Heart Attacks: Installment Two
The Promise of a New Day
Read the first installment before this one, please.
I write for adults, so if you’re easily shocked, perhaps stay away from this one.
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You’ve met Noel. Now the women: meet Ellison Azell, age 29. Former high school salutatorian. I taught her in Comparative Government eleven years ago. Yeah, I was a teacher for a long time, a long time ago. She killed a guy on a motorcycle the night of graduation, well rather, he killed himself. He pulled his bike in front of her from a side street as if he had a sincere death wish. She had no chance to avoid splattering him good. She called me at the commencement ceremony to tell me, in tears. Back then she was going to be a US Senator. Could have been too, but that’s hard work. Stripping was easier, so she did that for a few years and then found rock and roll. She played bass in band called And Then I Came, but the band had just broken up amidst some rancor, unrealized dreams, and love gone wrong, so she was stranded in Seattle when I offered her this gig. I knew she’d accept. She and I have a bond way beyond student and teacher or old friends. We’ve never been sexually intimate, never done anything beyond hugging, but we are intellectually intimate soul-mates for sure. When she was 16, just a sophomore, Ellison had won the state championship in radio broadcasting. She absolutely shredded the competition, thousands of older students going to prestigious colleges, with very little effort. When she got her trophy, she gave it to me, saying, “I did all that for you. I knew you wanted me to do it. I really never cared about it myself.” I smiled. That trophy meant more to me than awards I’d won. We had a strangely strong bond.
Ellison was to be the marquee performer in this operation and I knew she’d run with it. I’d give her basic scamming scenarios and she would take them in ten new directions that I’d never imagined. She’d call me at 3 a.m. and say, “What if we tried this on overweight, Midwestern divorcees?” or “I think I can get into the Russian bride market by posing as thirty different women on thirty different websites if you help me come up with believable Russian names.” Truly, she was a coup.
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Britney was far more worrisome. In this venture, you have to trust your partners completely. They’re employees, but they’re also partners by definition and you’re all tied intractably together. If anyone of us screws up, we could all pay dearly: violence, prison, lawsuits, death. I knew Noel from childhood. I had taught Ellison. But I didn’t know shit about this girl.
Britney was 19 and she liked to freelance but she’s neither as savvy nor as talented as Ellison. As I said, I know Ellison and know that she’s smart and will listen. Ellison has a nine lives quality about her. She can get out of shit, and that’s a must here. Britney, who knows? But like Noel, any port in a storm so you can run the scam. It’s not like you can takeout an ad on Craig’s List for a talented and poised liar who also happens to look nice in lingerie, so you make do. A second female voice/face doubled our potential opportunities, along with our potential headaches. Ellison had met Britney in San Francisco and vouched for her. “I’ll make sure she doesn’t fuck up too badly,” she’d said. Hardly a ringing endorsement, but I said yes. And once on board, Britney’s very first pronouncement was that her name was now “Porcelaine.” I liked it. Extremely pretentious with high sales potential. Lonely men love stripper names.
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(Ellison, on the phone)
“…my first first sexual experience was actually rape. [nonchalant/ emotionless, dragging off a cigarette]….
[male voice on other end/ slow, deliberate, intelligent] “Don’t confuse rape with sex. Maybe it’s better if you think of that as “Your first violent experience.”
(Ellison, covering up phone mouthpiece, speaking to Dan, her roommate) “I’ve got him. He’ll pay at least a grand now. But I’ll have to travel to see him.”
She was in her in her element, playing the game for keeps. Part hide-and-seek, part seduction, all psychology.
(Ellison on phone again in background)
“If you spit on the sidewalk now, I’ll be there before it dries.” Hangs up and smiles to self. Uses phone to reserve a plane ticket for Houston.
Ellison Azell was absolutely born for this.
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(Envision a watery, flooded ghetto scene: Lagos, Nigeria.)
I embrace globalism enthusiastically, from the WTO to the World Cup. The labor unions and Rush Limbaugh types who decry it are dinosaurs and fools. The internet is unfettered globalism at its finest, and that aspect of the Personals scam is what got me into it in the first place. The love-scams trade was global and the market was growing. New areas could be tapped, exhausted and abandoned and onto greener pastures ahead the law, the bitterly duped, or any other obstacle to business. And realizing this, new players had entered the game. For years Russian women had taken men in Europe and North America for large sums-mostly they swindled Texans with their big egos and big wallets-but now the playing field was changing.
How to Stand Apart in a Crowded Field
The personals scammers generally made several obvious mistakes that our operation could avoid. First, being foreign they aroused suspicion. The internet is now full of websites exposing specific Russian women – photos, names, and verbatim email correspondence- as scammers, often in the “brides abroad” and on-line dating markets. The city of Kirov, three hours north of Moscow, has developed a cottage industry of personals internet scamming, running large operations out of warehouses which are untouched by local officials who have been bought off to ignore such activities.
And now the West Africans were encroaching into this well-trodden territory, led by the rapacious Nigerians. Apparently, the Nigerians didn’t believe they could profitably market women from Sub-Saharan Africa to the North American and European markets. I felt strongly this was their biggest error in judgment. Attractive Nigerian women could have been a novel approach, especially with more liberal targets in Canada and Western Europe. However, the Nigerians apparently believed that fronting black African women would unmask their operation as obviously being a Nigerian scam. (Nigeria since the 1990s has been synonymous with internet fraud of one sort or another, leading to the notorious “419” ads placed by the Nigerian government in The Economist and Financial Times warning foreigners who should have known better not to cable five-figure sums to Nigeria for dubious land investments schemes.)
