From the Editor: When a scammer reached out to me, I reached back with a quid pro quo


PUNGO — The day before our nation celebrated independence from the Crown, I got an urgent email that seemed to be from the president of a university where I teach.

Except maybe I should mention this email came from a fishy Gmail account, not a university address. Vague Gmail is not how Dr. Scott D. Miller, president of Virginia Wesleyan University, communicates with faculty. 

Just to be safe, I called the university to verify this wasn’t him. Indeed, it was spam, maybe a phishing attempt or scam. Naturally, I forwarded my personal cell phone number to the fake Miller, which you shound never, ever do. Then I waited by the phone. 

The Fourth of July brought a text message from the bowels of the 210 area code: Hey, John. Follow up. Are you available? I sent you a message on my mail yesterday.

Who is this? I responded. 

It’s me, your president.

President Trump, greetings.

LOL, came the reply. It’s me, Miller.

I know. We do love to kid.

Again, this in no way represents the actual president of Virginia Wesleyan University, and I do enjoy working there. I generally refer to Dr. Miller as Dr. Miller. If I am mixing things up, I might go with sir.

The fake Miller texted back that he was in a meeting. You have to admire the dedication — Fourth of July and all. He wrote that he could not call on account of this meeting. Texting apparently was no big deal because, as we all know, nobody in a long meeting ever gets annoyed by that sort of thing.

I want you to help me out on something very important right away, the fake Miller wrote. I need you to help me get an iTunes gifts [sic] card from the store, I will reimburse you back when I get to the office.

I should mention that the real Dr. Miller is probably pretty good at making words singular. Also, the fake Miller’s text was a shocking example of the comma splice, which is when you erroneously join two independent clauses with only a comma. Students cannot get enough of me telling them that. 

Back to fake Miller: I need to send it to someone, and it is very important cause I’m still in a meeting, and I need to get it sent ASAP. It’s one of my best friend’s son’s birthday. The amount I want is $100, each in two pieces. So that will make it a total of $200.

Look, I’m an adjunct teacher who runs a print newspaper. This was kind of a big ask.

I’ll be reimbursing back to you.

It’s like the fake Miller read my mind.

He went on: I need physical cards, which you are going to get from the store. When you get them, just scratch it, and take a picture of them and attach it to the email then send it to me here. Do that fast now.

I sensed an opportunity. 

I need an assurance first, I wrote. Will you name a bench after me on campus?

Why did you need me to prove for you that I’m Miller? fake Miller wrote. Don’t you get my text on your mail? I’m in a meeting right now. Just do what I sent you.

Sorry, Miller!

Again, this is simply not how I address the real Dr. Miller. Virginia Wesleyan is a wonderful place to work. Go Marlins.

It’s just a bench, chief, I texted. We both know you can make this happen. Name a bench after me is all I’m asking here.

Silence. Perhaps I had pushed fake Miller too hard. I just saw my name on that bench, and it was glorious. So I texted as contritely as my fingers could manage. 

Should I get the card at Walgreens? 

Yes, I’m here. Get it ASAP.

The Walgreens at Red Mill? I can go to Landstown, but I get the sense time is a factor.

Go and get it ASAP now. When you get them, just scratch it and take a picture of them then send it to me here.

With a penny or my fingernail? And what’s up with my bench?

Just send the card here now.

Ultimately, there was an ultimatum. The fake Miller wrote he didn’t have anymore time to text on account of the meeting. However, I got the sense fake Miller ultimatums were not all that ultimate. I suspected he super-duper had more time to text. 

I pressed on.

Name a bench after me, Miller, or nothing doing.

I’m not telling you anything about it now because I’m in a meeting, and I’m so confused about you telling me to name a bench after you.

You name a bench after me at the university, and I send you the card. That’s how this is gonna go down, Miller. Capiche?

This was met with cruel, digital silence, but it was time to bring this deal home.

Hi, this is John’s dad, I texted. I took the phone because he is crying. Why won’t you name a bench after him, Miller? Have you no heart? Name a bench after my son, who is John and totally not me, his dad, typing this to you. He leaves it on the floor for you, Miller!

Nothing doing. 

No card for him. No bench for me. Are sentence fragments.

© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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2 thoughts on “From the Editor: When a scammer reached out to me, I reached back with a quid pro quo

  1. I like the way you think. I routinely get email messages with the subject line “Your order has been arrived,” and I think I’d be totally fooled if they just got the verbs right.

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