Saturday, March 19, 2011

Always Trust Your Gut

Many of you  know that I am an ESL teacher and that we also run a homestay program for students from other countries. Unfamiliar with what a  homestay is? Basically, we provide room and board to students from other countries who are studying English here in Canada.

We currently have one homestay student from South Korea and another one coming soon. We just received news that we were to have a Chinese student stay with us for four months. I was thrilled, since we haven't had any Chinese students stay with us before.

The mother, Meifeng Cheng found me via one of the ESL boards I belong to and am registered with. She sent me this message:

Thanks for your respond. Kindly let me know what your price is like for 2 meals [Breakfast and Dinner], my main worry is for her to stay with a lovely good home. I hope your home will provide her the kind of atmosphere she need.

She will be coming on the 12th of March and leave on the 12th of July, 2011. Also we are going to pay up front, I don't what Lui to have money problems when she is with you Mr.Tom Park will handle the payment for us since he reside in Canada. Mr.Park is a long time friend of my family I contacted him about Mei moving to Canada for her studies and he said is a nice idea and promised to help us out with the payment.

God has help me to rise Lui up in His way so she is a nice young girl and you will love her I promise you. She will be going to a language school and have two schools which she's talking with but I have also asked her that am going to ask you to advice us on any good school close to your home, Can you help her to enroll when she comes over? Please note that her English speaking is very slow and for this I allowed her to visit my step-sister in England, I want her English to improve a bite before coming to your home. She will move from England to Canada I pray you will assist her.

Lui is 19 year. Here in China if you can speak and write English you will have a very good job as the economy is growing everyday I want Lui to be ready I want to give her my best now after I found her.

Let me hear from you.



We e-mailed back and forth over the course of the next few days. It struck me as odd that she never answered my questions and that she kept asking me for information that was evident, had she read my work website. All the information was there, yet she kept asking me things that she should have known.

Things didn't add up, and they just got more mysterious. She told me that Tom Park would be Lui's contact in Canada and that he would be handling her homestay arrangements and everything required to get her here. Tom Park did call me and he sent me a company cheque for $4000.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and I am a pretty trusting person, but this felt wrong for some reason. A few days later, I received this:

How are you and your family? Am so glad that my Lui will be staying with a good home and you are going to be a nice mom to her. I have told Lui a lot about your family and she's very please and cannot wait to meet with her new family.

I just came in now and will be out again after sending you this e-mail. There's a lot for me to do regarding grammar's burial which I want it to come up on the 26th of March if possible. Am the only person doing all the arrangements for the burial. Grammar have only two children my Mom and his brother Bojing which we have not heard from over 9years now so am just alone.

I got an e-mail from Mr.Park about the overage which is $890. Our agreed price was $840 per month which is $3,360 for the 4 months. I have asked Park to loan me the money which he has agreed to, you can call him to confirm. Though in his last e-mail he told me he will be going on vacation.

Lui told me she have no money on her at all and I have no money to send to her right now as I have a lot to do here that involve money for grammar's burial, and I spent a lot on grammar's hospital bills. I told her I will talk to you. I am wondering if you can send her $3,000 from the amount Mr.Park sent to you so she can pay some bills, flight ticket, do some shopping and have some cash on her to move around with when she comes over till I settle down after the burial, I promise you I will make up the balance within her first month with you. Her welcome is over stayed in UK , I know what am talking about.

Kindly send to me the nearest airport she will land for easy pick up and the airline you think will be fine for her to fly with. I will get back to you later today when I hear from her.

Have a lovely day. Please am counting on you to take care of my Lui. I will give you her flight details once I get it from her. I have asked her to make sure her flight will land in the evening say around 6pm or 7pm your local time so you will be chance to pick her up. Or what do you think?


Yes she will do her ESL with you I thought we have agreed on this before now. What I don't know is if the 840$ covers the ESL fees if not kindly let me know but my main worry now is for Lui to move and be under your roof that's when I will be happy and relax here.

I was a bit confused, as we never "agreed" on a price. My prices for homestay do not include ESL lessons. It was all a bit weird. Of course, the asking me to send her daughter $3000 sent red flags up. Why would I have to send her daughter money to get her plane ticket?

I e-mailed Meifeng and Mr. Park and told them that we would love to host Lui, but not unless all her arrangements have been sorted out first. I told them that all of my ESL students have always ensured that they had adequate funds and all their visa, plane ticket, insurance, and everything else sorted first. I also found it weird that Meifeng did not sign the contract or waiver form that I e-mailed to her for Lui.

Like I said, I'm generally not a suspicious person, but I'm glad I was this time.

Feeling an odd sensation in the pit of my stomach, I Googled the names "Meifeng Cheng", "Lui Cheng", and "Tom Park". To my horror, it was confirmed that this was indeed a scam! There were tons and tons of homestay families on one of the ESL community boards who were victims of this scam. Fortunately for me, I listened to my gut feeling.

