No, I can’t send you a ‘Fly Fishing Wind Tunnel that works! None of them work. The whole thing is a scam, get it? Come on, be real—a wind tunnel to test fly-fishing lures?
What I’m going to describe is a clever scam I recently learned about. Well, okay, I have to admit that I actually fell for this scam! Even me, a veteran con artist for so many years, I actually fell for this. I guess it was payback for all the times I took advantage of others. In my former professional life I would never have admitted to anyone that I’d been fooled. Now, though, I’m a reformed con man. So, I’m going to humble myself and tell you what happened.
It was late Fall, and the area where I live had suffered its first sustained cold spell. As I looked out the picture window in my den, stared at the rain soaking the back meadow, I dreamt of being able to get out and fish. So what did I do? One of the next best things to actually fishing—read about fishing.
Listening to the sound of rain, I sat down on a couch next to the table where I stack my fishing magazines. I love to look for new gear. That’s why I read every ad in a magazine. Toward the back of a magazine, that’s were I found the ad that is now the source of my humiliation. Which ad? The one that read ‘Build your own wind tunnel to test your homemade fly fishing lures!’ In hindsight how could I have been so blind?
The heart of this plan is that it’s a mail-order scam. No in-store sales, no exhibit at sporting shows. The buyer never gets to touch an actual working model. Boy, though, didn’t the photo of the machine in the magazine look great!
I knew just where I’d put my new prize gizmo wind tunnel. After I sold those Chinese Army surplus titanium pizza pans, just like the ones used on the Chinese space station orbiting Venus, I had an empty spot in the back garage. I checked off the days on my office calendar waiting for my new gizmos’ arrival.
Then the big day came: Fed Ex showed up with the crate! It was hard to tell, but I think the return address had something to do with Russia or Siberia. The magazine ad had stated ‘Some home assembly is required because you’ve got to take into account local elevation and climate’. And I must admit that was part of the lure. If the thing showed up fully put together, all I had to was plug it into the wall, well, how much fun would that be? Yeah, I wanted to do some ‘home assembly’!
Right, so, I need to address your screaming question—why didn’t I get a refund? Just opening the box, and looking at the odd assortment of parts that fell out, well, right then and there, I should have realized I’d been scammed. But, that’s the genius of a good con—the victim, my God, right now, that’s ‘me’, so desperately wants the con to be legitimate that they are blind to what’s right in front of their nostrils. I should have realized when I looked at that pile of parts–the thing would never work.
I eagerly wheeled the crate to the garage. After cutting the crate open I lifted the parts out. Many of the parts looked close to being the same. But, they weren’t interchangeable. There were parts that had to be painted before assembly could begin. The fine print on the included paint can said the paint took at least 10 days to dry. The instructions said if there was even one bubble in the paint finish the ‘aerodynamics will be destroyed’. Should this have made me suspicious?
As I got further into the instructions I must admit I started to panic. This ‘home assembly’ started to seem like a project for a Lockheed aircraft engineer. Then I saw the DVD! Yes, an instructional DVD—now I was sure assembly would be easy. I brought a TV and DVD player out to the garage, and got the DVD going.
The TV came on, and the show came on. Instantly I was caught off guard. The host for the instructional DVD? I had assumed it would be some authoritative older fisherman or maybe one of those do-it-yourself guys from cable TV. But, who stood there on my TV screen surrounded by ‘wind tunnel’ parts? An 8 year-old girl!
She had thick black frame glasses, a pink dress, and pigtails. She looked like she wouldn’t know the difference between a screwdriver and an ice pick. She was going to show me how to put together a wind tunnel?
Then suddenly she went to work and came across as a mechanical genius. She had the thing together and working real quick. I should have, though, sensed a problem.
At times she did assembly steps without really explaining what she did. Other times it was impossible to see what she was doing. In hindsight I now realize the genius of using this awkward geeky girl. I was too embarrassed to admit that this girl could do something I couldn’t. If I had been honest I would have admitted ‘Wait this doesn’t seem right’. But, admit this girl was a better mechanic than me? Never.
Let me plead my case here a minute! The DVD showed the finished product, hooked up to a home computer. There were close-ups of actual fishing flies levitating in the tunnel. And this girl was running the computer.
