Category Archives: Fraud

Of Airstream Campers, and Intrigue

OK, readers- this blog is 100% non-WLAN related. I want to get that right out there. But it does feature observation, conspiracy theory, mystery, and just an odd data set that I believe is not what it seems on the surface. At the end, there may be no real point. But if you’re in the mood for a weird tale, read on.

The Quest Begins

Now that our kids are grown, my wife and I are looking at different ways of filling our time. We’ve always camped in some form or fashion, and we got it in our heads recently that we want to get a modest, used Airstream. One of these, if you’re not familiar:
airstream
They are somewhat hard to find (and at a reasonable price), yet at the same time those who have them tend to love them. And they are still being made.

So… how is this weird? Stay with me… that’s coming up soon.

Figures Lie, Liars Figure (maybe)

We’re doing the usual routine. I’ve looked at many used camper websites, on Airstream owner forums, and all over Craigslist. Which gets us closer to the mystery. I stumbled across this web site, which I thought could be useful.
airstream1

After all, it’s a nice collection of Airstream adds. Or does it show something more? Something…systematic and nefarious? I’ll tell you straightaway, I don’t think that many of these adds are valid, and that they are actually conveying some non-obvious information to unknown parties. Or just as likely- this is a massive scam.

Yeah, I get it. You think I’m nuts. I’m OK with that. Let’s keep going, though, as I will back up both theories.

Something is Wrong Here

Have a look at this series of 2003’s, clipped from that list:
airstream2

Note:

  • 11 Similar adds in 10 different states
  • All prices within a few bucks
  • All prices start with $3,4xx
  • All dates awfully close to each other

This particular camper just doesn’t sell for these prices- EVER.
airstream3

The Scam Theory

In digging around the Interwebs for information to support my gut feeling that something is wrong in The Republic of Used Airstreamia, I came across this very similar plot.
Airstream4

Coincidentally- the one from the big list above in Syracuse also said in the add that they were selling it for $2,500, just like the “Jessica Walker” fraudster shown here. (Sadly, scammers are everywhere- like on Amazon.)

Bullshit Ads- The New “Numbers Stations”?

My gut tells me that I stumbled across fraud and scam. But- I promised intrigue, and I darn well deliver what I promise, I tellya. First of all, if you are not familiar with the Cold War concept of “numbers stations”, go get educated. All set? Good, let’s finish up here.

What if these sorts of orchestrated BS adds were a new way of hiding information in plain sight? Where you and I see a simple Craigslist (or similar) ad, but anyone from spies to drug cartels to terrorists see encoded information? If their phones or PCs were confiscated, all their browsing history would show is that somebody was interested in Airstreams. Or cameras, or whatever- assuming there is more of this assery afoot out there.

But with some sort of key, those odd-looking ads might be decoded to give the mysterious bad guy or spook instructions or status updates of some sort. Hmmmm.

I have no doubt that these sorts of activities occur in some form or another. Whether these Airstream ads are fraud or hidden messages is something I can’t definitively know, but I do know that they are one or the other. And I also know that things are often not what they seem in this crazy world.

Meanwhile… anyone selling an Airstream?

The Curious Case of Bogus Amazon Sellers

I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting that I generally love Amazon. The access to massive product variety, frequently great prices, the whole Prime feature, and a sense that you can really trust the entire framework just makes Amazon easy to appreciate. But that trust thing… well, lately I’ve had it rocked a little bit when it comes to Amazon. Here’s the executive summary:

  • I have found multiple clearly fraudulent sellers in the “used” category
  • I’ve engaged Amazon’s customer service and investigations staff, had my suspicions confirmed and told by Amazon they’d get rid of the bogus sellers
  • The same sellers keep coming back, and they are pretty convincing if you don’t know better
  • There seems to be no way for Amazon to keep them out
  • Dealing with Amazon in this regard is kind of like talking with children who speak another language, and who also happen to be watching TV or something as you speak to them

Now let’s look at a real-world example.

LinMartone

Please note the instructions for how to engage this seller- you have to leave the Amazon framework and communicate through Gmail. We’ll go there in a bit, but also note the seller’s name “Lin.Martone”. This one has also shown up as:

  • LI N Martone
  • LinMartone

and each variant has a different gmail account to go with it. On this item, there have been NUMEROUS bogus sellers that come and go, all with the same “email me if you want this” and all with a price that’s too good to be true (hence the draw). All of this has been shared with Amazon via emails and calls. In each case, Amazon agrees fraud is in play, yet it it keeps coming back.

Being a veteran of many an investigation, I decided to follow one of these out before enaging Amazon for the first time. Here we go… bogus seller here is ter.kansey@gmail.com (you’ll love the spoofed Amazon page that’s coming):

terkansey

Realize- we’ve already broken Amazon’s rules here, by leaving the web framework and communicating directly. The response- a sloppy cut and paste of a reply to somebody named Shane.shane

bogusexchange

wierd

Here is where it gets good- sent in my inbox, a very official looking “Amazon page” complete with bogus order number.  I have to think that at this point, many shoppers might be fooled.reallooking

not valid

a-z

not

started

last

This person was trying to get me to buy an Amazon gift card, and read them the number as payment for an item that would most assuredly never come. When I called Amazon and shared this all with them, I found a number of challenges in dealing with customer service.

  • You can’t share any of these sorts of screenshots- only email headers (which I did)
  • When I mentioned fake order numbers and well-crafted fake phishing style pages being provided via email, I don’t know if it even registered with the person I was speaking with
  • I pointed out over multiple calls and online reports at least half a dozen bogus “sellers” on this item alone, all with same methodologyFraud
  •  You get the general feeling that Amazon could really care less, and that you are a bit of a bother when you engage them on this over the phone
  • The same “sellers” keep coming back
  • That anyone can join the Amazon used market as seller and then be allowed to tell customers to go through email and break Amazon’s rules WITHOUT AMAZON THEMSELVES CATCHING IT is bewildering

And that’s it. I’ll still use Amazon for new items, but am thoroughly spooked at how loose and sloppy this end of their used market is. I hope this blog can help even one person not to get scammed by what seems to be pretty common on Amazon.

Cheers!

ADDENDUM- Thanks, Stephen Foskett for taking this issue up on your own blog, and summarizing what to watch out for: (lifted from Stephen):

Here are the hallmarks:

  1. Too-low round-number prices roughly half the retail cost
  2. Items sold as used but with specific notes that they’re actually new
  3. Instructions to email to begin the transaction rather than using the Amazon site, including obviously obfuscated gmail addresses with spaces between letters
  4. “Just Launched” seller profiles with no ratings

Be careful out there!