A guy called Jason cold calls, ostensibly from Florida. He has great news for me - he wants to give me a cheque for $135,000 (worth about £82,000). All I have to do is to sign a few forms and the money is mine. There are no catches and no charges, he assures me.
I stopped believing in the tooth fairy when I was about seven. I've benefitted from the odd freebie in my life, but never £82,000. Jason told me the money was mine because I held 15,000 shares in World Wide Child Care Corporation and his firm represented someone who would pay $9 a share for these.
I don't own those shares
I protested that I did not own any shares in this firm, and I have never heard of it. But Jason was adamant. I must have the shares because he had my name and phone number (although not my address which should appear on a share register).
Jason promised to email me documentation to claim my $135,000. This went straight to spam. It was complex – full of legal jargon which I am sure would have caused me trouble had I signed.
I checked out the company's share price. The last price for WWCCC was just 40 cents – a long way from nine dollars. In fact, before recent activity, it was priced at just 1.5 American cents. So $9 was pie in the sky.
I quizzed Jason but he told me that all he knew was that he had the legal responsibility to ensure all holders were paid $9 per share.
Two or three calls later, Jason finally conceded that I was not interested in his offer. But that was not the end of it. He sent me yet another piece of legalese which I had to print and sign. This also went straight to spam.
The Department of Orderly Liquidation
The basic gist of it was that I was confirming that I was declining the offer, which meant that I would be left with "no legal ownership of said equity or be able to redeem said holdings as for the shares will be deemed null and void by the courts as said company will no longer exist.” It also suggested that the document would serce as "an official Department of Orderly Liquidation Default Notice".
It was all rubbish, of course. I have never heard of the Department of Orderly Liquidation, becuase it is pure fiction. But even fictional organisations have their own websites these days, and the Department of Orderly Liquidation is no exception.
Its site says that the Department was "established to promote investor confidence in the securities and capital markets by providing more structure and government oversight". "The DOL is concerned primarily with promoting disclosure of important information, enforcing securities laws, and protecting investors who interact with these various organizations and individuals,” it goes on.
There's plenty more, all similarly grand in nature, but still untrue.
Had I been greedy or stupid enough to respond, I would have had to pay “advance legal fees”, “brokerage costs” and anything else these imaginative people could come up with as bait for the cash. I would have been tens of thousands of dollars down, not $135,000 up.