Red flags and bullet dodging


As part of our recent (and ongoing, as of this writing) home renovations, we decided to sell the antique dining room set that my parents gave us around fifteen years ago. We loved the set but simply no longer had a place to put it. I talked to my dad to make sure he didn’t want it back, but neither he nor my sister had any place for it either. We called a couple of antiques dealers but they said that dining room sets rarely sell anymore. One of them said they wouldn’t take it at all, and the other said they might be able to give us $300 for the whole set.

We were disappointed so we decided to try kijiji.ca and Facebook Marketplace to see if we could get something more. I listed the set at a very optimistic $1000. I figured if it didn’t sell, I could drop the price by half and still get more than the dealers offered. After a week of silence, I lowered the price to $700. A couple of days after that, I received two separate messages, thirteen minutes apart, from the same guy. They were worded slightly differently; one said:

Graeme, I’m very interested! Please contact me if this is still available. My name is [removed], my cell number is [removed] and my email is [removed]. I noticed that you lowered your price. I will be more than prepared to restore the original price and more.

Right away I was suspicious. The first red flag: it looked like he has two stock messages that he sends for such things and accidentally sent both. If I sent two responses saying the same thing, I’d probably delete one of them. Trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe it was an honest mistake – he responded but then a weird thing happened on the web site and he wasn’t sure if it went through, so he had to rewrite it. No big deal.

The second (and bigger) red flag: he’s not only willing to pay more than the advertised price but with no prompting, he offers to pay more. Perhaps he really likes the set and wants to make absolutely sure he gets it. But if that’s the case, I would think you’d wait to see if there is any competition – why pay more if you don’t need to?

Scam Alert

I responded saying that the set was still available but that it was packed away in a trailer so he may not be able to see it for a couple of weeks. He responded that he was moving to London (Ontario) in a couple of weeks so that might work out well. Then I had a change of heart (don’t let the buyer forget about the thing you’re selling, strike while the iron is hot, all that sort of thing) and told him we could unpack the trailer easily and he could see it anytime he wanted. The next couple of messages raised a couple more red flags:

Hi Graeme, I’ve been viewing so many items on kijiji today, I’ve forgotten which dining room set it is and the asking price. Perhaps you could help. Also, in which city are you located?

I’m not entirely sure why this was a red flag, and perhaps if red flags 1 and 2 weren’t there this wouldn’t have been a problem, but it just increased my already growing suspicion. I sent him the link to the kijiji page and told him I lived in Waterdown. He responded again:

The earliest I could be there is Saturday, November 17, 2018. … I will contact my relatives in Waterdown to see if they could assist. … I could transfer the money through an e-transfer, send a courier to your location (not Canada Post), or whatever.

Since I was already suspicious, this raised a few more red flags. First, who includes the full date including the year in an email like this? I’d have said something like “The earliest I could be there is Saturday (the 17th)”. Second, he really has relatives in Waterdown? Waterdown is not a big place. The original ad said “pickup in Waterdown”, so you’d think if he had relatives living here, he’d have remembered what town it was (i.e. “Oh, he’s in Waterdown. Uncle Bob lives in Waterdown”) Maybe he’s got relatives all over this area so that didn’t narrow it down.

And finally, he offered to e-transfer the money and send a courier to pick up the set. Sending money by e-transfer isn’t a problem, I’ve sent and received money that way many times, but the courier thing bothered me. I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with it or how he could scam me using that method but the fact that he didn’t seem to want to meet in person raised a big red flag. Perhaps he’d tell me he’d transfer the money but not do it before the courier arrived. Maybe he figured that I’d want to avoid inconveniencing the courier by letting him take the set before payment was verified.

I responded again saying Saturday would be fine but I would only accept cash. He said that cash was no problem. This all happened on Sunday the 11th and I heard nothing from him all week.

On Friday, I sent him two messages asking what time on Saturday he was coming. After receiving no response, I sent another on Saturday morning saying that if I didn’t hear back I’d assume he was no longer interested. I finally got a response on Saturday afternoon:

I apologize Graeme. I have neglected to do several things lately, yours included. My second round of chemo for my cancer has been difficult. I regret not being able to view, and likely purchase the items. But at this time, I will have to decline this offer. Thank you anyway.

Even more red flags.

We got a message in the middle of all this from someone else expressing interest in a much more typical fashion with no red flags, but Gail and I had enough hackles raised at this point that we both wondered if she was affiliated with the first guy. “I’ll get him excited about a sale and then drop out suspiciously, and you be the “good cop” and come in to save him, then he’ll fall all over himself selling to you. Then you write him a cheque that bounces after we have the set and we’re done.” Luckily, the second person actually did buy the dining room set and that transaction went smoothly. Ironically, she sent the money by e-transfer and sent movers to pick up the set, but before that, she showed up in person to look at it. I received the payment days before the movers arrived, and there were exactly zero red flags with her or her husband.

I still have no real proof that this was a scam, just lots of red flags, but I still feel like we dodged a bullet by not selling to this guy. It’s highly possible that this is a totally innocent exchange that I’m misinterpreting. If it is, then I apologize, Mr. potential buyer. I hope the move to London goes well, I hope the chemotherapy does its job, and I hope you find another dining room set for your new place.

But if not, then you can go to hell.

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