Taken for a Ride

How an impressionable young fellow got himself scammed by a British con man. And how he got revenge.

He also said he would like to borrow a few hundred more dollars until he straightened out his banking and credit card situations. The money would be returned quickly after he picked up his $25,000 design fee and his American Express card. We drove to the ATM, I gave him another $300, and he handed me a check for $700. I could use the $400 remainder for spending money in England, he said.

He also asked whether I could keep his design fee temporarily. If I didn't his wife would track it down, he said. I said that I didn't want to deposit that much money into my account. "No, no, no," he said impatiently. "Don't put it in your account, just hang on to it."

I must have given him a skeptical look. "Oh, it's not drug money or anything like that," he said hastily. "I just don't want that woman near any more of my money."

Nevertheless I refused to hold his fee. Sir Peter shook his head and exited the car. We were parked in front of a barber shop. The proprietor, who was standing outside the entrance, greeted Sir Peter and the two went inside.

I paid the bill for lunch: about $20.
On my way home, I decided to cash his $700 check at the NationsBank on Hallandale Beach Boulevard. The teller looked it over carefully and entered the account number in the computer. Then she called a manager -- a grumpy, stocky, woman -- who told me the account was closed. But all was not lost. When I told the women the accountholder had deposited a British cashier's check, the manager replied the money might be available the next day.

Sir Peter's story was starting to fall apart. He had never followed through on his promises for a trip to England. And his proposal that I hold the design fee alarmed me. It seemed far-fetched, to say the least.

So I considered the second transaction a gamble. If his check bounced, I could either shake down Sir Peter for the money or tell the police about his bum checks. If his offers were genuine, I would receive far more than $565 worth of returns. He played on my greed, always offering a carrot: a car, a paid trip, a job. He didn't ask for a lot, and the carrots always seemed within reach.

I couldn't believe that Sir Peter would risk jail for $500. After all it's a felony to write bad checks.

January 7 At 9:00 a.m. I went to the NationsBank in South Beach and again tried to cash the check. The teller repeated the Hallandale manager's response: The account was closed. Then a bank officer did some research and discovered it had been shut down for a very long time.

Bimini was out. And Sir Peter had some explaining to do.
I called him from my apartment and told him about the bank officer's discovery. He sounded very surprised and said he must have given me the wrong check. He apologized profusely and promised to deliver the cash that day. He also told me that his friends often repeated the following slogan: "A handshake from Sir Peter is better than most people's checks."

I told him I couldn't go to Bimini. I had spent all morning at the bank and still had a lot of work to do. That was my first lie to Sir Peter. It wouldn't be my last. "Fine," he said. "I can't go either." His brother Jeffrey had unexpectedly decided to fly in to meet me, Sir Peter said. Preparations were in order.

He never delivered the cash. I called him every hour until around 9:00 p.m., leaving messages on both his cell and home numbers. I was determined to provide him with more than $565 worth of bother.

January 8 About 9:00 a.m. I called Sir Peter's home and he answered. He apologized and said he would swing by with his brother in the afternoon to deliver the cash. But he didn't arrive. When I called at 2:00 p.m., he promised to show up in about twenty minutes. Still no dice. I called him hourly two more times after that, and each time he said he was about twenty minutes away. Finally he stopped answering his phone and didn't return my messages. I left more reminders until around 9:00 p.m.

Then I decided to go look for Sir Dead Beat Pete.

It wasn't the money as much as it was my own naivete that irked me. I had pulled over to help an old man, listened to his thanks, his promises, and his deceit. I'd never before met such a well-dressed loser. I wasn't sure what would follow, but I knew there were three options: cash, collateral, or cops. So I drove around Sir Peter's neighborhood in Hallandale feeling like a low-rent gangster in a bad Miami Vice episode. I stopped in about five high-rises to see whether they had a Zage living there, but found nothing. Then I cruised through a half-dozen smaller developments looking for the red Riviera. Still nothing. Next I went to the restaurants where we'd met. Zilch.

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