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Old 05-11-2006, 18:49   #1

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Grifters! (watch out)

Forgive me if this isn't well written. It's quite a story though! It's somethig to watch out for when selling a boat:

The latest person looking to buy our boat emailed me with interest in the boat saying, “I want this boat now. I can either give you gold or cash for it. Can I come up today? I’m in West Virginia.”

I thought to myself… wow… if I were only in a better position right now, I’d take the gold for sure. So grudgingly, I had to ask him for cash instead. He said, “no problem.” He went on to say how he hadn’t sailed in 20 years and just went out a few times. He wanted to know if he could single hand the 45’ boat and if I could teach him. I figured this wasn’t out of the question, and that he would be able to learn, as he said he was a pilot as well. He wanted to come up on a Saturday to do the transaction, but I asked him to hold off until Monday, so we could go to the bank together. He didn’t like the idea, but accepted.

Between Friday and Monday, I spent about 4 hours on the phone with the guy, going over details about how fast the boat was, how the systems were set up and how we would work together to give him a crash course. During that time, he said, “I can just stay on the boat while we do all this.” I said, “That wouldn’t go over too well with my wife.” He then said, “Oh, I didn’t know you lived aboard… sorry!”

By Sunday he had suggested he was bringing a female friend up for the ride. He asked how tall I was and what I weighed when we were talking about bosun’s chairs. He said he was 45 and was bring a female friend up on Monday to see the boat. He also mentioned that if I felt uncomfortable with him on the boat sailing, I could always throw him off.

He called and my wife answered on Monday. She got an instant vibe off of him that she didn’t like. I told her not to worry about it, and we waited for him. He arrived on Monday AM and I showed him the boat. We spent 2 hours going over everything. He suggested he would self survey it and that he didn’t want to go to the bank. He wanted only to do a wire to our account and let us pay off the loan and send him the title. He also suggested he didn’t want to register or document the boat this year. However, he had the gold with him and showed it to me. He didn't even go over everything in the boat.

Because I wanted cash, he said he had to cash in his gold and put the funds into his Scottrade account. He wanted me to come along for this while my wife stayed with his 60 year old female friend who had diabetes, cancer, a stomach staple and a host of other problems.

We went into Manhattan and did the exchange. Over $100,000 worth of gold. He proceeded to tell me he manages all of his friends money, he is a wiz at investing, and would manage my money any time I wanted. He was selling me hard on this. He also said he was left the gold by someone who died and was a friend of his. He talked and talked the whole time, running me ragged doing the errand with him while drilling me on boat questions. He also suggested that they stay the night with us on the boat. I said “Maybe”, but then later said I wouldn't be comfortable until after the transaction is complete.

The wire was supposed to go through that day, but he delayed it, and wanted to stay on the boat. He made it look like the wire was delayed by the gold broker.

The next day (Tuesday), he came back from his hotel to the boat to finalize the transaction. We felt something was up with the policies he was saying his accounts had, and got a bad feeling, so we called Scotttrade and found out their money wiring policies. They have a 2PM cutoff. He arranged it so that the gold transfer would not take place until after 2PM on Tuesday, so he could call his broker and tell us that we had to wait another day. Meanwhile, he kept on and on about staying on the boat. All this time, he had been asking us to move off the boat as well. Pressuring us to, actually. I kept resisting. Each time we talked, the woman would take my wife aside and talk with her, while the guy talked with me. I was very nice to him. He took us out to dinner and we took him out to lunch. I gave him books to study while we waited. I did everything I could, short of having him stay with us on the boat.

So on Wednesday, he said there was some other delay with his broker and the wire. Remember, we didn’t want a wire anyway, we wanted to just swing by the branch of our bank and do the transaction so he could direct them with the title. He wanted no part of that. He insisted on the wire and insisted that we move off the boat “now.” My wife came up with a compromise. He faxes in the order for the wire, and we would rent our moving vehicle and set up our temporary housing. We would also let him stay on the boat that night and sign all of the paperwork, which we did. We hung onto that paperwork though. We rented a $500 moving vehicle and made arrangements to meet a landlord on Thursday AM. We also packed half of our stuff into the moving vehicle. By this time, it was 8PM and dark out. We are not in the best neighborhood, so we decided we’d finish our hour’s worth of packing in the AM and move to our new place. We also wanted to make sure we waited until the wire went through, so we suggested that both parties stay in a hotel that night.

