The Phantom Kitten of Cameroon

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About a year ago we bought a Siamese kitten.  It was not without its difficulties.

You wouldn’t think it would be, after all, its pretty simple. Go to breeder, pay huge amount of money, bring kitten back.

But for reasons of temporary insanity, we decided to buy sight unseen over the internet.

My advice to all pet lovers is DO NOT DO THIS!

We were caught by a scam which originated in, surprise surprise not an African mainland nation but Cameroon. We knew nothing about Cameroon.  We still don’t.  We just know that the thieves were apparently situated there, using a fake bank account.  Yes, we, highly intelligent people with a history of dealing with unscrupulous people, somehow managed not to stop ourselves sending money overseas to a bank account in Cameroon.  Now in my defense I did think…Cameroon….Cameroon?  And did actually consider for a moment that this may not be legitimate.  Do you think?

You may, dear readers (all three of you), think that what follows is really just an excuse for getting all emotionally carried away by pictures of cute little Siamese kittens and yes, it is.  However, I felt it important to at least lend some gravitas to my own dumb as a box of rocks behaviour by telling the whole story so nobody else falls victim to these scams. And apparently a lot of people already have, so I am not the only one.

I will start by saying that it was my fault, even though my daughter was the one who actually communicated with the ‘woman in South Australia’ who she thought she was dealing with.  I should have pricked up my ears when ‘she’ started calling my daughter ‘dear’ too early in the piece and then continued to call her that when we started to glom on to the scam.  It clearly was not a woman at all, and even more clearly a misogynist male psychopath, who was perpetrating the crime  in the first place.  The signs were all there, I simply did not put the brakes on.  Most of these scams are held in place by the desire of the scam-ee to actually want the lie to be true.  Dare I say that most deceptions, especially over the internet, would have this as a common thread.  Ooohhhh, look at the little cute kitty cat.  Yeah, right, you mean the little cute kitty cat picture they grabbed from google images?

Obviously the key here is to ask for facts, proof, information, evidence, don’t just go on email exchanges with a complete stranger.  More importantly, don’t believe in the kindness of strangers when money is involved.  Who offers a free animal at only the cost of transport (about $250) when it would be just as easy to give the animal away in the local paper.  This is the scam.  You only pay for the transport not the actual animal.  Sounds like a deal right?  Yes and no.  Obviously.  ‘Scuse me while I revisit my stupidity and cringe in my seat whilst mentally beating myself up once again.

Now, I will just say, in my own defense, although it clearly isn’t one at all, that previous to this, a friend of a friend offered us a dog over the internet.  The people who owned the dog were moving to New Zealand and were wanting somebody to take over her care.  They emailed us a picture of said dog, gave some details.  In fact, we did not have to pay for the transport of the dog from Victoria to Brisbane because apparently their company were paying for all their transport costs.  We did ask questions on that occasion.  WHY?  I mean, why then?  Seriously?

We almost lost the deal with the owners who were apparently getting a bit upset with us for not immediately jumping for joy at a free pet.  I wanted to know more about the dog who was about a year old.  Unfortunately for me, they weren’t in a communicative mood. In fact, they didn’t even change details on the dog’s microchip record so I had to sign a declaration to prove that the owners had actually given up their ownership and given the dog to us.  Anyway, we now have Ruby. How’s this for weird.  We lost a dog called Coco in Melbourne when she got sick a couple of years previous to this.  The dog we adopted was from Melbourne and called Coco.  We changed her name to Ruby.  Strange coincidence. Anyway, that particular incident did not involve the exchange of funds between Australia and an unknown third world country.  So the odds of getting scammed were slightly lowered.

However, because of this event, we, I mean I, were less inclined to think more cautiously about what was going on with the kitten issue.  I mean, it had worked before right?  Maybe the Cameroon account was just an offshore bank account for tax purposes…..oh forget it, I should have known straight away and stopped things right in their tracks.  Part of me figured my daughter needed to have some experience in this kind of thing since she was paying for it not me. However, as I said, my own brain went on holiday during this period, I actually have no excuse.

As you can see, this kind of even is totally traumatic and even years later still humiliates and distresses people.  You do feel like an idiot. Maybe its because you were one.  Anyway, it was still fraud and theft.