Let’s talk about computers here. The home computer, which the buyer already owns, isn’t the only computer needed. There was a control panel computer that came with the tunnel. The control panel computer was how I really got suckered into accepting the jacked up price.
This control panel, though, was a genius part of the scam. What if I, and every other amateur wind tunnel expert, never even finished putting the thing together? What if I had gotten part way through, shoved it off in some dark dusty corner, and not tried to finish it? What would have happened—I would never have realized the thing could never work! And the control panel computer would actually help keep the tunnel from being assembled.
How did the control panel help not finishing the assembly? Remember I said the season was Fall? I now realize the release time of the wind tunnel, Fall, wasn’t by accident. Fall—that’s the time of endless cable TV and satellite TV coverage of football!
At seemingly odd times the control panel would blurp and cut to football games and analysis! And guess what? I was so frustrated I thought, why not take a break and watch some football!
Eventually, though, I’d feel guilty and get back to work. As the magazine ad had stated, what was the best way to stave off the despair of those cold, dark winter hours when you couldn’t fish–by preparing to fish. So, I got back to work.
And work I did try to do, but I now realize this scam appealed to that myth we do-it-yourselfers have about ourselves—that we are highly motivated, productive supermen. Instead what are many of us—lazy. I’m guessing that 40% of the wind tunnel kits sold and delivered never got opened. The winter slid by, spring came, and the buyer went off fishing, without even trying to open the crate. Once fishing season started, what was the average fishing Joe going to want to do? Sit around home on a sunny day and screw pieces of metal together–or go fishing? Go fishing, and put the tunnel kit, unassembled in a dark dusty corner, and never even consider getting a refund.
The thoroughness of this scam didn’t stop there, however. Even if football and laziness didn’t stop the amateur wind-tunnel assembler those scammers weren’t done.
Remember that custom control panel? The directions stated ‘You’re going to have to program the control panel computer’. “To customize for your unique needs” the program started asking me questions: favorite fishing spots, habits, and lifestyle: wind and water conditions; heat; pole type; kind of beer drunk and how many; time since last meal and what eaten; height and weight; Win-Loss record of favorite sports team; married-divorced-single; type of jeans; time since last fight with wife; shoe heel height; last grade in school; last time since eating corn chips or cheese; etc. I now know the computer program was designed to ask an endless assortment of questions combining all this material. It could take days or weeks to get all the way through.
And guess what—that would be just another reason to shove the entire mess into a dark dusty corner.
Were the scammers done yet? No, guess what—the DVD program had commercials for pizza. And I fell for them—I ordered delivery pizza. Then guess what? Toward the end of the very lengthy and convoluted directions there was a small warning—“Pizza grease on any of the parts will damage this device. If any part of this tunnel comes in contact with pizza grease, it and surrounding parts must be soaked in rubbing alcohol. All paint must be replaced.”
When I read this I dropped my slice of pizza and went bug-eyed. I was going to have start over, including scrapping off the paint? What would have been the reaction of your average fisherman? Shove the tunnel, pizza grease and all, into that dark dusty corner. And not apply for a refund.
Me though? I wasn’t going to be beaten by some geek girl with pigtails. So, when I got stuck and overly frustrated I did what the written instructions said I should do: watch the 2nd DVD.
I put in the 2nd DVD, and there she was, Miss Pink Dress. She looked very embarrassed. She said she had thought the assembly was sooo very easy. She said I should just keep trying over and over until mine worked, just like her tunnel did. If, though, I really wanted to mail for a refund here was the address. The address flashed on the screen. And that’s when the light finally, finally went on in my head: I had a sudden thought that the address sounded suspicious. I was right.
I contacted friends of mine in Russia. When I explained the control panel computer they laughed and said there were geeks in China who could put out panels like that fast and cheap.
Then my Russian friends tracked the path of the proposed refund. The path went from Bermuda, and then to Siberia. My friends then found that these refund applications would fall into a Russian department of commerce black hole. Your refund? You’d never hear about it, ever.
Sorry to disillusion you, but I got taken.
Yours in the faith,