Selling snake oil

Selling snake oil is the oldest legal profession

Several years ago, after I had been ripped off by a con artist for the second time, I made a note to self to perhaps be a little more cautious.

In this instance, John Smith (not his real name), a supposed U.K. immigrant and his wife to be, Jean Smith, from Kelowna, walked into my real-estate office at the time.

He claimed he had just inherited 25 million pounds from his mother’s estate. She had collected a lot of real estate during the Thatcher era in Grimsby in North England.

The story made sense, particularly when he flashed up his bank account balance on my screen and I was able to see the amount from a credible U.K. bank.

He was, however, having trouble getting his money from the U.K. At that point, he had me. My wife and I experienced the same thing when we emigrated. Our money was in banking limbo (personal bank investments) for five weeks with no bank claiming they had my money.

John and Jean proceeded to put offers on houses. I cautiously wrote offers with delayed deposits and advised the realtors of the situation. 

Several weeks passed and no money was forthcoming. At this point, I needed some confirmation from a lawyer in the U.K. that this transaction was real. I was soon given a letter from a lawyer claiming the process was moving forward, but slowly.

John and Jean had found out about our charity and decided they were going to donate $1 million when the money came over.

We were excited for the charity, but concerned that as is typical with con artists, the occasional request came in for money so they could get food for the kids. All in all, we lent them several hundred dollars. 

Then, I gave them a truck. In fact, it wasn’t mine, it was stored in my yard and I asked the owner if he could let John and Jean use the truck and they would pay later.

He agreed and so they had a vehicle, food on their table and rent paid.

Then, there was another issue all of a sudden. John’s daughter had been seriously injured in a car accident in the U.K. while his best friend was driving John’s Bugatti Veyron.

We rushed over to John's house and both him, Jean, and Jean’s kids were in tears in the front room.

John asked if he could borrow my cellphone to call the hospital. I gladly obliged and listened as he talked to the doctor. 

Just at that time, John and Jean came to a charity fashion show we had put on to raise some donations. I told a supplier there not to let him purchase anything, but as the event wrapped up, the supplier tracked me down to say that John had taken two Olympic Hockey shirts and had left saying that I would pay.

Now, I was frustrated and concerned. The charity paid the bill to the supplier because we did not want a bad reputation.

Then, I decided to look for a Veyron accident in the U.K. — no record. I called the police in the region and asked if there was a Veyron accident on that motorway — no record.

I called the hospital using my number on my cell. No record of a child from a car accident coming in. If the child had brain injuries, she would not have gone to that hospital.

I called the law society in the U.K. His lawyer was not a lawyer. 

That was when I called John and asked for a meeting. I said I wanted the truck back. Too late, he had sold it. I wanted the hockey shirts. Too late, he had pawned them.

All in all, my wife and I were out several thousand dollars now.

I went to the RCMP. I asked if they had a record for John Smith. Indeed they did. They caught him a few nights ago after he was reported running from a restaurant without paying his bill. He was going to be charged.

I said I have a few more offences. He stole a truck, stole some hockey shirts and stole my money.

Apparently not. Everything he had done was completely legal and my only recourse would be civil court. I pleaded with the RCMP to do something to protect other victims. Nope. Nada. They could not help.

I asked how he could be arrested for not paying a bill at a restaurant when they could do nothing for me. According to the officers information to me, I had unpaid contracts, not theft, it was very different.

I guess he was right; it is the oldest legal profession in the world.

A few weeks later as everything unraveled, we spoke to Jean’s family members who told us that the kids even worked up fake tears for us on the evening we went over to assist. 

What would you take away from such an experience? Would you continue to help people in need?


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About the Author

Mark has been an entrepreneur for over forty years. His experience spans many commercial sectors and aspects of business. He was one of the youngest people to be appointed as a Fellow of the prestigious Institute of Sales and Marketing Management before he left the UK in 1988.

His column focuses on ways we can improve on success in our lives. Whether it is business, relationships, or health, Mark has a well-rounded perspective on how to stay focused for growth and development.

His influences come from the various travels he undertakes as an adventurer, philanthropist and keynote speaker. More information can be found on Mark at his website www.markjenningsbates.com

He is a Venture Partner with www.DutchOracle.com a global Alternative Investment company.

Mark Jennings-Bates:
[email protected]

Photo credit: www.SteveAustin.ca 

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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