So one month ago, I was scammed in the streets of Frankfurt. I hadn’t been in the mood to write about this until now but I think that slowly I should get around to doing it. I am also less angry about it now so I can write about it in a less charged way. So this is how it happened.
A youngish looking guy calls me and my girlfriend over while we were walking down the street. He asks us if we speak English. When we confirm, he starts talking about how he is from Greenland, how he is passing through Frankfurt on the way to his country and unfortunately had his backpack stolen from him, including most of his student’s equipment and some of his studies. He introduces himself as Denis Janson.
He claims he’s been to the police to report the theft but as a result he lost his flight and there’s no other one leaving for at least two month and this will lead him to losing his current university year. Knowing how far Greenland is and how it’s still winter, this makes some sense. He claims his ambassador has helped him find an alternative route through Canada which would allow him to reach his country in time and his father, Erik Janson, has booked everything for him but unfrtunately there’s a ferry he needs to take which cannot be booked online. The ferry costs 250 Eur.
The story is elaborate. He keeps talking for about 10 minutes before he even comes around to the point of asking for our help. This gives us a very detailed story that convinces both me and my girlfriend by its sheer complexity and detail, that it’s true. Furthermore he has had a lot of preparation for this. He shows us the sms from the “ambassador”, he arranges a phonecall with his dad to which he speaks in some Scandinavian accent which my girlfriend confirms is authentic (she is in a profession which has a lot to do with linguistics so I trust her judgement). We speak to the “dad” who “wants to confirm I’m trustworthy”.
The plan is that the “dad” sends the money Dennis needs to me via a direct bank-2-bank transfer. He needs to do it this way because Greenland does not have a Western Union branch and the son has had his Debit & Credit cards stolen. Once he does this, he will send me the receipt that the money is on its way and I will then give the money directly to Denis.
If this was proposed from the get-go, I would have refused, however the detailed story, the preparation and the very god acting of “Denis” as a traveller in distress convince me. Both me and my girlfriend think “How would we feel in that situation? Wouldn’t we want someone to help us?”. We feel sorry for all the sudden problems he’s had to face and the fact that he’s stranded in a foreign country. We agree to help.
I provide my bank account number and my name for the money transfer and Denis sends them to his “Dad” who will go to the local bank, do the transfer, scan the receipt and send it via email to me to confirm it’s done. While he is doing this, we start looking for an internet cafe to use to see this. While we are doing this, Denis is telling us the story of how his stuff was stolen (it involves him being too trusting) and the flak he received from his Dad when he told him. He explains what kind of personality his dad has, how he had to move away from home and become self-dependent.
Shit is detailed yo.
At around the same time we find an internet station in the Hauptwache, his dad sends an sms confirming that the transfer is done and the email is sent. I check my emails and see an email from Erik Janson that has this transfer receipt (detailed removed to protect the innocent). On a quick look, it looks legit. Denis made sure that I didn’t pay as much attention to it as he continued talking during this time and quickly asked to show us some pictures of his house in Greenland by using google image search.
It was here that I should have caught the scam. Had I paid a bit more attention I would have noticed the hotmail address and this would have sent alarm bells ringing. I would have then noticed the obvious photoshop of the receipt. But hindsight is always 20-20.
15 minutes later I’m satisfied that this seems legit. I escort Denis to the nearest ATM and I take out 350 Eur and give 300 to him. His “dad” gave us more and suggested we have a lunch with a friend. We dedide to use it to take Dennis to lunch.
We take him to a tavern in the Romer which is fucking expensive without realizing it. As a result, we end up ordering one dish for all together (think Tapas). He continues telling us stories of his life. Guy was convicing and I believe some of the stories must have been actually true. Once we finish lunch, we take some pictures together and this is how I have the one above and the this one. We paid for the lunch with the last 50 Eur that his “dad” gave us.
We then walk to the station and each of us goes on his merry way. We had already exchanged emails and skype usernames and said we’d keep in touch. He even suggested that he invites us to either Italy or Switzerland when he moves to either of them for studies.
The scam happened on Saturday on the 20th of Feb (it was the only way to claim that he could not take money out of the bank normally) We were convinced that he was telling the truth until Monday, by which time I had not received anything yet. I decided to double check the evidence he had sent me. Doing so depressed and angrered me. It was obvious I had been conned. I could find no online profile connected to either his name or his given email address email@example.com . I could find nothing for his “dad’s” email either firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking closer at the receipt, I could not see that it was an obvious shop. The parts with the transfer numbers where obviously written over it as it was missing the normal background. They must have taken this froms somoene and reused it for this scam. Looking even closer, I could see that the email from Erik, originated from Spain and the email address was obviously set up by some Spaniard.
And of course, the money never arrived.
Once I was certain this was a scam, I was disheartened and upset. I posted online hoping people might help but instead of that, I mostly received hostility. I was obvious I wouldn’t receive much help there. I also contacted the police. Yes I know this is not the most optimal option but given that I am stuck in a foreign country with very few direct action oriented friends and online help was not forthcoming, I felt that this was better than nothing. I didn’t expect them to achieve anything but having this guy’s picture on file, well, you never know.
Finally, I did my own investigation on this issue. I still have not tracked “Denis” but I am closer to tracking “Erik” and I believe he’ll feel the heat soon enough.
I was also contacted lately by a Belgian student who was also scammed by Denis 5 days after I was. This means that Denis left Germany immediately and moved to another country to play his con. The Belgian found out my reddit post by googling for Denis’ email and then contacted me directly for more info. He could at least use the pictures I put up to give to his own police. It seems thus that our scammer is quite the traveller and he is doing this act all over Europe.
I am not angry about the money. I am angry about the betayal of trust and the erosion of my feelings of mutual aid this scam has led to. It made me less willing to trust and help people and this angers me. It angers me that while I will control myself to retain them but also be more cautious, others will discard them altogether. Other people scammed in this way will not forever shut down all cries for help, even if they are legit, because they’ve been burnt by this asshole.
I wouldn’t mind if Denis played on greed to con people. Greed is something that should be attacked and if he had tried this with me, I wouldn’t have complained. However abusing people’s goodwill and thus making the world a more hostile place is inexcusable in my mind. He needs to be stopped.
How can we stop him? There’s no easy way. Police are useless, especially for catching a two-bit crook like him. We need to do it ourselves. We will possibly not “catch” him in any meaningful sense but we can certainly discourage him from doing this in the future if we found out his true identity. But finding that out is the difficult part. I was hoping to use the six degrees of separation to find him but very few people even tried to do the small effort of re-tweeting or asking their friends to ask their friends and so on.
You never know, perhaps this blog might prove me wrong.
So once we know his real ID, what do we do? There’s a few ideas in my mind but I think the only one which can actually do anything is social pressure.Drop his dox. Find out his friends and relatives and inform them of what “Denis” is doing. Make him feel the heat so to speak. Perhaps this won’t work. Perhaps this is a crook for life and has likewise friends who won’t care. Who knows unless we try though.
In any case, someone who lives from con to con cannot be the most happy guy. His own psychology will be his own worst enemy as he keeps getting to know people and then stabbing them in the back. I doubt anyone can sustain this kind of lifestyle for long. Perhaps this was a short-lived conjob that he tried for a bit of extra cash before going back to his normal and legit life. If so, all the more reason to uncover his IRL identity.
However sad a life this “Denis Janson” lives however, the sooner he is stopped from doing this scam, the better for all as less people’s feelings of mutual aid will be spoiled. And that to me is enough a reason to track him down. If you agree with me, then try to spread the word.