50 per pound of meat, which I believe equates to about $100 per pound of dog. Additionally, all of the dogs have puppy hair cuts. I would prefer dogs with show cuts. If we can't get show cuts, the hides are worthless to me. Perhaps you could shave them so I don't end up paying for the extra hair weight?
Is your friend able to get some extra dogs? I'm sure you're not telling your friend what I plan to do with the dogs. As you know, in our business confidentiality is of the utmost importance.
Finally, I would much prefer the dogs be shipped to the restaurant address I've given you. I've been gradually switching the name over from the Brighton Pickled Dachshund to the Brighton P.D. because I don't want the patrons to realize what they're eating.
Assuming the above terms are good for you, I'll let you draw up a contract for 50 pounds of Yorkie (shaved) at $100 per pound, which will be $500 each. If you can get me of some with a show cut, I will consider increasing that amount.
That didn't work very well. It confused Larry.
o thanks very much for your mail well i do not realy understand what you where saying in your last mail pls i will like to know how much you are going to pay for the 5 puppies my friend told me he can get 3 more for me but i do not have the pic yet i will get that for you but pls let me know the amount you are willing to pay for all 5 puppies so we can proceed.And you can trust me not to tell any one about what you are using the dogs for ok get back to me asap
Punctuation also seems to confuse Larry. I wrote back explaining to Larry that he needed to put all the puppies on a scale and tell me how much they weighed. Evidently, Larry finally figured it out.
Hello how are you doing i just weighed all the dogs i have here and they all sum up to weigh 38 pounds so i guess you will only be paying $3800 for all 8 dogs.Here is the name and address to which you will send the money to via western union money transfer,
Address..1222 W Spring St
Soonest I confirm funds I will get shipping going.
. . .
The email continues and explains how to do the money transfer. Who is Mike Jone? Well, his mailing address is a hotel. Beyond that, Google can find a Mike Jones in Monroe, GA—but the name is common enough that there's probably no connection. Perhaps Larry could tell me who Mike Jone is? Wait. Did I say Larry? Upon Marco's advice, I changed his name to Harry. Would he notice?
Dear Harry Moore:
Thank you for weighing the dogs. While it's a little disappointing that they're all so small, I suppose we can proceed anyway.
Who is Mike Jone? What does he know? I thought this was supposed to be a private matter between the two of us? I'm getting a little nervous. I have a few other questions. Why are the dogs going to the airport? Why can't they be shipped to my home address? Which airport are you sending the dogs to? Could you send pictures of the other dogs?
For my peace of mind, could we get a written contract before I send any money?
I thought the question about which airport to send them to was a fairly important question. He seemed ready to ship the dogs. Did he even know where to ship them? Of course, I assumed Harry would never commit to a written contract. It turns out I was wrong.
Thanks very much for your mail i will like you to know that mike is my personal assistant and also takes care of my account he takes care of all the money coming in and out,all he knows about the transaction is that it is a routine sale and nothing more i gave you my words that i would not tell anybody you can always count on me.I will aslo like you to know that the Dogs can be delivered to your house i was only asking cause you might preffer to come pick it up at the air port.Also regarding the written contract if you feel it is necessary i do not mind you can send it through mail and i will fill it and mail it back to you.Looking forward to your mail asap.
With Harry being so reasonable, this was getting fairly boring. I've already told him I planned to cook puppies. Is there anything more horrific I could say?
Dear Harry Moore,
I am very glad that I can also count on you. Where would you like the contract sent to? To speed things up, I could email you a contract and you could print it, fill it out, sign it, and mail it back to me. I am very excited about this. Would you be able to send me a picture of all eight of the puppies together? I would really like to see them. Ideally there would also be a fork in the picture—but mostly I just want to see all the puppies. Also, if possible, send a a picture of yourself. I would like to know who my new business partner is.
