I have in my hand (I am not quoting the late, great, Senator Joe McCarthy) a check for $6,000 from James Madison University addressed to me and dated mid-February. I could use $6,000—who couldn’t—but unfortunately the check is part of a three-months-long internet scam that began when I put an ad on Craig’s List offering my services to people wanting to practice conversational French.
Within days I received a query from a gentleman purporting to be in Great Britain. It read: “Hello, My name is Dr Devan Frank am interested in your lesson. I would like you to be taking my daughter (Mary, she is 16 yrs old) lesson while i am at work in your city. Am from England(UK) but I’m moving to your area because I’m having 4 weeks contract with Environmental Protection Agency( EPA) in united state. You do not have to worry about transportation, have negotiate with a cab company that will be driving her down to your place go and come.
So i want you to be taking her for 2 hours per day from Monday to Thursday for 4 weeks. Get back to me with total cost. I wait to read from you shortly, and remember she is all i have and i really want a conducive and pleasant atmosphere for her. Dr Devan Frank
Oh what the hell, let’s play along. I responded: Hello: My fees are $60 per hour. Because this is a one-time long-term contract, I will need a 50% deposit by bank check before we start. This would come to $960. Please let me know if this is agreeable. The lessons will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Thursday. They will be held at my home which I am sure your daughter will find both pleasant and conducive to learning.”
Dr. Frank’s got back to me the same day. “Thanks for your response, i can understand all what you said, i want you to help me teach her for 2 hours per day from Monday to Thursday for 4 weeks, i will like you to get back to me with the total cost, it is my financier in the united state that will sponsor me and responsible for the payment, so i want you to get all information to be use to have the payment, that i can forward it to my financier in the state to send you the check, you will be paid with Us dollar certified check.
Please get back to me with the amount and i will be glad to update you and make the payment in advance to show you how serious, because i want everything to be done before i will get back to the state. Kindly get back to me with the information so that the check will be made out to you.”
Several messages went back and forth. I wondered what kind of father Dr. Frank was to entrust his 16-year-old daughter to a man he’d never met. This, apparently, was not a major concern of his. He wrote, “Thanks for getting back to me, am ok with the time schedule, i want you to help me take good care of her because she is my only daughter, have forward the information to my financier in united state to send you the check as soon as possible. If there is any other information i will let you know.”
Dr. Frank asked that I write a check to cover the cab company’s fees and he would reimburse me. I responded, “Send me a check for the total amount ($1920) and when it clears I will arrange for a friend of mine to be your driver. She has a Cadillac Fleetwood limousine. You can then pay her separately.
In min-January, I received another message. “Thanks for getting back to me, concerning the cab driver as have told you earlier that have made proper arrangement with the cab company, so they have book me a car with a driver that will be driving me to work and also be driving Mary to your location every tutor day, the car is for me as my private car for the whole month as far as i don`t have any car in the state.
“But there was a mistake on the check issue out to you, the check have to be two, while one for the tutor and the other for the cab company which i was told that it is been issued out in one check sent to you.
Please am very sorry for this mistake made, As soon as you received the check you will cash the check and deduct your total charges and help me send the rest to the cab driver via western union which i will provide you the information as soon as you get the check.
“Because the cab company said that they will not agree in working with me by driving me and my daughter without receiving any deposit from me before we arrived to the state so you will have to do that for me as a help, the check will deliver to you very soon. Kindly get back to me as soon as possible.”
So I did. We had a lively exchange of quips—Dr. Frank, however, did not have much of a sense of humor. I was being uncooperative, he said, and there was only one recourse available. He would instruct his financier to send me a check for the full amount to cover everything—cab fares and teaching sessions.
But there was a holdup, wrote Dr. Frank, “there is a little delay on the check through the courier service. The check will deliver to your location this week possibly Tuesday. Thank you.”
The check arrived a couple of weeks later, delivered by Fedex . It looked really official. Pale blue with routing numbers, made out to me and signed illegibly by what I surmise is the bursar of James Madison. I took it to my bank. The man there laughed, not unkindly, and said he hoped I hadn’t sent any money. Dr. Frank, it seems, is a very active person in the Northern Virginia area, and he has written checks to many, many people.
Some time later, I received an irate message from the good doctor, “What’s going on there?? Could you please email me as soon as possible. Thank you.”
I told him his check had most unfortunately bounced but I would be glad to meet with him personally and we could work out the details of his daughter’s French lessons. I expect to get a response any day now.