A Nasty ‘Win A Car’ Scam That Breaks Hearts

June 22, 2012

Her eyes are alight and she is suffused with a joy that I have rarely seen before. Her usually stoic nature is transformed by the radiance that today illuminates her spirit, spilling on to those around her. She has worked very hard for years, rarely complaining, and constantly dreams of being able to support her parents on a distant island in the archipelago. Today, that dream has come true.

“I’ve won a car!” she cries, pulling out a plastic token carefully wrapped in flimsy paper printed with complicated winner’s directions. I had heard of those ubiquitous promotional prize deals which seem to abound here in Bali. I had actually seen ads from the Tango people breathlessly pushing the usual line –  you know the ones: “Buy our product, win a car!” But with one car as first prize, its coveted token hidden in one of perhaps five million packets of product, the chances of winning are vanishingly small.

Even so, someone has to win, and it seems that my friend has struck it rich against all the odds. I congratulate her; no-one deserves a win more than her. “But I haven’t told you yet”, she goes on, “It’s not just one, but two cars! I can’t believe it!”

I can’t believe it either, but for me it’s a species of disbelief that comes from cynicism, not overwhelming excitement. As she tells me about finding the Tango car token last night, and another winning one in a separate purchase of a different product this morning, my internal radar begins beeping. She’s on a roll, telling me of her plans to sell one of the little Nissan March cars she has won and giving the proceeds to her parents, and keeping the other here in Bali to generate rental income. My ‘something’s wrong’ detector won’t shut off as I calculate the odds of winning not one, but two major prizes. “Ring them”, I advise, “find out what you have to do now to collect your prize.”

An hour later, I get an excited message. “It’s all real”, she says. “They will deliver the car as soon as I do the registration transfer!” She then diffidently asks if I could lend her 3.7 million “for the STNK transfer”, but assures me that everything is completely safe, because the mysterious ‘they’ will return the money as soon as the car is delivered. “Then I can use that money for the second car’s transfer, and give it back to you when that one is delivered.”

Uh oh. Nigerian scam with a twist. I don’t want to rain all over her parade, but the weather is not looking good right now. I try logic. “Why can’t they pay the ‘transfer’ themselves if they’re only going to give it back to you?” She tells me that they explained that doing it that way would not be legal. Oh, right. But I press on. “If the car is new, why do they want you to ‘transfer’ the registration?”

She tells me they say it is a police requirement. “Have you called the police to ask?” I enquire. “Of course! They encouraged me to do that!” I am momentarily stumped, but then ask her what number she called. “Oh, it’s right here on their instruction page, where it says ‘Call Police to confirm correct registration transfer fees.” Ah, right, very clever.

So because she’s excited and happy, and wants to hear nothing from the King of Negativity that might spoil that, I make a deal with her. I’ll advance the money, but only if my solicitor talks to her first, examines the deal and approves it. I know her – she is very intelligent, honest, caring and a workaholic – but she is also extremely stubborn and independent. If I refuse her request, she will simply go elsewhere to get the forward payment, then run aground on the deadly Nigerian reefs as so many have done before her.

Luckily, she agrees to meet my solicitor, and I sit sadly watching while that worthy explains the nature of the scam to her, shattering the dream of financial independence for both her and her parents in the process. It is a necessary and brutal surgery, and one that requires a finesse better administered by my solicitor than by me. I listen as she describes how scam artists buy biscuits or confectionery in bulk, then professionally re-pack them using counterfeit bags. The bogus tokens – most of them “winners” – are slipped into the bags before they are sealed, ready for ecstatic purchasers to find and get suckered into pre-paying ‘delivery’, ‘registration’ or ‘transfer’ fees to facilitate a major prize which, of course, never arrives.

Those who are cautious are encouraged to check with the ‘authorities’, whose number is conveniently printed on the accompanying instructions. The number is, of course that of the fraudsters themselves, who explain in official tones that declining to make the requested payment will mean instant forfeiture of the ‘prize’. Very few use their own resources to find and call the customer service number of Tango, or any other company being unwittingly used as a front for these crooks. Very few think to question the “Police’ number printed, because this is Indonesia, where the social norm is never to challenge those in authority.

Most are in borderline economic circumstances, which makes them easy prey for the heartless bastards who care nothing for their victims, thinking only to enrich themselves at the expense of others. They operate with impunity, apparently safe from police interference, and make billions while doing so. Personally, I would cut off their balls and sell their scrotums as tobacco pouches before boiling them in oil. Perhaps it is fortunate that I don’t have any say about the implementation of justice in this country.

At the end of the meeting, after living through 12 hours of sleepless joy and the sudden shock of betrayal, I am worried that my friend will be faced with months of regretful contemplation, the annoying mosquito of  ‘what might have been’ buzzing constantly around her mind. But no. She is calm and stoical and simply smiles and says, “Thank you so much. I have learned a big lesson today.”

And after watching how she handled this little episode, so have I.



  1. Was this your pembantu Vyt? I recall you mentioned her in earlier posts.

    • This not the same person mentioned in earlier posts Mike.

  2. And now I’m wondering if it’s a good thing we Westeners have become so cynical and can see through these scams straight away (well, the cynics among us) or it would be somehow better overall if we were still so naive and innocent and willing to believe these fairy stories.

    And I dunno the answer.

    • The con-men, sharks and scammers world-wide would be delighted if if we were all naive, innocent and gullible as children.

      Me? Well call me cynical, but I am more of Sun Tzu’s philosophical persuasion. Knowing the strategies, tactics and mindset of the low-lifes gives you the power to defeat their machinations.

      “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.”

    • “I’m wondering if it’s a good thing we Westerners have become so cynical and can see through these scams straight away (well, the cynics among us)”

      I wouldn’t be so confident that Westerners, be they cynics or not, “can see through these scams straight away” as Westerners very often get scammed themselves…the Coca Cola prize scam, the UK Lottery Prize scam…and the list goes on. Forbes alone reported that in 2011 Americans lost over 485.3 million dollars in internet prize scams. The legitimate UK Lottery reports that over 70,000 folks have been duped by false UK Lottery scams amounting to millions and millions of pounds.

      Given the almost limitless resources to enforce their laws, why does this sort of activity continue in Western countries?

      While what happened to Vyt’s friend was sad, hopefully the lesson will protect her in the future.

      • The scams in the West, particularly the infamous ‘Nigerian Scam’, are deliberately targeted to a specific audience.
        A research paper by Microsoft’s Machine Learning Department Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria? claims that scam letters are intentionally unbelievable, and “complete with misspellings and pidgin English, in order to weed out the intelligent and leave only the most vulnerable targets”. For that reason, no amount of action, or warnings from the authorities can protect people from themselves.

        While the scam referred to in this post doesn’t use this technique, it is just as unconscionable in its targeting of the vulnerable.

  3. Not really Vyt. These 419 scams, aka advance fee payment frauds that perpetuate all over the West are often written in perfectly good English. Here’s a sample of the Coca Cola fraud e-mail:


    And here are several more examples of the UK Lottery fraud e-mails:


    • Um, not really Roy. You should actually read the examples you provided.

      The Coca-Cola fraud email in particular is appallingly written and contains many grammatical errors and quite a few strange word choices. Hardly “perfectly good English”.

      These may fool some people who do not have English as their native language, but, as Microsoft asserts, no-one but the gullible would be taken in by these.

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