For an audio version of this post, please click on the speaker icon (top left).
“There’s a sucker born every minute.” – P.T. Barnum
Ever since the dawn of time there have been those individuals who have worked hard to make an honest living and make money.
And ever since the dawn of time there have been other individuals who have plotted and schemed to extricate said money from these hard workers so that they can line their pockets with these ill-gotten gains.
You may think that people who fall prey to a scam are of a certain lower intellect or financial circle.
But alas con artists have upped their game and set their sites on bigger fish.
In fact some of the biggest financial scams in history have targeted the financial elite, such as what transpired in the Bernie Madoff Pyramid scandal.
Even yours truly, Xrayvsn, has not been immune, to being a scam victim.
I thought I would share a couple of instances where, against my better judgment, I pursued things that really were too good to be true (and which turned out to be the case).
Scam I: The Apple Macbook fiasco.
I was living in Ohio at the time, in the midst of my interventional radiology fellowship, and recently married.
My wife had a research position at the Cleveland Clinic and wanted a personal laptop so that she could conduct her work affairs on it.
As many of you know, anything with the Apple symbol on it commanded quite a premium.
Trying to find the best deal and lessen the financial blow led me to a website that had just the model she wanted for about $400 less than the going price.
It was offered by an out of state individual who stated that the MacBook was an unopened gift and that since she already had a similar one, she was looking to offload it.
Everything looked legit including a provided name of the individual, address, and even phone number.
As it was approaching Christmas season I knew that this item would be in high demand and I quickly informed her that I would purchase it for her asking price.
And that’s when some things occurred that should have set off warning lights but initially didn’t.
The first was a request to have the payment sent by a Western Union wire transfer for the full amount.
That in and of itself might still have made this a legitimate deal.
However the strange part was that she wanted that Western Union transfer to be sent internationally with an address located in Spain.
That was incredibly strange and did make me hesitate because her address on the listing was in the western part of the United States.
All these years later I can’t remember the exact explanation that was used requiring an international wire transfer, but I still could not bring myself to think that this was a scam.
I was instructed to complete the Western Union wire transfer and then notify this person through the listing site the wire transfer authorization number so that they could go to the designated place and pick it up.
It was greed that blinded me from this phase of the scam as I was more obsessed with the spectacular deal I was getting.
I actually called up Western Union, got all the required documentation put in and actually had the money about to be taken out of my checking account (over $1k).
But finally something caused me to take a step back.
Call it a scam guardian angel.
I told the Western Union operator to not proceed with the wire transfer but to place it on hold (so that if I did decide to go through with it I would not have to repeat all the financial details over).
The Western Union agent assured me that this would be done.
So what did I do next?
Well, as I mentioned, the original listing contained the address and phone number of the seller.
So I picked up the phone and actually called her.
It turns out that the named individual in the listing was indeed the person who picked up the phone.
I explained to her that I saw her listing about the MacBook for sale and that I was just confirming everything prior to the wire transfer.
And that is when the scam unraveled in my favor.
The person answering the phone had no idea what I was talking about.
All her personal details in the listing were indeed correct but she had never placed it or even had a MacBook to sell.
I was floored.
I was this close to being a scam victim and out over $1k.
Wanting to tie up any loose ends, I quickly called Western Union to cancel the wire transfer.
To my horror it turns out that the Western Union agent did not do what he said and that the wire had been sent.
I was livid and complained to the current agent.
Fortunately, without having an authorization number or indication the wire had already been sent, the perpetrator of the scam did not claim his or her bounty.
Western Union was able to cancel the entire transaction and I was only out on time and a bit of ego bruising.
Scam II: The Jet Body Board.
The MacBook scam took place in my early 30s.
Surely with age comes wisdom.
And surely I would have learned from my previous “too good to be true” scam attempt.
But alas neither of these things came into play as I foolishly fell for another scam.
This latest scam, I sheepishly admit, happened at the ripe old age of 49 (July 2020).
Maybe it was that my mind had atrophied during lock down from the pandemic, but the same siren call that got me all those years before got me again in this scam.
This one I did not search for.
Nope this scam came and got me.
I was on my smartphone playing Words With Friends and one of those in-game ads popped up on my screen.
