Merlin Gnatluster: Interweb Vigilante

When we bought Galapagos last year, we were left with a number of items that we hoped to sell on Craigslist. One such item is the old transmission. I don’t know if you have priced a marine transmission lately but they can be really expensive and frankly I would be happy for any amount of money to have it out of my garage.

So on to Craigslist it went. And stayed. And Stayed. I’ve had a few nibbles but usually it just isn’t the right part. But then Joe came along. Joe really wanted to buy my transmission. He wanted this transmission so badly, that he didn’t haggle, didn’t ask any questions about it and possibly doesn’t know what a transmission is. In short, Joe is running a classic scam in which he offers to buy something for well over its asking price or, in Joe’s case, inadvertently sends more than the asking price and then requests that you send the balance back to him.

I sometimes find these scams a pleasant diversion. I was interested in Joe’s deal because he initiated contact via instant messaging and he wanted to send me a Money Order. As in through the mail. That seemed rather quaint and also a federal offense that can be investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspectors. It is unlikely that Joe is in this country but I bet some of his associates are and I am hopeful they will be having a chat with the authorities soon.

To create the right conditions for a fruitful relationship with a scammer, I have created an alter ego, Merlin Gnatluster.  Think of Merlin as that trusting and optimistic soul you wish  could exist in the world without being preyed upon. He always wants to do the right thing and he is extremely helpful. He wants to get to know people at a level that is uncommon in the digital world. Also Merlin wants this transaction to succeed as much as Joe does but sometimes he just doesn’t have all the tools he needs.

Below is a transcript from Merlin’s conversation with Joe. It is long so feel free to skim. Be sure to check out the “Money Gram” Joe mailed to Merlin.

In order to present the conversation in a readable format reminiscent of a chat session, I have used some CSS that may not render perfectly in older browsers. I have tested it in the latest versions of Chrome, Mozilla and Internet Explorer and it looks great. Older browsers, especially Internet Explorer may not work well.

My comments on the proceedings are in italics. Notice that there is an inner scroll bar just for the conversation.

I would like to provide attribution for some of the technology that permitted me to capture and present the conversation above: on how to pull SMS messaging from the Iphone using SQL-Lite:

Nicholas Gallagher’s CSS work to build Speech Bubbles:

16 thoughts on “Merlin Gnatluster: Interweb Vigilante

  1. 8-6-7-5-3-o-9…I got your number…..your number on the waalll….

    Crazy he didn’t catch that.
    It wouldbe fun to do a variation where the money order keeps getting wrecked before you get it deposited, see how many you can get him to send before he gives up….
    Anyway, I hope you find a real buyer soon!
    (This worked but was a bit awkward on android)

    • The Money Order was an interesting twist. I can’t imagine any bank accepting such a thing as it was obvious that the security features had not been copied.

      I too found it curious that Joe was so unwilling to quit the game. I kept dropping hints that should have convinced him early on that I knew what was up. But right up until the end, he wanted to believe that Merlin had the number for his monkey gram.

    • It is a perverse kind of entertainment. I found myself feeling like a bully for making fun of this guy. On the other hand, he would have quite happily liberated several hundred dollars from your mother if given the chance.

  2. I loved reading this! I have been lately dealing with a phone caller who says he is from “Technical support” and is responding to my computer problems. It’s a complete scam, but I may just string him along until I can get enough information to report to FCC (and Microsoft, since I think they have more resources and motivation). The scam seems to be that they can deal with problems I’m having with Windows 8 if I will give them access to the computer. Interesting, since I’m on a Mac . . . .

    • Interesting that they are using the phone for this scam. It sounds labor intensive.

      I received a case number from Postal Inspectors today. It was just a form email but maybe some day, they will contact me about the case. I would love to make some impact, however small, on these kinds of criminals.

  3. Bravo, Mike. But one thing concerns me…Merlin seemed to get less erudite as the conversation moved along. I am worried for him!

    • I’m afraid that Merlin tends to mosey in and out of character. At first, I am not entirely sure it is a scam and it takes me a while to develop the voice.

      Next time I’ll try to be more consistent.

  4. Are you Merlin or Mike.. This is Rita or Joe. Sorry for not getting back sooner but my mother and sister were abducted by aliens and are now in hospital needing an operation. I was on my way there to pay when I was robbed and all my money was stolen. After paying for the operation I was going to make a large donation to the Chrcu roof appeal,…. Can you help. I have a Paypay account.

    Really, loved the blog and the way you strung him out and all the different names you used for the money gram.

    • Being abducted by aliens is the worst. All that probing.

      Thanks for reading. I really enjoyed You have some very nice transitional effects on the site. I also enjoyed reading about Lagos. As a young man, I spent a few weeks camping out in Sagres and reading Hesse.

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