So here’s what actually went down.  We found the advertisement on a domestic buy/sell website.  My daughter contacted the ‘woman’ purportedly in South Australia, chosen for its distance from most of the mainland cities I would assume.  If we had lived in Adelaide, we are sure the destination would have suddenly been moved to Perth or some such. Anyway, they had photographs of the kitten, details about when it was born etc.  My daughter and the disgusting wicked scam perpetrator had a number of very in-depth email conversations.  The ‘owner’ of the photograph of the pretend kitten wanted to know a great deal about her and wanted to make sure that the photograph of the kitten was going to the ‘right person’.  How could you doubt that kind of integrity right?  Of course right.

So when the immoral scam artist decided that his stolen photograph of a kitten was going to go to a good home, he dropped her in it.  She needed to send $250 via some weird teller machine in a – get this – 7-11 store (ANOTHER BIG RED FLAG YOU IDIOT!!) to an account in Cameroon.  Yes, I did think what I said before, Cameroon doesn’t sound good right, but we had already figured we knew who we were dealing with.  When we asked a question about the account, the ‘lady’ told us it was all OK as she had done this kind of thing before.

Ugly Cameroonite scammer now told us that we would have only to wait another 6 or so hours until about 6 p.m. that night (the amount of time ironically it would take for the funds to clear to the fake bank account in said unknown African country).  We were so excited.

All this had happened so fast, we did not tell Steve until later that day.  His first instincts were correct (of course) and he checked the name of the pet carrier on the internet.  My husband is our knight in shining workboots.  He rang us straight back when he found out that the carrier in question does not transport animals.  Yes, that is right, the carrier that the idiots in Cameroon told us they were using does not actually transport animals.

Cue ‘that can’t be right’ cognitive dissonance and cries of distress at own stupidity suddenly dawning on one’s brain.

So we emailed the ‘lady in South Australia’.  All I can say is that the absolute calm and apparent integrity of the ‘lady’ was totally gobsmackingly outrageous. This piece of trash was still telling our daughter that everything was going to be OK, and we would get our little kitty on time, and just to have patience.  Something about the sliminess of that response finally got our crap-o-meter working.  So I looked up pet purchasing scams on the internet.  Well, that one came up immediately.  We knew straight away we had been had.

So I wrote to the dirty mongrels pretending to be my daughter.  Two can play at that game!  Yeah, I sure showed them.

I told them that we were on to them, that they were not going to get any more of our money and that they needed to repent of their sins or they were going to hell.

Apparently, the scam ran that if you wanted to get the kitten you had to pay more money to the transport company who failed to tell you about these hidden costs that suddenly became payable.  So not only were they liars and thieves, they were blackmailers!

It was actually pretty disturbing frankly.

What was even more disturbing was that when I wrote to the scammers telling them we were on to them, they pretended to be deeply offended and told me that I would regret being ‘mean’ to them when the kitten turned up on our doorstep.  They were even now still trying to play games with us.  Not only that, but I suspect they were still buying time, knowing that there was a window of opportunity for the Federal Police to track them.  Unfortunately we didn’t contact the Feds in time, but we did give them the details of the scam for future reference.

What killed me was that these psychopaths were still trying to make me feel guilty for their abuse.  It’s absolutely typical in fact of all lifelong abusers.  They are so good at what they do that they feel no remorse, have no conscience and actually think that they have the right to tell you off for calling them on their abuse.

So obviously, lesson well learned, my daughter lost $250, but as we commiserated with her afterwards, we said that you could blow that much on a shopping trip and probably not actually notice that much.  I know that sounds shallow and ridiculous, but at the time we were trying to salve our wounded pride as much as anything.

We did end up getting a Siamese kitten.  We bought her from a reputable breeder for $800 and drove to the establishment in our own car to ‘vet’ the animals for ourselves.  We also were given a proper certificate of authenticity and medical records for the animal.  Although the Scameroonites promised to send papers also, we did not see them BEFORE we sent the money.

We were very tempted just after we realised we had been had to email the scammers and tell them we just got the kitten, thankyou very much and tell them how excited we were and thankyou for helping us etc. and then send them another google picture of a Siamese kitten.  It would not have gotten our money back, but I would have loved to have seen the confusion on their faces.

Moral of the story – the use of emotional manipulation via pictures, stories and lies is a common factor in scams.  When it comes to the internet and total strangers, do your homework, trust nobody and keep your money in the same country.