The Flim- Flam Man Back with a new twist!
When you hear the term Flim-Flam Man you may think first not of that 1967 film but of Professor Harold Hill in the 1957 musical The Music Man. His game was travelling town to town selling the idea of creating a town band
February 3, 2009 By Rob Seaman
When you hear the term Flim-Flam Man you may think fi rst not of that 1967 fi lm but of Professor Harold Hill in the 1957 musical The Music Man. His game was travelling town to town selling the idea of creating a town band. In the process he bilks an entire community, from the mayor on down, out of their cash to buy band instruments and uniforms – never intending to deliver on the promised training
that is supposedly included.
The latest version of this kind of con artist is a supposed aircraft purchaser who never intends to buy any aircraft but succeeds in getting sellers to give him money! Ridiculous and highly unlikely, many would think? The truth is that this game is routinely being played out on a daily basis. The player is not as smooth as Professor Hill, but increasingly the banter and scam is getting better and more sophisticated. It is unfortunately part of the price we pay for an internet-based society and a very strange economy. The bottom line is that the aviation sector has become the latest playing field for those looking to make money from nothing. And the number of scams seems to be rising – along with the scammers’ reach and outright gall.
According to one Toronto-based lawyer, most of these scams originate from someone with a computer in an internet café somewhere. They Google a bunch of websites and rip off information to post on their own site, making them look credible. Look closer, though, and you can see that some of the letters are switched or the quality is not quite up to snuff. Case in point, Nav Canada has just issued a warning about an e-mail scheme that involves sending out phoney collection notices. The language is pretty threatening and leaves no doubt that failure to pay will result in grounding your future flights. But look carefully at the note and compare it to genuine notes from folks at the real office that have an e-mail address suffix of @navcanada.com. The address on the scam is @nav-canada.com. Little changes like that hyphen are the things that can be the “tell” between a genuine and fraudulent note. As the lawyer says – for every 10 or so of these things that they bang out while sipping coffee and laughing at us, there is inevitably one person who will reply and in the process become a victim of fraud.
It is by no means only inexperienced aviation professionals who are getting hit with these frauds. With the growing inventories of resale aircraft and the lack of solid buyers lined up at the door (as they were a few months back), the sales game has changed. As one broker noted, in this economy nobody can afford not to check out every opportunity. But figuring out the good from the bad takes time. These scams play on our need to make a living, and the time wasted is criminal in itself. A recent large-scale airplane buying scam involved the 2010 FIFA World Cup being hosted in South Africa. It started in September and has involved at least four Canadian and three U.S. brokers to date. Had everyone fallen for the ruse, with just the known brokers alone it could have netted almost $1 million to the scam artists. In another twist, these scams have also been used as a means to gain illegal entry to Canada. According to some reports, there may be a request for a letter of invitation (from those living in nations that require such) to come and see the aircraft. This apparently is then used as a means for the person to gain entry – even though those selling the aircraft will never hear from that person again. This then becomes an issue of immigration regulations and can potentially put the invitee into hot water.
Fortunately, this industry is close-knit. Even though they might be competing for the same sale, people share information in this business. That openness can continue to save us from being future victims. When colleagues call to say they heard you might have some knowledge about doing business in South Africa, taking the time to explain will not only save them from the same loss and aggravation, it will thwart the scammers. This frequently opens networking opportunities on the real deals that are out there. Not very many other industries could brag about this sort of in-business camaraderie. Will we stop the scams? No. But keeping together makes it harder for their perpetrators to win.
As Red Green says – “We’re all in this together!”