By BEN CONTRERAS
I SAW it coming. The moment he asked me not to tell anyone about it, I knew that was it a scam, a racket. The ensuing events confirmed my suspicion.
I was with my brother and a cousin from Manila when this anonymous call came.
Caller: (We were talking in Mandarin) Hello, is this Mr. Chang?
BC: Yes. Who are you? What can I do for you?
Caller: My name is Siao Ming. My family name is also Chang. I asked from a Hua Chiao (local born Chinese) if he could introduce me to someone of the same family name. He gave me your number.
BC: Okay. What’s your problem?
Caller: Before that, may I know how old you are?
BC: I am 59 and how old are you?
Caller: Oh, I am 34. I should call you uncle. Uncle, are you free to talk?
BC: No problem. Go ahead.
Caller: You see, Uncle, we have this backhoe digging to build a new house in place of the old one when we hit something hard. It looked like a thick cemented slab. (I felt the story sounded very familiar). When we broke it apart, what we saw inside are old money with Chinese characters. I don’t know what to make of it, whether it has any value at all.
BC: Where are you right now?
Caller: We are at the work site.
BC: Where is that?
Caller: I don’t know.
BC: Do you have someone near you who could speak our local language?
Caller: No, because we don’t want anyone to hear our conversation.
BC: So, what’s the name of the place? What does it sound like?
Caller: Tagong or something like that.
BC: Is it Tagoloan?
Caller: Yes, that seems to be the name of the place.
BC: Okay. Why don’t you come down so we could go back there together?
Caller: No, I don’t want the neighbors to get suspicious.
BC: Okay. Let’s talk again tomorrow. We are leaving soon.
Before the day ended, I sent him a text message saying we can meet at my office the next morning which is located beside the immigration office.
The next morning, he called up.
Caller: Good morning, Uncle. I am now going downtown. Would you like me to bring all the items or just a few samples?
BC: Just a few samples. I will meet you at McDonald’s.
Caller: I don’t know that place. Why not at Gaisano?
BC: That would be fine.
I was in Gaisano a little past 9 in the morning. From afar I saw him looking around as if he was looking for somebody. Seeing no one, he left and went to Gaisano City. That’s where I met him with a companion.
We occupied a table at Slers. I started asking them questions.
BC: So, what are you really here for, doing business or working?
Siao Ming: We are here working for a construction firm.
BC: May I see your passports?
Siao Ming: We left our passports but I have a photocopy.
BC: Where are the items you said you dug up?
Siao Ming showed me a wad of old Chinese paper money and a few dirty and rusty coins. One of the bigger coins has a picture of a man who looks more like a Russian than a Chinese. The paper money has denominations of 500 to 10,000 Yuan.
BC: I will be very frank and honest with you. I am writing for a newspaper. If this is another one of those scams being perpetrated by mainlanders (Chinese nationals of PROC), you better leave this place as soon as possible. I will bring the money to Central Bank for examination. This is it. I will call you as soon as I get the result.
They were fast in leaving the place. Before I could put my things in my bag, they were gone, evaporated like ghosts.
In a scam, there is one common denominator. The perpetrators want to keep the matter between you alone and them.
A few things that aroused my suspicion were:
• Foreigners that come to town must see to it that they know where our immigration office is located.
• Until we finally met in person, the caller admitted that it was the other guy who is really Siao Ming.
• Their story or modus operandi is very common, almost similar to the old gold stories.
• Foreigners don’t roam around without their passports.
You might wonder why I spent my time entertaining these people. For one, I want to have a feel of how scams are executed. Second, it offers an opportunity to write a true-to-life experience and forewarn would-be victims.
So, the next time a stranger calls and acts too friendly, beware!