As with all good stories, we have to start from the beginning. A couple of days ago, I got an email from this gentleman I don't know, asking me if I could give chess lessons to his 8-year-old son. I was a little mystified; although I am known in some circles here in Pocatello as a decent chess player, I have never advertised myself as a chess coach. I asked him how he knew about me, and he said he got my email through a friend of his.
I was still a bit mystified: My US chess rating is not very high (1377, to be exact), and it seems to me that he would be getting a lot more value for his money if he were to find a higher-ranking player to teach his son. But then, I told myself, this out here is the boondocks, and believe it or not, I am actually the second-highest ranked active tournament player in Pocatello, probably because most of the people who live here are honest blue-collar folks who cannot be bothered with bourgeois pursuits like chess.
So I set my doubts aside, and agreed to give his son lessons twice a week, starting next week. I also decided to charge him the exorbitant price of $25 an hour. He agreed immediately, and said he would send me a check soon for $200 for 8 lessons. Wow, this guy sure has a lot of faith in me! He purportedly wants me to turn his son into a professional chess player, he has never even met me before, and he's willing to give me $200 upfront just like that. Note to non-chess-playing readers: In order to make it as a chess professional who teaches and plays chess for a living, one would have to be rated at least around 2400. I am highly doubtful that I will achieve this rating in my lifetime, at least not without some serious brain-enhancing surgery. And this guy wants me to help his son to get to that level. You see the disconnect here? But then I remembered that ancient advice about not staring a gift
Little did I know that this gift horse would turn out to be a trojan horse.Yesterday afternoon, he sent me another email saying that he needs to mail me the check quickly because his attorney who handles all his affairs is going on vacation soon. Wow, not only does he have a lot of faith in me, he is also some kind of bigshot who is so busy that he doesn't even have time to write his own checks! I really must be moving up in the world, aren't I, if I am rubbing shoulders (or about to rub shoulders) with such high-value people? So I gave him my address, and I thought that was that.
Then this morning, when I was in the middle of Parsvakonasana B, I heard a knock on my door. I decided to ignore it and continue with my practice (full disclosure: I have this questionable policy of ignoring all and any interruptions I can ignore when doing my yoga practice. If somebody wants to get my attention during yoga practice, they would probably have to knock the door down!). Even so, my mind was a little jarred by the interruption, and it took me a few more poses before I could really settle back into the flow of second series. Well, at least he didn't knock when I was in the middle of getting into Kapotasana. That would have been really jarring to my nervous system.
After my practice, I noticed that somebody had sent me a text message. It was Mr Bigshot. He said that he had received confirmation that FedEx had delivered the check. I opened the door, and sure enough, there was an overnight FedEx package sitting at my doorstep. I opened the package, and in it was a check for $1700. WTF! I was only supposed to be paid $200. Even 8 lessons with a chess grandmaster is not worth that much money!
I looked at the text message again, and got the full story: Apparently, in his hurry to leave town for his vacation, his attorney had made a mistake, and had written a single check that covered both my chess teaching fee and the fee that he was going to pay his son's caregiver, when he should have written two separate checks instead (Personally, I think he should fire his attorney if he can't even write two separate checks...). So what Mr Bigshot wants me to do is to go to the bank, deposit the check, keep $200 for myself, withdraw the remaining $1500 in cash (yes, cash!), and mail it to the caregiver! If this doesn't ring any alarm bells yet, you seriously need to take a course in basic consumer protection. But there's more: I looked at the check again, and saw that instead of being issued by a law office or by Mr Bigshot, it came from some construction company in Washington state! I looked at the number that Mr. Bigshot is texting me from, and saw that it is a Chicago number (Area code 630, to be exact). Wow, this guy is really all over the place: He apparently lives in Chicago, owns a construction company in Washington state, and has a son and caregiver that lives in Pocatello, Idaho! Boy, am I moving up in the world!
I called the construction company, and spoke to their office manager. Turns out that the company is legit, but the check is written from a checking account that the company no longer uses. The office manager thanked me for alerting me to this fraudulent use of their account, and I texted them a picture of the check for their record-keeping purposes.
Needless to say, I did not go to the bank. Instead, I went to the police department to file a police report. The detective who took my statement congratulated me on my sharpness and presence of mind; according to him, this is a very common form of fake check scam, and many people have fallen for it in recent years. He also observed that many people fall for it because they just go ahead and deposit the check without verifying its authenticity. Banks are required by law to make funds available to customers as quickly as possible, so they would often clear a deposited check quickly, and agree to a customer's request to immediately cash a check. However, it normally takes the bank a few days to verify that the check is authentic and not fraudulent. By the time the bank does that, the scammer (in this case, this would be Mr
Anyway, I'm convinced that it was my yoga practice (specifically, the fact that I did not get out of Parsvakonasana B to answer the door) that gave me the presence of mind to pause before going to the bank, thereby saving me $1500! I may not be making any money from yoga, but it sure is saving me money!
I am writing this post because, having narrowly dodged the scammer's bullet, I see it as my duty to pay it forward, and inform all of you loyal readers (does anybody still read this blog?) about this danger that lurks out there in this impure world that we live in. I mean, seriously, what is the world coming to when even low-ranking chess players are being scammed? But then again, given the presence of our scammer-in-chief (you know who I am talking about), perhaps none of this should be surprising. But let me try to end this blog on a brighter note. Do you know that there is a song about both yoga and pina coladas? Enjoy!