Thursday, July 9, 2009

NEGOTIATING A SCAM

We tried to buy a domain for JC, so that we could build a second website for him.

His name wasn't available. I'd heard that people buy up celebrities' names. I wrote D.R. who owned the name. He wrote back -- we could have the name for $1000 if we paid promptly.

I wrote a friendly e-mail back saying "no," asking -- (it was late at night, I was working on a post) -- what do you do in real life, how did you get into doing this? What's your real profession? Does it earn you money? Is it interesting? Fun? I'm writing a blog-- maybe I'll write about this. (I was in a chatty mood.)

D.R. wrote a friendly letter back, He said "I fell into it when I was doing simple, inexpensive web sites, and a client wanted a domain name. It was for sale for US$3000. Yes, it's interesting. I meet interesting people like you, Miss E. I get to use my languages. Despite boring administrative chores, it earns me extra money. But I'm not sure about you doing a blog about me. I haven't given you permission."

I chuckled -- the guy had a sense of humor. My post wasn't flowing, so just for the fun of it, I Googled D.R. -- looked up "inexpensive website designer" and found a D.R. -- in Peru. And family pictures. My scammer was a teacher, at a high school in Lima.

Memories came fluttering in of the scary days when I was stuck in Medellin, Columbia and Lima loomed as if it were a heavenly place I wanted to get to but couldn't.

I was on a world tour. While i was applying for various passports, the man at the Columbian consulate asked me for a date. Apparently he was annoyed by my turning him down. He issued me a work visa. I didn't know until much later, that my visa required me to stay in the Columbia for six weeks.

I'd shipped my baggage (costumes and props) a week earlier from Durban, South Africa. In Medellin, I saw them behind a locked gate. The porter shrugged and summoned the head of security, an unfriendly, snarling official who looked like a tall version of James Cagney. He said my bags were being shipped to Lima, Peru, since I hadn't applied for permission to bring foreign goods into the country.

Whoo -- it was scary. I begged and pleaded! I wept! My tour was under U.S. state department sponsorship, but Columbia's government and the U.S. weren't on cordial terms. The U.S. Embassy in Columbia was closed. (Something to do with trade regulations -- when I arrived I was shocked to see soldiers with shields, long looking guns, and face masks surrounding the airport.)

From an airport pay phone, I called my Medellin sponsor. He knew, and I knew that my performance had to be canceled. If I didn't get out of Columbia and get my baggage, my next performances, my three nights in Buenos Aires were going to be canceled.

"Don't panic," I told myself, drying my eyes. At the Varig ticket counter, I made friends with the ticketgirl. She fixed my ticket -- arranging for me to fly to Lima in two hours and in Lima to connect with another flight to Buenos Aires. Watching the clock and dozing, I waited in a huge empty waiting room till my flight to Lima was called.

At the glass door gate, two soldiers were standing guard, a third solider was checking passports. As I handed him mine, James Cagney tapped my shoulder and informed me that I couldn't leave the country without permission from the police. He escorted me to the police station just outside the airport. They finger-printed me, and said I couldn't leave till I paid taxes on my earnings. (I hadn't earned anything.)

I gave them $300 in travelers checks. Back at the gate, James Cagney stopped me again --"You cannot leave until the Consul stamps your passport."
"When?"
"After the holiday."
What holiday? What office? Was it the same Consul I'd met at the embassy in New York?
I burst into tears. People where staring, pointing. I rushed into the ladies restroom.

The Varig ticketgirl saw me at the sink, trying to repair my makeup. Tears rolling, I babbled about James Cagney, consuls, soldiers, performances in Buenos Aires. She pointed to the streaks of mascara on my cheek and said, "You fix the makeup. He's my boyfriend. I take care of it."

And she did.

In Lima the porter said the baggage room was closed for the three day holiday. There I was back in the nightmare, weeping, till a man named Emilio Guersey (never will I forget the name), took me to the locked baggage room. My bags were there! Emilio, who was the security officer, simply unlocked the door. Emilio got my bags and settled me and my baggage in the first class section of a British Airways plane for Buenos Aires.

The memories of all that -- the terror of being a stranger in a strange country, the luck, the miracle of finding an Emilio in Lima, Peru told me ... don't get involved, don't play games with D.R.

I called JD. JD got on it. He bought his daddy's name, and registered the domain. And now we're free to work.

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