Do you have any children? If so, I would like to mail them the skeleton of one of my previous Yorkies. I know this sounds a bit grim, but puppy skeletons make fantastic puzzles. My children love gluing them back together—it's like playing paleontologist. Sometimes they get some of the parts on wrong and the final model looks a bit funny, but it's a good learning experience. Your kids will love it! Don't worry about any tissue left on the skeleton. If it bothers you, leave it by an anthill overnight and it will be clean in the morning.
Harry responded almost immediately.
Hello thanks for your prompt respone anyway it will be ok by me if you mail the contract here so i can fill it out and mail it back to you well i do not have children cause i am not yet married and i will try and get a pic of all the pups togehter so pls mail the contract asap so i can fill and mail it back to you today ok.looking forward to your mail.
I took a while to write up a contract. I needed to solicit suggestions from the forum. Sporktim suggested a number that made it into the final contract, as well as, "If the puppies taste bad, a fifty percent refund will be given." Before I could get the whole thing together, I got another email from Harry prodding me to mail the contract. I guess he was in a hurry to move these (imaginary) puppies. Once I got the contract together, I converted it to a PDF to make it a bit harder for him to fill in. I attached this contract (PDF) to this email:
I have attached a contract for your approval. The terms are standard for this business. Please print it and mail it to the address I have given you so I can sign it as well. If any of the terms are problems for you, let me know and I can have my lawyer draw up a new contract for sale.
No response came in the next 24 hours. Had Harry finally caught on? Had he actually printed it and mailed it to the police department? Had the law caught up with my dear friend Harry? Would I ever hear from him again?
Throughout this process, I had posted Harry's emails and my responses in Marco's forum. The risk, of course, is obvious. Google indexes all of it, which could eventually lead Harry to the site, and eventually spoil the game. On the upside, this would bring closure to the process in a relatively spectacular way. Rather than having Harry eventually realize I'm pulling something over on him, he'd find the site and realize not only that his scam wasn't working but that an entire group of people was laughing at his efforts. While I would never be able to see his expression when he learned this—I could imagine it.
Perhaps Harry had a difficult time filling in my contract. Perhaps he decided to search google for "Standard Contract for Sale of Puppies", hoping he could find an electronic version of the contract. Perhaps he had another scammer friend who found the thread and cued him in on what happened. When he stumbles across this article, he can leave a comment and tell me what really happened. Whatever happened, here is the next email I got from him:
is that the best you can do in your forum i all you stupid pranks are up i know what you are up to u are a jobless stupid low life mother fucxazqker who has nothing to do with the rest of his life than playing with people well u have failed woefully copy and past it to ur forum if i do not see it there i will personaly past it there i am a legit seller i now about the scam but where there are bad people that is the same place you will meet god people not fools like you i am looking foward to hearing from you maybe you will like to come and lick my asxazqs u stupid ashole bye i want to see this in ur forum ok
I considered letting Harry register and post the message in the forum—but I was too impatient. I posted it myself, then wrote back to Harry:
I'm sorry, Harry. There seems to be some confusion. You are not a legitimate seller. Legitimate dog breeders do not sell their dogs to people who plan to eat them. Similarly, legitimate dog breeders do not send Google image search thumbnails as pictures of the dogs they are hoping to sell. Typically, legitimate sellers also use punctuation—but you are, understandably, distraught.
Perhaps you meant to write "I am an illegitimate seller." This would be a bit closer—but still not technically accurate. You see, you are not a seller. Aside from the problem of not having puppies to sell, even your attempts at fraud are failing. But don't worry. I wouldn't miss posting that last email of yours for the world.
He has not responded. I don't think he will. The truth is, my inbox was getting a bit lonely. What would it do without my dear friend Harry or Barry or whatever his name is? Fortunately, I did not need to wait long. Sandra Mattew, who apparently is dying of cancer, has just written to me offering her millions for my discretion. I have offered to sell her snake oil to cure her cancer. Perhaps she will be my new friend.