So the Nigerian fraudsters hid behind the white Eastern European models posted on the dating sites. (Picture a fat black man, smoking cigar, posting the profile of a beautiful European woman/ Lagos). Sometimes the Ghanians would place would place a beautiful model on the personals sites with “Accra, Ghana” listed as her hometown, counting on the global ignorance of most Americans. Why a gorgeous and well-heeled Caucasian would hail from a country whose populace was 99.9 percent black and had a per capita income of $250 per year might escape the obliviously lovelorn.
So with the Nigerians, the Ghanaians, and the Senegalese fighting over ever-tighter scamming dollars against the Russians, Ukrainians and Latvians, we needed to stand apart. I had a different approach in mind. All scammers used all the available personals sites available, match.com, singlesnet, Yahoo personals, cupid.com, eHarmony, et al. The idea was use to them all and spread the bogus bait around as widely as possible. But that was where any similarities in marketing strategies and style ended between us and the competition.
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The key to discerning a scam profile on a dating site lay in analyzing the photos first. A trained eye can spot a phony profile instantly. Simply put, if a woman looks too good, if the photos look too slick, or the costuming too elaborate,* it’s a fraud. A beautiful woman doesn’t need the personals to meet men. End of story. [An actual woman, that is to say a legitimate single person, will have normal looking photos of herself in jeans, in a football jersey, maybe in one photo dressed for work. She might look pleasant, but not stunning.]
- Look for backless dresses, overly sexy lingerie shots, anything with a limousine in the picture.
Aside from the photos, the personal bio information-the brief introductory essay-is another dead giveaway. The Eastern Europeans write in a stilted, awkward style of English, often getting idioms wrong because they are using an internet translation service to get Cyrillic text into English. But the West Africans are even easier to spot. They write in an unmistakably garbled patois. I call both styles of writing “Scamblish.” Here is a brief example from a Ukrainian scammer:
am 26. would like to know better you and have serious relationship am very Christian and put God first above all other else. someday would family like and be devoted to a good man only, am beautiful, ambitious and intelligent
Punctuation and capitalization are inconsistent. Grammar and syntax are askew. Idioms are completely misused. Once a foreign scammer contacts receives a reply from a mark, “her” letters will profess love all too readily. Here’s one Noel got as a third email correspondence from a purported Russian hottie:
My dearest Noel how I think of you today at work…my mom notice that I cannot keep my head straight on the sidewalk these days. oh Noel when we meet I will fall into your arms Noel and we will be happy together In my head I am full thought for you. Is it same for you I wonder. Noel, our love was written in the sky and the wind swept it away…our love was written in the sand and the ocean washed it away…so I wrote it in my heart where it will always stay your love Nadia
That final line was classic Scamblish. It was clever emotional collateral. In fact, that line is now a signature of the Nigerian and Ghanian posers. The Eastern Europeans quit using it five years ago. I decided that if I ever really fell in love myself, I was going to use it sincerely. Like finding a diamond in a dung heap, that line was the most beautiful thing I’d crossed in the otherwise repugnant field of scamming.
So Scamblish can be easily spotted by even a mildly trained eye. But you wouldn’t believe how many middle-aged, single or married, wealthy or middle-class, men fall for it. Egos kick in and they don’t want to think a beautiful young woman from Ukraine or Russia or Ghana could be anything but head over heels for them after exchanging only two online photos and four emails. Still, I still have fun playing with these rival scammers. Look, if they’re actually scamming someone, then my operation loses a potential client. That’s one less mark we could bilk and thus money from our pockets. But we’re better at it. Much more believable, patient, subtle and thus, much more likely to score a big pay-day at the end.
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So what we do is get some male pictures; the uglier, fatter and older, the better. Scammers look for that. I’ll ten to twenty at a time on any national dating site we can find, all of them, for every metropolitan area with a population of at least 500,000. Well, Noel does the actual work of course. He fills out the profiles and posts the phony photos that we get from relatives, friends, cropped from Facebook or other websites. Then we make up a name like Charles Barkley or Craig McTavish or Harmon Killebrew or some other bogus sounding name and let the games begin. When the rival scammers take our bait, we tie them up for a couple of months until they ask for the payoff – usually money for a plane ticket, sometimes help getting an exit visa, sometimes their mom is sick and they need to pay her doctor bills, anything. We stall as long as we can, pretending to try to be getting the money together, but eventually they quit responding to our calls and emails, deciding we just didn’t have deep enough pockets to be bilked. It’s like blocking in football; we keep the opposition tied up for awhile.
By the way, during the “conversing stage” with scammers, you can write anything you want. They don’t respond to specific comments or questions generally, and have a standard text that they’re working from. You can tell them you want to cum on their face, spank their ass with a mallet, or wear your hair in a mullet – they won’t read it anyway. (And remember, it's often a man posing as a woman in any event.) Noel and I created some interesting games in this regard, quickly growing tired of the obscene and instead opting for esoteric theoretical poses. We often asked the scammers if they had “ever considered any real truths?” We were sure we hadn’t.
This allowed us another chance to stand out. We answered our correspondence in specific and explicit detail. If a target liked sports, we’d ask him about his teams. We would mention a target’s children by name, inquire about his job, mention his city, and so on. And if our “suitors” got overtly sexual, we danced around it, flirting, but playing hard to get. We never expressed love until the client did, if they did. By then, it was time to send Ellison or Porcelaine on the road to consummate the scam.
Neither minded fucking the targets if necessary and both did from time to time. Generally, it never got that far.
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Next installment: Deep searing, emotional pain.