The guy went ballistic. He laid into me hard about me not letting him stay on the boat on this night, the third night of the transaction. So, frustrated, I said, “You can’t move in here until you have bought the boat.”

He went absolutely crazy on the other end of the phone, got silent for a good 10 seconds, and smashed the phone down, hanging up on me.

It was just then that everything started to click together for my wife and I and we realized what had actually happened.

1) The guy asked me many times about my age, size, height, and suggested I could “throw him overboard” if I felt weird about having him around. He said this no less than 3 times.
2) The woman took my wife away every time we interacted
3) He showed me his gold, showing it off, having me hold a bar
4) He mentioned that he used to swindle retirement money from old people but got out of that because he was “too nice” to keep doing it
5) He said I should have him manage my money
6) He (and the lady friend) said he handled all of her finances and currently used a 2nd mortgage on her house to invest and make $6K a month
7) He did nothing but brag about himself and what a great guy with money he was and how everyone considered him a friend
8) He claimed to have never sailed, but immediately understood everything about the boat – systems, sails, rigging, etc…
9) He wanted to know how fast he could get out of the area, asking if he could do 100 miles a day
10) He kept bragging that everyone loves him and he’s the nicest guy in the world, but when he called his sister in law to get a zip code for her address (he was using it because he didn’t have one he said), she was yelling at him. He said, “she hates me”, but then quickly said, no no no!! she really doesn’t hate me when I looked up from the paperwork we were doing with surprise
11) The woman had diabetes and cancer, and a stomach staple but drank half a bottle of wine at dinner, wolfed down sugary muffins quickly before eating with us when she thought we weren't looking, pretended not to be able to eat at lunch and never once took insulin or anything
12) They pulled up in a 1997 Pontiac Grand AM with a lot of bedding in the back
13) He didn’t know any more than I did about investing
14) He didn’t have an address
15) His cell phone was from LA and he claimed to live in West Virginia
16) He kept trying to get us off the boat any way possible, or stay with us on the boat overnight
17) He went nuts when I said he can’t move onto the boat until he pays for it and the funds settle.
18) He didn’t want anyone else involved in the transaction (banks, surveyors, anyone)
19) He wasn’t going to document, insure, or register the boat.
20) The lady was saying to my wife how smart this guy was, and they were comparing us. When my wife let on that I used to work at NASA, the lady clammed up and looked worried.

Getting any ideas here? He was a GRIFTER!! He was either trying to get us off the boat so he could take it, or stay with us so he could well… I don’t know what he was going to do with that one. Or… he was stalling that wire and wanting us off the boat and him on so he could just never wire the money. Yes, we played along all week this week to a grifter’s plan. Only thing he didn’t count on is the many years I spent running a small company in Manhattan. I’ve been ripped off more times than I can count, so I finally learned a thing or two from that. I didn’t let him deviate from the normal transaction process, even though he tired me out for 3 days doing it. At the end, when he realized I wasn’t letting him on until he wired the funds, he went nuts since he put so much into this grift. He put in more time and lost just a little more money than I did. We lost the rental car and he lost the hotel, although since he had the same clothes on each day, we think he was sleeping in the Grand Am.

So… if you ever go to sell your boat yourself to the public without a broker, watch out for this grift. It’s the old “I’ll move in today, but I’ll pay you tomorrow” scam.

By the way, after this experience, we have given up on selling the boat. We said, “forget it!” and we’re just going to pay this thing off and live on it no matter if we can’t go anywhere fun or not. We’ll be stuck in the North East for many years, but hey… it IS better than land life.
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Old 05-11-2006, 19:19   #2
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What a story!

You should also contact the police or the FBI. Did you manage to photograph him, his friend or their car and plates? Imagine how many others they may have scammed!

