HOW I GOT BURNED BY THE LATEST TRENDING SCAM: PROP BILLS
I own the Gadget Gurus repair shop. I'm a well-known tech blogger. I'm an Apple device expert. I do keynotes on the topics of technology and social media. I warn people about the perils of buying used iPhones. So I'm the last person in the community that should have fallen for the latest scam...
Movie prop currency.
It was actually a combination of phony stage prop $100 bills, the Facebook Marketplace, and one seriously stupid criminal that did it. Let me tell you my story, and then I'll issue my word of warning and closing advice.
I fix phones for people. Sometimes, my customers bring me broken phones that they no longer need, and I fix them at my cost. I sell them on their behalf, so they don't have to go through the trouble of selling the phone, and I take my repair fees out of the proceeds and give them the difference. Sometimes things can go wrong, and this past Saturday things went seriously wrong.
I had an iPhone 6S rose gold edition phone that I fixed and was trying to sell for a friend for $310. I posted the phone on Facebook Marketplace, which is free to list. I thought it was relatively safe. Nothing could go wrong here, because it's a fairly public place where people must use their true identities.
Two months had passed, and none of the 15 people who had expressed serious interest had ever come to close the deal. Then I got a message at 11:30pm on Saturday night from a would-be buyer who claimed to be from Columbia (30 miles up the road) but happened to be in Jefferson City that night.
He claimed he needed to buy a phone for his "girl", and he was in a rush. I told him I was getting ready for bed, and to contact me on Sunday. Then he offered me $400 for the phone.
I jokingly responded, "oh sure, that make sense... you're going to pay me more than what I'm asking?!"
I asked him why on Earth would he offer more than the asking price, and he claimed it was due to the urgency of his need, and he wanted to motivate me to meet him despite the lateness of the hour.
I told him that I would not accept more than the offer price, and his response didn't make any sense. He said "if you're in Jeff City I'm only giving you $310". That was the second clue to me that this was a potential scammer. He wasn't making logical sense.
I checked his profile, and it didn't look good. He appeared to be a young man in his twenties, and was not shy about posting pictures depicting alcohol consumption and smoking of various vegetation products. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is not the type of person who you would want to transact business with.
But I had three things working against me: First, it was late at night and I was tired. Second, I really wanted to get rid of the phone and make the money for my friend. Third, this young man and I had a mutual friend who attends my local church, so I figured I could trust the situation a bit more.
That was the kiss of death.
Against my better judgment, I left out to go to the shop and meet the young man to sell him the phone. My plan was to meet him in a public place and only accept cash, of course. After changing the location where we were supposed to meet twice, we finally decided on the Break Time gas station on Stadium Drive.
The young man messaged me three times while I was on my way, asking how long I was going to be. That was another indication that something was wrong. I arrived at Break Time, and there were no cars in the parking lot... yet another indication that this was a scam.
I messaged him again asking where he was, and he said he was in a white truck across the street at the Stadium 66 gas station. I crossed the street, and the "white truck" turned out to be a white Mercedez Benz SUV. That was another red flag. He saw me park, and waived out the window for me to approach.
I walked over to the car, and there were 2 young men inside, with the buyer in the passenger seat. He let the window down, and I started asking him questions. I asked where he was from, and how he knew our mutual friend on Facebook. He didn't understand what I was asking at first, because he was in a dazed stupor (it may have been the result of oxidizing the vegetative product and inhaling the combustion components).
After an initial "huhhh?" and a silent pause, the lights came on and he and smiled, telling me that he had met the mutual friend at a party (yet another bad indication). He was very polite and respectful, however, which was also part of what clouded my thinking.
After explaining the specifics of the iPhone I was selling, in order to make sure he was absolutely clear on what he was buying, he asked me to "hold on one minute" and rolled up the tinted window. It was still open 2" from the top, enough for me to get on my toes to look and see what he was hiding.
In his lap was a stack of $100 bills. He was counting out three of them, and then let the window back down after putting up the stack of money. I looked very closely at the money, and immediately noticed the bright colors and the security strip found on the new $100 bills. It looked legit. I had no doubt about the authenticity of the cash.
He handed me the bills at the same time that I gave him the phone. The bills had a few folds, and I could feel that in my hands. But as soon as I turned to take one step back to my car, I noticed that the bills were way too slick feeling on my finger tips. I looked back and the SUV was pulling out of the lot.
I knew I had been scammed. Beating myself up in my mind, I got back in the car and fumbled for my phone so I could shine a light on the bills to see what the heck they were. They looked fake.
I took them back into the gas station to have the clerk verify my major error, and she did. She used the marker on the bills, and they all failed. But that's not the worst part...
She brought my attention to the front face of the bill, where it stated "For Motion Picture Use Only" where it normally has "Federal Reserve Note". It also said "This Note Is Not Legal Tender".
If I didn't feel stupid already, this rubbed salt into the wound. I'd been had. Tricked. Bamboozled. Ripped off.
I immediately wrote the young man back on Facebook messenger. I said, "bring that phone back NOW". I warned him that I would go straight to the police if he didn't, but got no answer. Then I informed him that the entire deal was made in bright light and would be on the gas station security camera system. Still no answer.
I got to the Jefferson City Police station to report the scam, and someone had reported a similar occurrence just 20 minutes before I got there. Then two young ladies entered the lobby holding the same fake movie prop $100 bills that I had in my hands.
The perpetrator was apparently on a shopping spree that night, buying iPhones from unsuspecting people via Facebook Marketplace and paying for them with fake bills. I'm not certain, but he may have scammed as many as 5 people that night.
What confounded me was his level of stupidity. He used his true identity to set up the deals on Facebook, with his profile picture on full display. Plus he chose to meet in well-lit gas station lots where security cameras record 24 hours per day. Add to that the use of the fake currency, the "movie prop" $100 bills, and you've added counterfeit charges to possible stolen property charges.
I have never been scammed like this in my entire life. But the look of these bills was so authentic, it caused me to drop my guard long enough for the criminals to get away.
Be warned, the use of movie prop $100 bills are popping up across the country. Since movies and television shows are going high definition these days, the prop makers have started making high quality full-color paper money to look authentic on camera. They look better than any fake money of the past, and sadly, you can buy them on eBay legally.
Combining Facebook Marketplace, the best-looking fake money ever printed, and idiot criminals significantly raises the possibility of the average swap-shopper being exposed to this threat. The reports are running high.
My advice to you? Be super careful buying and selling on Facebook Marketplace and the FB swap shops. Anything can go wrong. Choose safe locations, meet during the day, take a friend with you, and take the safety advice of your local law enforcement agencies.
I beat myself up pretty bad for allowing myself to be fooled in this situation, but everything happens for a reason. If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone. And the positive is, I get to share this story with everyone and it might save you some grief as a result.
My story ended well. The idiot criminal is in the custody of law enforcement, and I'll be getting my friend's phone back soon. But be careful everyone, because you don't want to take chances like this. Trust your instincts, err to the side of caution, and you can't go wrong!
The Gadget Guru