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The Nigerian Scam Strikes Again

Caught in an Internet con, courtesy FedEx.

I went on the company's website, www.superfinerose.com, to learn more about the self-proclaimed "place for Big lace, Damask and Headtie." But beneath the smiling pictures of the African models was a suspicious sign: an address in Korea. And the website would work even better, my computer advised me, if I downloaded the script for the Korean language. Perhaps Big lace translates as Big Scam in Korean.

Several of the beneficiaries of Patricia Calhoun's fraudulent largesse insisted that they'd never heard of superfinerose. com, although one did mutter something about doing some work for someone in China before she hung up. But others said they'd recently advertised items on eBay, which shows the next direction this scam is headed: You advertise an item for $400, a buyer sends you a check for $4,000, then e-mails you that, oops, he made a mistake, and why don't you just deposit the first check, keep $100 or $200 or $500 for your troubles, and then send the rest back to the sender. After you do that, of course, the bank discovers that the initial check you deposited was a forgery — but you've already sent real money to the scammer.

Between chats with my new penpals, I called the U.S. Postal Service (which has to be relieved that the con now relies largely on the Web and commercial delivery outlets) and filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission's identity-theft site, which lists other steps to follow, including notifying credit-reporting agencies. One of my Pennsylvania correspondents had found a very useful FedEx worker in Twin Falls, who'd told him that 41 packages had been dropped into the box that day. But when I called the Twin Falls office, I reached a much more officious FedEx worker who said the helpful fellow was only a part-time carrier who had no authority, and what was I doing with their internal office line, anyway? Gee, I responded, a lot less than the person they'd let open a bogus FedEx account with myinternal office line.

The Denver Police Department clerk who took my complaint wasn't much more enthusiastic, even though I was careful to file a report that didn't contain a single typo or grammatical error that might mark me as a Nigerian Scammer. He only perked up when it came to the line of potential suspects — a cast of characters too large to list, since I'd had a host of workers trudging in and out of my flooded, asbestos-riddled house all winter. Then there was the write-in candidate for city council who'd threatened to shoot up the office because of a Kenny Be cartoon, although it was unlikely that his scooter could make it to Twin Falls. But hey, how about that adult bookstore where I'd charged a set of handcuffs for a wedding present a few days earlier? And that doctor out on bond for treating strippers in exchange for porn might have skipped out on his bond...

But even with a suspect, it's hard for a local department to make a case, since these scams stretch around the globe. Even as I was pulling all the superfine rose.com strings last week, I talked to a Denver teenager who'd advertised his paintball gun on eBay, gotten a check for ten times the amount he was asking, and then was told to ship the gun and a money order for several thousand dollars overseas — which he was ready to do when he found out that the check he'd deposited was counterfeit. And another man in Littleton who was trying to do some business on eBay suddenly found that he'd opened a FedEx account — which was doing a land-office business shipping phony checks out of Georgia.

"We work very cooperatively with all levels of law-enforcement agencies," explains a FedEx spokesman, who then declines to say exactly how they all work cooperatively, since that might tip off the scam artists. "We vigorously defend the use of our network from illegal shipments."

Perhaps, but when I caught the FedEx logo on a midnight rerun of Cast Away this weekend, I changed the channel faster than I deleted the 100 persentage legit Job Offer that just arrived in my inbox.

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