Since the last e-mail where I told "Meifeng" and "Tom" that I would not deposit the cheque and I would not pick up "Lui" at the airport, I  haven't heard a single word from them.

To think, I was so close to getting scammed out of a few thousand dollars! It is so sad that anyone could be so low as to prey on good people like this. I feel sad for all the homestay families who have been scammed by "Meifeng"/"Tom. This was an elaborate scam! A lot of effort went into planning this. E-mail correspondence, phone calls, a cheque (again, weird that Tom used a "company" cheque from Toronto instead of a certified cheque or money order)...and Meifeng even e-mailed me a photo of Lui Cheng!

I wonder if we should notify the police of this scam? I would hate for anyone to be a victim of this.


PrincessJenn said...

OMG...that's awful!
Yes, yes, yes! Definitely report it to the police. Especially if you still have the cheque.

Kristin said...

You should definitely contact police, hopefully that cheque will help find whoever Tom Park is.

When I was reading and saw that name I immediately remembered hearing it before with another scam, but can't remember where.

Good job listening to your gut!

Amanda O mommy of 5 said...

yes for sure call the police. hopefully they can find out who these people are.

i always listen to my gut instinct.thats what you did and it saved you. good job girl.

caninecologne said...

c - that's really terrible that these people are trying to scam honest people like you. i feel that you should definitely report this. i'm glad you didn't fall for this!

on another note - check out rpattz's recent interview on leno (aired earlier tonight). OMFG, I can't wait to see Water for Elephants!!!!

BusyMamma said...

there are tons of scams like this one. I remember when i was trying to sell my wedding dress there were warnings about this type scam- where they send you a request for western union payments up front and then they will give you the $$ in cash later.. don't remember the details but it definitely didn't add up either. I'm so happy you didn't fall into the trap!

C said...

Princess Jenn:
Thank goodness I still have the cheque! It just didn't feel right at all and all the little things didn't add up. Wow. A lot of effort went into this scam though! Crazy!

C said...

I wonder if this is a one man operation or if there are more people involved. In any case, I hope whoever it is gets caught. I don't know though. I was Googling them and some of the victims were from 2008! I was also thinking of how many people out there don't contact the police about this. I'm sure there are many! :(

C said...

Thanks! Now I'm definitely going to need that girls' night next weekend! See you there!!!

C said...

Me too! So glad I didn't fall into the trap. I don't normally swear, but what a bunch of futt buckers!!!! I am so mad right now. Well, I guess I should just be relieved that I didn't lose thousands of dollars, but still!!!

C said...

I'll check out that RPattz link! I think I'm gonna need some distraction after this. I've been preparing for that ESL student's arrival for the past 2 weeks and we even spent $$$ getting the house ready! We even had friends come over and help us! ARGH!

Too bad you're on the other coast! Would be awesome to see Water for Elephants with you!!! Miss you guys! I remember this time last year getting super excited about your trip to the Island to visit us!!!

Anonymous said...

I read your blog but never comment. I have a homestay in toronto same thing happened. I reported it to the police, I even had the cheque, they werent interested in taking a report or even hearing my story as I wasnt out any money at all so there was technically no crime!! It was different names but I googled "homestay scam" and it was all there in black and white.

I am more careful now with private students, I add them on facebook or myspace. I ask for fax of contract, photocopy of passport in order to ensure doesnt happen!!

The cheque looked really good too. I heard that the cheque is usually hard for bank to see as fake and can take up to a month for it to be considered fake so you think it cleared and then you get screwed!!

Just be happy you didnt forward them back the money

C said...

Thanks for commenting. Yes, the cheque looked pretty authentic! I just thought it was odd that it was a "company cheque", as I don't accept that kind of payment. E-mail bank transfers, certified cheques, money orders...but not personal cheques. I was also surprised that they didn't fax me a copy of the contract and waiver form (which I e-mailed to them 3 times)! It was pretty suspicious.

Glad you didn't get scammed either. I can't believe that the police weren't interested. I know that "technically" a crime was not committed, but I think it's a crime to even ATTEMPT to steal money from people! That makes me so angry.

J at said...

Gee, maybe you should always do Google searches on your prospective students going forward. That's just crazy.

And yeah, I'd report it to the police. Without a police report, it's more difficult for them to be prosecuted.

C said...

You're right! The weird thing is that they never completed or signed the contract (along with the questionnaire and waiver I attached). That should have been a sign that something was up. Another strange thing is that they found me through an online ESL community site that normally screens potential students and host families. Weird.

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City girl moves to the country, falls in love, and marries a farmer. She tries to incorporate her city ways with her new country lifestyle and blogs to keep in touch with friends, family & students who live far, far away :) Can this city girl go country? Watch as she learns all sorts of exciting things about life on the farm and in a small rural community. *UPDATE* We are now parents! Our baby girl was born on Nov. 11, 2008 (at 28 weeks gestation- 12 weeks premature, but she's quite the trooper)!!!
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