Keeping the boat for the near term may not be a bad thing either. You can still sell but take more time and do it completely on YOUR terms / schedule etc.

I would ask for bank and personal references for such a transaction. If they don't like it F em.

Alls well that ends well. Heck he could sailed off with your boat or tossed you overboard on his learn to sail voyage!

This is a story for a mag!

sv Shiva
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Old 05-11-2006, 20:14   #3
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Aloha Sean,
Good going!! I've seen lots of scams but that one was the worst. Glad you stuck to your guns. Speaking of witch, you might get one.
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Old 05-11-2006, 20:40   #4
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Yup -- that's a classic con. Good thing you picked up on it. Actually, this guy doesn't sound like he's very good at it. Left way too many inconsistencies in both the story and his presentation. Not to mention giving you way too many clues that he wasn't a totally legit buyer. He's probably getting a bit old, or drug-addled, and therefore sloppy. BTW, it probably wasn't gold, either. More than likely it had a lead core, covered in brass, with a thin gold plating. Fair number of bullion cons have used these. They look and feel right, even with the stampings.

I don't mean to lecture, but just like I've learned so much from you sailor-folks, I'll share this from my experience as a forensic psychologist: When dealing with things or sums of high value in which you come into contact with strangers -- never, NEVER, deviate from an established, professional, and completely legal showing, negotiating and transaction process. YOU set the terms, pace, and procedure. If the other party wants to deviate from that and tries to push the envelope from accepted/expected practice -- walk away from it. Frankly, the first clue from your post, to me, was when he said he wanted to buy it, that day. What sailor ever buys a used boat, sight unseen, on the same day? Not to say it hasn't happened, but they are the exception.

Other clues to look for that something's not right:

1. They seem really charming and likeable, but then seem a bit too slick and smooth. If you like them in four minutes, but start feeling uncomfortable with them in five. If they use some technical terms and jargon, but their actual knowledge of the subject is superficial. (Test it out a bit further from boats, too. Seems to be an expert in everything? Caution!)
2. Does lots of bragging? Seems like he could be doing a TV interview? Is he unembarrassed or glosses over problems? Blames stuff on bad luck, bad friends, incompetent others? Seem to be trying to overwhelm you with his presence? Bad signs.
3. Talks about living life in the fast lane. Itchy feet, a mover, a risk-taker, stimulus-seeker. Can't keep to task. Doesn't want to put in the effort to do something, learn something well. Many jobs, many relationships, many addresses.
4. Catching them in lies. Always a bad sign -- even if it is seeming insignificant. When caught, doesn't seem embarrassed, but just changes his story to comply, or seems overly effronted that you would even suggest such a thing, that "I'm an honorable man".
5. Having a callous attitude about others -- talks about "taking" people, seems to use others to put on a show for you. Seems dependent on others, even if physically capable of doing it himself. Lives off of others.
6. Poorly controlled, behaviorally. Short-tempered, hot-headed, gets angry over pretty trivial things, but then it may not last very long. If this is exacerbated by alcohol, be extra careful.
7. Not respectful of sexual boundaries. Makes impolite comments or inappropriate suggestions. Comes on to you, or your partner. Talks about his own sexual history, affairs, indiscriminate sex.
8. Talks about criminal behavior, either as a child/teenager or as an adult. Seems wary of officials, authorities. Tries to get around legal requirements, wants to do things 'off the books'.

These are some of the bigger warning signs. This isn't to say that someone who shows a bit of some of these is a problem, but the more of them you see, the more cautious you should be.

Get references, and check them, yourself. Don't just take a copy or a fax or other document he gives you himself as truth. Cons forge stuff all the time and in this digital age, they can do it very well.

And, finally, despite the fact that many of us have been bugged about not being given a "test sail", the fact is that if someone has ill intent in mind, getting you alone, on a boat, out if the middle of a large body of water is their dream scenario. Don't do it, ever.

Hope this helps.

Good job, Sean.

Intentional Drifter

Observations are gold; hypotheses, silver; and conclusions, bronze.

