Archive for September, 2013

The Western Union Roommate Scam By The Chilean Jorge Ramirez

September 4, 2013

After more than a month of looking for a roommate, we finally got a lead from a guy who seemed interested. We met him in a shopping center on Calle 72 and he started to tell us about himself. His name is Jorge, he is a Chilean and he has come to Bogota to design vertical gardens that will be attached to the Transmilenio stops as well as many downtown buildings. His introduction was flawless. Then his story took a somewhat ominous turn. “On my first day in Colombia I was robbed outside of the Western Union at knifepoint and the guy got off with $1,600,000 pesos I had just received from my wife in Chile,” recounted Jorge as we sat on a bench in the shopping mall with him. From that point on the story became even more fishy. Apparently, according to Jorge, Western Union sells insurance on any transaction it does for an additional $10,000. “I didn’t want to get the insurance, but the teller insisted. I told her twice, ‘No thanks, I don’t need insurance.’ She then told me that 3 people had been mugged in front of that Western Union location and she would strongly recommend that I get the insurance,” said Jorge. “I finally said, yes.”

Up until that point he seemed like a nice enough guy, he had those cool reading glasses that detach at the nose with a band that went around his neck. He was wearing a blue, button down long sleeve T-shirt and a grey hat with the Brazilian flag. He looked like the kind of guy who hung around George Clooney on the weekends. Just based on his attire and personal hygiene, we probably would have rented him the room even if he told us that he was an almost recovering heroin addict. So, we started walking to the Transmilenio to take him to our apartment. I paid his way and gave him some tips about riding the Transmilenio (always sit or stand the closest to the driver as possible and never show anyone your cell phone).

After we gave him a tour of the apartment, he said he loved it and didn’t complain about the price. There was one more piece of information he gave, “I won’t be able to pay the rent until I get the refund from Western Union, which will take 10 working days.”

He moved all of his stuff in within two hours. As he was moving in he told me a story which I really didn’t pay too much attention to. “I was watching you in the parking lot take out the trash,” he said as he wheeled his suitcase down the hallway. “That’s strange, I took out the trash more than 30 minutes ago, why would someone sit in the parking lot for a half hour while we were inside waiting for him?” I thought to myself.

From that point on, he was the ideal roommate. He was gone early in the morning and would spend all day out of the house. He never cooked any food, therefore there were never any of his dishes lying around. On the weekends he was never around. I started to wonder, “This guy is too perfect, there must be something going on.”

Then two weeks went by and Jorge still hadn’t paid us. It was at this point that my girlfriend Kary and I started to get suspicious. To buy time, Jorge would think of some clever way to convince us not to worry about the rent money, even if what he said contradicted itself. In the evening he might say, “Tomorrow I am going to sign a contract worth $30,000,000 pesos with an architecture firm on 74th Street.” Then an hour later he’d ask, “Do you know which bus passes by 74th Street and 7th Avenue?” Why would someone about to sign contract worth well over $15,000USD take a bus to work?

Then the next day there would come and due to some clerical error he wasn’t able to sign the contract. And, when it asked when the refund was coming,  there was always some last minute unexpected delay which was going to postpone the money being refunded until the following Monday. A full 20 days had come and gone and still we were left holding the bag. Then one Saturday morning Jorge knocked on our door. “Sorry, I have to go to Melgar to start a new job. I am leaving now and need your signature so the doorman will let me take my luggage out of the building. I realize that I have committed to living here for 4 months, so I will deposit three-months’ rent into your account on Monday,” Jorge said to us while peering through the doorway into our room.

Kary was pretty much in shock at that point, so I got up and took a walk with Jorge to the front desk. When I asked the doorman what was going on he said to me, “If your roommate is going to leave, he needs to talk with the building supervisor, her office is above the parking lot.” Luckily, the doorman stopped him from leaving.

I told Jorge to wait in the apartment for me, I then went to see the building supervisor. “In order for your roommate to leave, the person in charge of the apartment needs to submit a letter of all the things that will be taken out of the apartment. The tenant must also leave a deposit of $140,000 for administration fees, that will be refunded in 10 days.” A chill went up my spine after hearing the words, ‘10 days.’

This was the first time in my life I was glad that administration fees were being charged. I went back to the apartment and told Jorge that he would need to come up with $140,000 pesos before he could walk.

“I have only $4,000, just enough money to get a bus to the bus station,” he responded as he opened his wallet. In fact there were just two bills in his wallet. Both for $2,000.

“Well, you need to call your friends in Melgar, because the administration isn’t going to let you leave until you pay the deposit,” I said to him. He then walked purposefully back into his room and came back with $100,000.

“Here, take this, I don’t have time to deal with this problem. I have to go to the bus station,” he said, avoiding eye contact.

