The Anatomy of a Scam
At the end of November 2008, I was invited to participate in a charity event called “Cookies for Kids” to raise funds for an organization called Special Spaces which helps terminally ill children. Originally I was asked to drop off some copies of my book The Mayberry Poem – a Tribute to Mayberry, so the “Cookies for Kids” organizer and his volunteers could sell them, keeping a percentage of the proceeds for the charity, Special Spaces. I suggested that instead of simply dropping off a box of books, I should remain for an hour to autograph the books and see how they sold. Then I could decide how many to leave.
The event organizer was an individual whom I had met in person only once before. However, we are on the same Mayberry Group, he had mentioned working for Special Spaces before, and always used the charity in his email signature. I am by nature a trusting person and being involved in a scam was the last thing on my mind. Plus, there was a lot of “razzle-dazzle” about “Cookies for Kids.” The organizer said he was getting a storefront at Hickory Hollow Mall and at Rivergate mall. He stated that he could get Fox, Channel 5 and Wolf Radio to help promote the event, and that Books-A-Million was participating. He asked me to also promote the event to all my email lists. Volunteers would be on hand to hand out bags of gourmet cookies to people who gave donations as well as wrap gifts and sell other gifts, with all proceeds going to Special Spaces, or so I was told.
I had to order and pay for 20 Mayberry poetry books right away to arrive in time for the event. After ordering the books, I emailed several times requesting the organizer set a date for the event. However, between November 28 and December 15, I only received two vague emails, one saying he was “SUPPOSED to be able to have us set up next weekend and thru christmas” and the other saying only that he had changed email accounts. Finally he got in touch with me on December 15, and we set up two one-hour signings, one on December 17th at 5 PM, and one at 2 PM on the 22nd.
The Cookie Starts to Crumble
Even with such short notice, I sent word to all my lists over the next two days, and I was assured he would be promoting the event to his lists and his media contacts, but I arrived on December 17th to discover no one was there. The storefront turned out to be the Real Estate office at Hickory Hollow mall with a secretary who was not expecting me. There were no volunteers, no organizer, no activity, and no cookies. I called the organizer, and he said he was on his way and would be there soon, but when he never showed up after an hour, I drove the 45 minutes back home. It was extremely disappointing. In hindsight, “disappointing” is a mild term for being involved in what looks more and more like a scam.
The organizer sent me an email that night, offering excuses, and then he said he had sold three of my books after I left. He asked me to come bring the books out again on the 22nd when he would pay me for the three books he sold (minus the donation for Special Spaces). I called before I left my house on the 22nd to make sure he would be there this time with his volunteers and cookies. He said he would be there waiting. Imagine my disappointment when the same Real Estate secretary greeted me on December 22 and said she hadn’t heard anything, and no one was there representing “Cookies for Kids.” A half hour later the organizer finally showed up with small bags of vending-machine cookies, a jar, and some brochures. I sat in a plastic chair by the office door with books in my lap. I heard him solicit people in front of the Real Estate office, asking them to donate money to terminally ill children for Special Spaces, and I watched a handful of people drop money in a jar that already held quite a bit of money.
I Have a Little Problem
The event was disappointing on so many levels (no volunteers, no media, no planning, no event), but it got worse – much worse. As I was getting ready to leave, he asked me to leave the books with him and reminded me that he wanted three books autographed. He had me inscribe them, then told me he had a “little problem” – he didn’t have enough cash on him. He pulled out what he had to show me, and said he would just have to owe me, and I said, no, I would need to take what he had as a down payment, and he would have to owe me the rest, minus the discount I was donating to the charity. He still wanted me to leave more books with him, and with reluctance, I left 7 additional Mayberry poetry books and another book called How to Promote Your Book on a Shoestring Budget. Our agreement was we would settle up right after “Cookies for Kids” was over, and that he would bring the books to me this time since he said he had a friend who lived near me, and it would be no trouble to meet me and settle up.
The Check Is in the Mail
December 22 was almost the last time I heard from the “Cookies for Kids” organizer until recently. Although I left many phone and email messages, I only reached him twice in prior to January 20. Both times we set a time to meet, and both times he canceled. He told me a check for the books he sold was going out in the mail on January 8, but I never received any books or money until I called Special Spaces. In fact, he never made good on a single promise he made to me since he first contacted me on November 28. He did, however, recently respond to a post on our mutual Mayberry list where I said the “Cookies for Kids” event had been disappointing, and in response, he emailed me a thinly veiled threat to attempt to discredit me on his lists if I posted more about the “Cookies for Kids” event.
Special Spaces Speaks
But that’s not the most disturbing thing about this whole fiasco. On Monday, January 6, when it was becoming apparent to me that the event organizer probably had no intention of following through with his promises to meet me and settle with me, I contacted Special Spaces and spoke with Jennifer Swain, the Executive Director. She informed me that the individual in question has not been affiliated with them since November 2008, and that he was asked not to represent them any more because “he never followed through with his events.” So, at the time I was being persuaded to participate in the charity event for Special Spaces, the event organizer, who used Special Spaces brochures, collected money in a jar to help terminally ill children in the name of Special Spaces, and had Special Spaces in his email signature, allegedly didn’t work for Special Spaces at all! And as of February 2009, they say they haven’t seen a dime of any money collected through “Cookies for Kids.” Special Spaces did, however, graciously compensate me for my losses.
Putting the Con in CONtinues
I am not sure what the final chapter in this story will be, but I believe I was conned at Christmas. Worse, I think the people who dropped money in that jar were also conned, because the organizer allegedly had no relationship with Special Spaces at the time of the event and has reportedly not been responding to calls from their office. But that’s not all. I believe the con is continuing. On January 9, one of my friends sent me a link to Craig’s List, where on December 22, the man who enlisted me to participate in “Cookies for Kids” posted the following (all punctuation and spelling is his):
Reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: 2008-12-22, 8:51PM
I need someone to make calls for me to lawyers, Dr’s , business’s, friends , door to door (Dont laugh one girl is doing very well this way for the kids and herself) etc to sell boxes or packs of cookies to raise money for Critically Ill children…We build special rooms for Children that sometimes have nothing to look forward to…we enjoy changing that for them..so far we have had great success with this but we also have other projects/events starting and need extra help…and there could easily be more work along the way..this IS a PAID Position….let me know if interested This promotion is called COOKIES FOR KIDS
Sadder, Madder, and Wiser
I have learned a lesson from this — we don’t have a clue about most of the people we meet online. I was on the same Mayberry list with this character since 2001, but I didn’t know him. I should have contacted Special Spaces at the very beginning to make sure the “Cookies for Kids” organizer really represented them. I also should have Googled his name. The first thing that pops up is his name on something called the Rip Off Report. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.
Now that I have reported him, I hear from this character all the time. He sends me harassing emails. He posts harassing posts on my boards and articles. He posts libelous (and illiterate) things about me. He threatens to take me to court, etc. All of this is boringly typical behavior for a con artist. (see Protecting Yourself from a Con Artist, Scam or Fraud)
So, if you see ads for “Cookies for Kids” or any other event to benefit Special Spaces, contact SpecialSpaces.org directly to make sure it is really them. It’s too bad he conned me; don’t let him con you, too.