The Anatomy of a Con
In November, I was invited to participate in an event called “Cookies for Kids” to raise funds for a wonderful charity 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. 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 a man whom I had met in person only once before. However, we are on the same three Mayberry lists online, he had mentioned working for Special Spaces before, and used the charity in his email signature. I am by nature a trusting person. 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 Wulf Radio to help promote the event, and he asked me to also promote the event to all my 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 Spacial Spaces.
I had to order and pay for 20 books right away to arrive in time for the event. After ordering the books, although I emailed several times requesting he set a date for the event, 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.
Cookies? What Cookies?
Even with such short notice, I sent word to all my lists over the two days remaining, 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). This would about cover my gas for my four trips back and forth across the county. 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. He mentioned in passing that he had collected around $200 on a previous day.
The event organizer took this photo of me signing his three books before he came up short on cash
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 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
That was almost the last time I have heard from the organizer. Although I have left many phone and email messages, I have only reached him twice. Both times we set a time to meet, and both times he canceled. He has been either out of town, too tired, sick, or simply not answering his phone since then, and although I have received his promises to return my books and was told a check for the books he sold was going out in the mail on January 8 (over a week ago), he has not made good on a single promise he has made to me since he first contacted me on November 28. He did, however, recently respond to a post on one of our mutual Mayberry lists 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 “Cookies for Kids.” You know you are probably dealing with a con when you say something was disappointing and immediately get an intimidating response!
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 man 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, didn’t work for Special Spaces
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 clearly had no relationship with Special Spaces at the time of the event and is not responding to calls from their office now. 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: email@example.com
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
It is now December 17, one month since I carried my books from Bellevue to Hickory Hollow Mall to participate in “Cookies for Kids.” Not only have my books and money never been returned, but Special Spaces never received a dime of the money collected and their calls are not being returned.
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 the charity. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. But if you come across someone on Craig’s list, Ebay or Amazon with some Mayberry poetry books for sale, more than likely they are books stolen from me at this event. And if you see ads for “Cookies for Kids” or any other event to benefit Special Spaces, contact SpecialSpaces.org to make sure it is really them.
Excuses have been made and will continue to be made by the “Cookies for Kids” organizer, I have no doubt. However, there is nothing lower than using the name of charity which seeks to help terminally ill children to solicit people to donate money just to line one’s own pockets. There is no excuse for taking money from people while misrepresenting a charity, no excuse for not returning property after a month, no excuse for not returning calls, no excuse for not mailing a check on the date promised, no excuse for not sending money to the charity the donations were for, and no excuse for the cookie-crumb trail of excuses, broken promises and misdeeds this person has left in his wake.
It is too bad there are people like this one out there – people who will charm, schmooze, then bully and intimidate folks to take advantage of them. I know others like him – they are a dime a dozen. Too bad he got my dime; don’t let him get yours.
Other Mayberry Links:
“Cookies for Kids” Benefits Terminally Ill Children
Mayberry Days Book Signings at Mayberry on Main
The Mayberry Poem – A Tribute to Mayberry Reviews
The Mayberry Poem – A Tribute to Mayberry
Romance in Mayberry – Poetry
Christmas in Mayberry – Poetry
Buy great Mayberry holiday gifts at The Mayberry General Store
Back to Christian Activities Mayberry Section
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