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Supply and Demand

The law of supply and demand is the central plank of many businesses. It’s pointless having a supply if there is no demand, and when one outstrips the other it has an immediate effect on the market. Fraudsters love supply and demand as it allows them the opportunity to tap into people’s emotions. Once a fraudster has got you making decisions with your heart rather than your head, you might as well just hand over the cash there and then.

Let me explain.I have a colleague, ‘Dave,” who specialises in this side of the industry and has made a very good living out of two types of commodity over the past 20 years. One is VW Camper Vans and the other is adorable puppies. He is no expert on either, but knows enough about them and what is currently fashionable to convince people that he is genuine and that the goods are genuine.

Let’s talk puppies; For those of you who do nothing but sit at home or at your desk flicking through social media sites, you will undoubtedly have noticed that a disproportionate number of celebrities own cute small dogs. The cutest of the cute (to many) is the French Bulldog. Dave tells me that this is actually an English Breed favoured by Parisian courtesans to attract clients and so were referred to as ‘French.’ That might be total rubbish, however, what is beyond doubt is that (a) they are incredibly popular, (b) they are hideously expensive, and (c) if you want a good one you need to act quickly as they are generally sold out by the time you get through to the seller.

Dave plays on this imbalance in supply and demand and can make £30,000 a month without actually leaving his living room. He buys a ‘burner’ mobile phone together with a Pay As You Go SIM card and drafts his classified advert. It usually reads something like this.

‘Adorable litter of much sought after Blue French Bulldogs available in 3 weeks. Full pedigree with several champions in the bloodlines of both parents. All are stunning, playful and in perfect health and will be microchipped, de-wormed and de-flead. We have 3 girls but only 1 boy. £2,000 each for the girls and £3,000 for the boy - no offers’

Dave places these adverts in publications that he knows will reach a wide audience, Gumtree, Craigslist, etc. Within hours of the advert appearing he is inundated with calls. By wording the advert as he did, Dave has made it very clear that he is in control. He states from the outset that he is not accepting any offers and this effectively weeds out anyone who is less than incredibly enthusiastic about buying. Their scarcity is reinforced by the inclusion of 'much sought after' and he has also already created a degree of tension as there are three girls and only one boy. This emphasises that the boy is therefore even more sought after.

Rather than jump at the first opportunity, Dave intensifies the sense of urgency further, using an established sales technique. He tells each caller something like, ‘I’m sorry they have all been bought. You have just missed the last one. I wish I had known how many calls I was going to get as I could have doubled the price. Sorry.’ Whilst Dave is clearly grooming each caller for the next phase, the callers feels that they have only just missed out. Had they rang a few minutes earlier, they would now be awaiting collection of their heart’s desire. Apparently some callers have even been known to sob down the phone! A few plead with Dave to take their name and number and call them back if a sale falls through. He ‘reluctantly’ agrees and takes their details.

Dave gives it a few days, then begins to ring back the original callers. He explains that one of the buyers has messed him around and does not have the money despite their promises. He explains that he does not want to appear rude, but rather matter-of-factly says that if they don’t want the puppy or don’t have the money, he is going to put the phone down and ring the next person on his list. The buyer can’t believe their luck, they are about to benefit from someone else’s inability to pay and they know that they have sufficient funds, so the deal is as good as done. They are not suspicious but rather they rationalise this as fate, or ‘what’s meant to be is meant to be’

Dave tells the caller to pay the full amount into his account and gives them the necessary details. Anyone who questions this or who only agrees to pay a deposit is told that they sound like someone else trying to mess him about. If they don’t pay immediately, then he is going to ring someone else. At this point, the vast majority are afraid of jeopardising the sale, so they readily agree to do as he asks. He adds that once the money has been paid in, he will ring them to agree a date and time for collection. Once again, Dave is in control. If they don’t dance to his tune - he drops them. If they ask to see the puppy, he says that he is in Northern Ireland and will be bringing them across to Stranraer on the ferry for collection once weaned in three weeks. This puts people off visiting. He has a vast collection of nice puppy photos that he can use if necessary, and he emails them from a newly set up gmail account.