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.--Ben Franklin

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.--Daniel Patrick Moynihan
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Old 05-11-2006, 21:27   #5
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Thumbs up Good on you Sean!!!

Another lesson learned and it's good you shared it with all of us.

I got scamed by a book seller back in the 70's and refuse to deal with anymore door to door merchants.

Some people get deperate when trying to sell something of value and over look the hidden things that aren't right. I'm glad you ran this guy off. It could have cost you your life. Like defjef said I would have called the cops on this guy.

Glad to here your going to keep the boat after all that blood & sweat you put into it. You deserve to enjoy such a nice vessel. I sure would. I showed the picture to the wife and she said she wants it, until I told her it was on the other coast. Oooops!

Fair winds................................_/)
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Old 05-11-2006, 21:37   #6
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Lordy, I just watched Dead Calm a couple of nights ago…

So Sean, is that a flake of gold paint I see on your palm?

Good for you, sticking to your guns. I always thought you were such a softy, but you completely frustrated him. If you could guarantee getting one guy like this a week, you could have a ball with your new hobby: grifter-baiting.
s/y Elizabeth— Catalina 34 MkII
"Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt of himself to enjoy them." — G. K. Chesterfield
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Old 05-11-2006, 22:30   #7
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A new game, grift the grifter So Sean, sure glad you got out of that mess. And, the upside is, now you are staying on the water.
Old 05-11-2006, 23:14   #8
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I think the minute he said"I can pay with GOLD or cash"I would have said sorry boats been sold.Being in OZ,not to many people run around with gold bars.Is that sort of normal over your way??Mudnut.
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Old 06-11-2006, 05:59   #9

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Glad you all enjoyedd this story, even if I'm not much of a writer.

International Drifter: You description hits this guy DEAD on. Even things I didn't write. He was nice at first, then weird. He was saying awkward things about my wife. All he did was brag about his greatness, while blaming all the snafus on bankers, etc...

Mudnut: It's not common at all for people to walk around with gold bars. In fact, the place we cashed them in at was amazed at them too. They were HUGE. They weren't the normal 1oz bars. These bars were approx 5" long by 3" across by 1" thick. Oddly, the gold place did take them and did credit the guy. I think he pulled a scam getting the gold to begin with. He said he manages people's money, right? My theory was that he managed someone's money throught "power of attorney" and took these things from the person after they died.

Anyway, I like the tip about getting a gun. I used to be against that type of thing, since I normally was thinking about world cruising with one. Now... I realize the USA is a far more dangerous place than any tropical islands. Either way, I'm taking up hunting for food, so we'll have some kind of gun.
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Old 06-11-2006, 06:40   #10
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i was very lucky when i bought my boat, (over 10 years ago), the owner let me and my 2 chihuahuas move aboard immediately even though i told him i couldn't get him the money for a week. i had travelled up from the virgins by plane and had nowhere to stay and very limited funds. he asked me not to alter the boat in any way, but i started throwing things away immediately and changing the leads on sheets and installing hardware etc. i think he stopped by to see me at the marina where he had the boat docked once and was surprized i was making so many changes but didn't seem upset. we went to the bank when the money arrived, and it was a holiday so only the drive through window was open and wouldn't give him so much cash so he asked if i would put a hold on the money so he would know it was there. then i sailed away. about three weeks later, (and 500nm away), when i went to my bank, i discovered the hold we had put on the money translated to holding it in my acct and the money was still there! i immediately called the previous owner who practically burst into tears upon hearing from me and i got the hold removed so he could access the money. i had already registered the boat in my name.
grifters are terrible people with no conscience, you should definitely put this man's name on some kind of watch list sean, he won't be deterred long before he looks for his next mark.
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Old 06-11-2006, 08:45   #11
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Grifters, con artists, etc. are almost always people that, in my business, we call psychopaths. There are many more of these folks around than most people think. Although we don't know why (or how) such people come to be in the first place, more and more evidence is accumulating to indicate that it may be a brain disorder -- MRI and PET studies are certainly showing that their brains don't process information, particularly emotionally laden information, like normals. None of this, though, gives us useful information to detect such people and protect ourselves from them.