A video was playing of individuals riding on some of those electric jet boards.
It looked like an absolute blast and, since I have a lake nearby, I thought it would be something my daughter could use frequently and enjoy.
The price was unbelievable.
The ad explained that there was introductory offer and, for the first 1000 boards sold, they would go for the incredibly low price of $89.99 each.
After the first 1000 sold, the price would climb to $598 which was still a bargain when you consider that a similar board board typically sells online for almost $4k.
I am shaking my head as I am typing this.
I definitely did not learn my lesson of “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.”
Made in the USA and fast shipping from California only confirmed that this was a deal of a lifetime.
It was such a deal that I ended up coughing up for 2 boards (so that my daughter and I could cruise the lake together).
I even upgraded the shipping to VIP priority ($12.99) and paid for insurance ($5.40).
This brought the total to $198.37 which I paid via PayPal.
The order was placed on July 20, 2020.
I shared the deal with my daughter who was equally excited.
Given the promise of already fast free shipping, I thought I would be on the lake in no time with the presumed ultra fast VIP shipping and therefore still salvage our COVID summer.
A week passed.
Hmmm. Does not seem like ultra fast shipping to me, especially since it only had to come from California.
Still no word from the website saying the product was even shipped or a tracking number provided.
I went back to the website and wrote multiple emails to the contact address provided.
No response. I was definitely being ghosted.
I finally decided to escalate the issue with PayPal and on August 10, 2020 I filed a claim citing that the product was not delivered as promised.
The PayPal claims policy has an algorithm they follow prior to issuing a refund.
The first step was to notify the seller that a claim was filed and give them a chance to respond/plead their case.
What was interesting was the seller’s name revealed through the PayPal claim was in all Chinese characters raising my suspicion that this may indeed not be made in the USA or shipped from California as the website claimed.
It seemed that this initial step by PayPal was finally enough for the website to unghost me.
On August 12, 2020, just 2 days after the claim was initiated, I got an email from, based on the name, a presumably Chinese individual who apologized for the lack of communication stating it was an issue with their mailbox system and that delays in shipping were the result of COVID-19.
They provided me with a tracking number and said the product was already in transit and could not be refunded (which I asked for on the initial emails).
Unfortunately the tracking number they provided was not valid and I forwarded the results to PayPal to strengthen my claim.
The PayPal claims team still was hesitant to issue a refund despite me protesting that this clearly was a scam.
Several weeks passed and I again contacted PayPal which subsequently lead to another email from the seller.
This time another tracking number was provided with the same excuse as last time.
I found it interesting that not only was the tracking number different, it was with a completely different shipping company than the first one (went from DHL to FedEx).
Regardless of tracking number or carrier, the result when I tried to track the package was the same, it was invalid.
Enough was enough and I escalated my PayPal claim further armed with yet another instance of a false tracking number.
I talked to a senior team member who went through all the communications and viewed all the photo documentation I had provided.
She came to the same conclusion that I had a month before, and agreed that this was an online scam that I had been a victim of.
I was promptly issued a full refund by PayPal on August 29, 2020.
On September 29, 2020, I was surprised to receive a package in the mail.
Was it the long-awaited pair of electric jet boards I had ordered from the website?
It was from the website, and there was a pair of them, but from the following photos I think you will agree from me that there was nothing electric about these items.
My daughter laughed when she saw what was sent and agreed that I fell for an online scam hook line and sinker.
The original website has since been shut down but not before it claimed a few more scam victims (in the comment section).
The Lesson Learned.
No matter how intelligent you are there are con artists that can still scam you.
As I have proven, even being a personal finance blogger does not make you immune from making the occasional silly decision.
And once again giving heed to the old adage “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” may prevent you from having egg on your face later on.
If you are in search of financial help, please consider enlisting the service of any of the sponsors of this blog who I feel are part of the “good guys and gals of finance.”
Even a steadfast DIY’er can sometimes gain benefit from the occasional professional input.
NOTE: The website XRAYVSN contains affiliate links and thus receives compensation whenever a purchase through these links is made (at no further cost to you). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Although these proceeds help keep this site going they do not have any bearing on the reviews of any products I endorse which are from my own honest experiences. Thank you- XRAYVSN