Dave checks his bank account, and as soon as the money arrives he texts the buyer. He thanks them for the payment and advises them that he will be in touch a week before collection of the puppy. His text is friendly and ends in a smiley face emoticon. The buyer feels reassured that they have secured their purchase, and that Dave is a nice guy after all. Dave needs to build in this delay between payment and collection, to give him time to transfer the money from the account the punters pay into, to another account, and then withdraw it as soon as possible. In a weeks time, It's not unusual to see more than 20 cars waiting at Stranraer ferry terminal for a guy called Dave and a really cute puppy.

A variation on the theme that Dave uses relates to VW camper vans. This time Dave says that he is in Germany with a fantastic vehicle, however, the steering wheel is on the ‘wrong side,’ for driving over there, which is why he is advertising in the UK. His ‘back story’ is that another guy in the British Army stationed in Germany imported and professionally restored it before selling it to him, as he was getting divorced and needed the money.

Once again, supply and demand come into play. These vehicles have an enormous following and the older ones attract ridiculous prices, with fully restored vehicles attracting anything between £30,000 and £60,000. As the owners of these vehicles want to tell the world how beautiful they are and how much they have spent on them, the Internet is rammed with photographs of these vehicles, taken from every angle imaginable. Dave finds a particularly attractive vehicle, copies the photos and pixelates the number plate. Again, his location stops people from inspecting before purchasing, and he says he will bring it across on the ferry to Dover.

Once again, Dave advises hopeful callers that the VW has already been sold for the asking price to ‘some VW nut,’ and feigns surprise at the response to his advert and wishes that he had advertised it for a lot more. The fact that the ‘buyer’ appears to be someone who knows what they are talking about amplifies the punter’s feeling of loss. They believe they have clearly missed something that someone with knowledge and experience of the vehicles wanted, and for which they were were willing to pay the asking price. This makes the vehicle even more attractive! Once a few days have passed, Dave begins to ring back the ‘disappointed punters,’ advising them that ‘your luck is in’ as the previous buyer can no longer get the money together, and Dave is sick and tired of time wasters.

If the buyer sounds particularly keen, he will stick to his price and refuse to negotiate. He is not interested in taking a deposit and insists that, if the full asking price is not transferred, he will simply move onto the next person. The buyer will have already done their own research and will be aware that Dave is asking a fair price for a vehicle in such superb condition. The fact that Dave is not making any ‘hard sell’ improves his credibility further in the eyes of the buyer. He told me about one woman who was buying it for her husband as a combined 50th anniversary and retirement present. They were going to spend their hard-earned free time travelling around the UK visiting the grandchildren in their uber cool VW. Needless to say, that never happened (not in Dave’s VW at least!)

However, If the buyer sounds less enthusiastic, Dave agrees to reduce the price very slightly. The buyer is grateful to Dave for being so reasonable, and thinks that he is getting a bargain. In doing this Dave actually creates leverage. Dave has done something that has benefited the buyer, so the buyer feels subconsciously obliged to reciprocate in some way. This will be in the form of paying the cash direct into Dave’s account before collecting the vehicle.

For each scam Dave is meticulous in his preparation, execution and completion. He always uses a new burner mobile phone (cheap as chips) and a new PAYG SIM card, both of which are destroyed at the end of the scam. He uses a professional-quality piece of software to wipe the memory on his computer to rid himself of any images he has used, and always opens a new bank account for each scam. From my very first diary entry, you are aware how easy it is to open new accounts. Once he has withdrawn the money, he destroys all cards and documentation relating to it.

As far as the supply of puppies and VW Camper Vans are concerned, Dave has a never ending supply because they only exist in the imagination of the buyers. Demand is driven by a number of things including the media and the need to have the most desirable possessions. As I said at the beginning, once you start making decisions with your heart rather than your head, you might as well hand over the cash there and then. Mugs.

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