John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 2, 2010

$200 in free gas! Interested? Got a credit card?

Lester McNabb shared an amusing moment that was welcome when he called on Monday morning.

He wanted to know if a swindling scheme he had been the target for would make a story. It came by phone call, McNabb said, about 8:30 p.m. one evening last week. The heavily-accented caller wanted to know if he would be interested in $200 in free gasoline coupons.

Sure, he told the caller. Suspicious, he played along anyway while the caller went through a wonderful sales spiel about the great opportunity he was offering McNabb.

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“I was just agreeing with him,” McNabb continued, egging him on. Of course there was a $2.50 fee for the service and, of course, “It had to be put on a credit card,” McNabb said.

And of course, that confirmed McNabb’s suspicions.

“I was just thinking about those poor people out there who are having a hard time making it,” McNabb said. It worries him that the lure of the “free” gasoline may prompt some to abandon their caution, he said.

Finally, after McNabb had kept the caller going for as long as he thought he could, he told him, “But I don’t have any credit cards.”

“Clunk” went the line as the telephone solicitor hung up immediately, no doubt moving on to the next call where the recipient might be naive enough to provide him with the credit card information over the phone.

“It’s out there,” McNabb said of the myriad schemes by phone, snail mail, e-mail and otherwise to beat people out of their money. Of course, the victim is too often implicated. Too often we forget the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is,” too good to be true. Instead, greed overrules. That’s what swindlers count on. That’s what has fueled swindlers’ schemes and pigeon drops since time immemorial.

But when the intended victim turns the tables or at least has a little laugh at the expense of the would-be swindler, it makes a good story. Lester McNabb told us a good story.