I could feel my adrenaline kick in at this point. “Listen Jorge, a second ago, you only had $4,000 pesos. Where did this extra $100,000 pesos come from?” I asked.

“It is my friend’s money. I was supposed to use it for my ticket to Melgar,” he said.

“This isn’t a negotiation, the building supervisor is not going to lower the price because you are in a hurry,” I said as I put my hands up, with my palms facing Jorge.

Jorge then turned into William H. Macy’s character (the dirty car dealer) in the movie Fargo as he grabbed his coat and stormed off to go get the money.  Unfortunately on his way out, he didn’t deliver any memorable H. Macy lines like, “I’m… I’m not arguing here! I’m cooperating. So there’s no need to… we’re doin’ all we can here.”

20 minutes later, the doorbell rang. Jorge was back and had the money. Now, I was even more suspicious of the guy.

“How come when we asked you, you had no money for the rent, but now all of a sudden you can come up with the money now that you are in a hurry to leave?” I asked.

“It’s because I don’t like to ask my friends for money…on Monday you’ll have the money in your bank account for three months’ rent…” he then dove back into his Moby Dick-sized tall tale which was turning into a sinking ship.

“Jorge, we don’t believe you,” stated Kary. “None of what you have said to us makes any sense. You must pay your debt to us before you leave.”

“On Monday this…on Monday that,” said Jorge.  His story hadn’t changed but the pace of his delivery had picked up a notch or two. It was now the two of us in his room with his suitcase which had a lock around the zipper. Kary watched over Jorge’s should towards me.

“Jorge, you need to leave us some sort of guarantee that you will come back and pay the $330,000 you owe us,” I said.

“What do you want, all I have is some pictures my children drew for me,” he said, clearly emotional as he tore open his suitcase and put a pile a children’s drawings of dinosaurs in my arms, as well as a few pictures of school-aged children in turtle necks. The next thing I knew, there was a 50-year old Chilean man crying in my apartment.

“Listen, these drawings probably are valuable to you, but to me they aren’t worth $330,000,” I said as I handed him back the drawings.

“I can’t give you my laptop, I need that for work.”

“Where’s your passport?”

“I need that for my job as well.”

“How about your clothes?”

“Listen, I am in a hurry, here I need to get to go to…”

“Let me make this as clear as I can. I need something that is worth the rent money.”

Jorge then dug into the bottom of his suitcase and produced a external hard drive. He put it into my hands. “My entire life is on this hard-drive. Everything I have done in my life is there. Please take care of it.”

I looked it over. It seemed to be the right weight. Kary gave me a look like she wanted this whole thing over, so I let him go. Since then there has been no sign from Jorge, nor his money.

When the country of Peru is mentioned, one imagines a peaceful scene of an Andean alpaca grazing along an Incan stone wall. When Ecuador is brought up, we imagine a rain forest panorama of frogs jumping off branches while butterflies mate in the background. When Colombia is mentioned, we envision a post-apocalyptic city full of overturned buses, being pillaged by men in ski masks. It is obvious which country any rational person would seek to avoid while searching for an internet bride.

“48,000,000 Colombians Can’t Be Wrong” is a true adventure story about a 37-year-old socially-awkward man who decided that the best way he could deal with a life sentence of microwavable burritos and 10-hour Facebook marathons was to look online for a girlfriend in Colombia and then hop on a flight to Colombia’s capital in pursuit of a woman he has never met.

During his first month in Bogota, Brian falls in with two white, self-assured backpackers who the author describes as, “…not the kind of guys who pump the brakes before going through an uncontrolled intersection.” He is then nearly kidnapped during an encounter with a woman he met online, almost becomes business partners with a Korean man in the “diamond business” and is forced to sleep in the DVD room of his hostel due to lack of funds.

Brian quickly regroups after his first month and auditions for the part of “congressional aide” in a Colombian feature film called “Left To Die.” He then lands a job as a writer for an English-language newspaper where his first interview is with a “suspected undercover CIA agent.” Brian then gets thrown off a TV set for refusing to take off his shirt from under his police uniform. While Brian is not getting thrown off TV sets, he marvels at all the discarded construction materials Colombians throw into pot holes to lessen their depths. Because of this strategy, a bus going over one of these open trenches (full of construction materials) will occasionally sling a chest-high brick through a group of panic-stricken pedestrians.

Brian sincerely believed this trip would put him on a track towards a life of excitement, intrigue and exotic women, far from his increasing first world debt. Instead, he unexpectedly falls into a job as an extra in a Colombian soap opera, has panic attacks, watches other gringos lose their marbles and blows half his paycheck on bootlegged DVD’s. Along the journey, he chronicles his friendships, the deranged ex-pats he meets, and his struggles/triumphs, including one fateful night in a Israeli restaurant that would change his life forever.

To view the complete book, “48,000,000 Colombians Can’t Be Wrong,” go to …*Version*=1&*entries*=0