The Definition: The Custom Seize Scam is an elaborate and risky scam for the cons, but with a big prize if they pull it off. They rely on our natural respect for authority; the presence of a uniform and a badge causes us to forego our natural skepticism, ask fewer questions and to do what we are told. The scammers play on this fear to take what it rightfully your, and make it wrongfully theirs.
The Mark: A carload of young lads just back from a booze cruise, their auto laden with just-purchased cases of liquor and wine purchased in
The Scam: The spotter keeps a sharp eye out for a carload of likely marks, while the two fake custom agents go to a secluded spot to disguise their van to look like an official customs vehicle. These con-artist agents are taking a terrific chance dressing up as custom agents, because the punishment for this impersonation could be a year in jail. When they’re done preparing, though, resplendent in their yellow vests and uniforms, complete with radio communication, they are very convincing. Only the most discerning mark would suspect that they were a pair of scammers running a con game.
When the binocular-toting spotter spies a car loaded with booze, she relays the specifics to the fake customs van, and our two con-agents take off to make the intercept. Pulling up behind the cons with lights flashing, they have entered the most dangerous portion of the sting. They are making a high-profile stop in plain view of the public – and of any passing legitimate law enforcement agents. Here, then, they are at their most vulnerable, yet they manage to remain cool and collected under pressure. Every scammer worth his salt has to be.
The stop goes smoothly and the marks are told to step out of the vehicle and to stand at the curb. The two posers make a big deal of inspecting the auto and its contents, and inform the marks they their car has been singled out for inspection; a fact hammered home when they overhear a radio call from the spotter describing the make, model and license number of their vehicle. The victims are convinced that they are well and truly pinched.
As you might suspect by now, the contents of the boot – all that beautiful booze – will have to be confiscated temporarily by the con-agents, till the marks can get custom clearance “back at the office”. Adding insult to injury, the marks are asked to carry the booty themselves, obediently loading it into the van. Heaven forbid the scammers should have to do any heavy lifting as they rob these poor saps.
The out-of-luck boys take off to explain to the real customs agents that their alcohol purchase was for their private consumption and not for commercial use. We can only guess as to what bemused expressions the bona fide agents will have on their faces when these marks relate their tale of inspection and confiscation.
Our scammers, in the meantime, have taken off in the opposite direction with their boozy bounty, and within short order have stripped off their incriminating uniforms and peeled the customs markings from the van. There will be much toasting in the lair of thieves tonight, though most of the spirits will, of course, be sold.
The Lesson Learned: It is tough to single out these lads for not being cautious enough in this particular sting; alas, faced with more mature gentlemen with uniforms, badges, radio communications and an official-looking vehicle, there are few of us indeed who might have demanded further identification. Couple that with the fact that few individuals are familiar with the inner workings of the customs process, and unaware that customs inspections are not conducted “on the fly” by chase vehicles. The one lesson we can take from this is that some scams are so well constructed that we should not beat ourselves up over being the victim.