Two books written for the general public that I definitely recommend:

Hare, R. (1999). Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. New York: Guilford Press.

Babiak, P., & Hare, R. (2006). Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work. Regan Press.

If you have a son or daughter who is 15 - 16, or older, I also suggest that you give them the first book to read. It may well help protect them from being a victim of one of these people. The second book is more oriented toward the business/work world, but is well-researched and explains how they ingratiate themselves into that environment. Both authors are excellent scientists. Hare, in particular, is the world's expert on the topic.

Intentional Drifter

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Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.--Ben Franklin

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.--Daniel Patrick Moynihan
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Old 06-11-2006, 08:54   #12
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P.S. Don't think, even for a minute, that you can out-con a psychopath. Believe me, I've been studying them for years. (No, I have no financial interest in either of the two books I recommended above.) And, I've been fooled by them, too. They've been doing their business for years and years and have seen others try and beat them at their own game more times than you can count. There's really only one reliable way to have a decent chance of beating them: Say on the straight and narrow, totally legit path, yourself. Be forewarned as to the signs and don't let yourself be tempted by what they are offering. In the con games, most of them depend upon some form of bait -- typically playing off our own greed, or flattery, or sex. This is what they offer to get you within their grasp.

Intentional Drifter

Observations are gold; hypotheses, silver; and conclusions, bronze.

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.--Ben Franklin

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.--Daniel Patrick Moynihan
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Old 06-11-2006, 09:23   #13
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Sean - your story sent chills down my spine... you see, I used to work with Tom Hawke. You know - the west coast couple that was killed while 'selling' their trawler in a supposed cash sale. The druggies who allegedly tied Tom & his wife to the anchor and tossed them overboard during a sea trial are just now going to trial in California.

Glad you trusted your instincts and stuck to your guns. I think you came closer to more serious problems than you might think...

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Old 06-11-2006, 09:25   #14

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Love these posts, International Drifter!

I'm sure nobody thought you had anything other than suggesting a good read in mind when suggesting those books.

We did just as you advise. We stuck to the straight and narrow of the normal transaction process and it's literally the only thing that saved us from the grift. He played on my need (or greed) to sell the boat, assuming I'd do anything to get it sold. Oddly, grifting and getting ripped off is a daily event when running a company and living in Manhattan. Each and every transaction is filled with pitfalls. So, I was lucky enough to have been in that environment, where a handshake deal worth nothing.

It's a shame you can't trust people. I'd sure like to. This guy kind of put the nail in the coffin for us for ever moving back on land. We find the water is nicer and the people out here are less threatening. I mean a pirate... sure. That's threatening. But for the most part, 99% of the population can't reach my boat.
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Old 06-11-2006, 09:51   #15
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Yes, it is sad that trust is such a valuable commodity. I don't mean to make people paranoid. Fortunately, the vast majority of people are trustworthy. The psychopaths are a minority (most estimates are about 1%) and the more we learn about their characteristics, some of which I described above, the better armed we are in being able to detect them and know who we can't trust.

One final little story and then I've got to go to work. But, this illustrates an important point. 20-some odd years ago a great little study was done, in a prison. 2 groups, one psychopathic and one not. During the first part of the study the experimenters offered two cigarettes to the subjects if they could keep their arms immersed in a bath of ice and water for five minutes. (I've never done this myself, but I'm told it is excruciatingly painful.) Four times as many of the psychopaths did it than the normals.

Then, the second part of the study: they set up a competition. Matched one of the psychopaths with one of the normals, so that they could see each other and started the immersion of their arm in the water at the same time. The one who "won" by outlasting the other got the cigarettes. The psychopaths "won" more than 10 times as often as the normals.

Moral of the story: They are willing to put up with far more temporary discomfort to obtain their goals, even when the reward may seem trivial to others. Two, if they think they've got you where they want you, they can be remarkably tenacious, in order to win.

Have a good day!

Intentional Drifter

Observations are gold; hypotheses, silver; and conclusions, bronze.

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.--Ben Franklin

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.--Daniel Patrick Moynihan
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