Getting ripped off is not funny

Last updated 14:17 30/05/2014
 Cal Wilson
ROYALLY RIPPED OFF: Stumbling off the plane late in the evening, Cal Wilson hopped in a cab to go to downtown Auckland, and was relieved of $97.

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The world was an untrustworthy place this week. Someone tried to email-scam me, I got ripped off by a taxi driver, and the cat bit me while it was still purring.

OPINION: There are so many horrible scams out there these days, fake house painters defrauding pensioners, people claiming your computer is broken, sea monkeys.

I know of one gentleman whose defence against scammers whenever they ring, is to say cheerily, "Oh, I'm sorry, I don't speak English and I don't have a phone", and then hang up. I like to imagine the scammer then spends a couple of quiet moments trying to work through the logic of what he just said.

My scammage began when I got a desperate email begging for my financial help, supposedly from one of my comedian mates. I immediately knew it wasn't him, because the grammar was way off, and it didn't end with an inappropriate joke. Also, the comedy festival was only a month ago, and it mentioned nothing about how well his show had done, so it was clearly a fake.

The email started: "My family and I made a trip to (Ukraine)" with "Ukraine" beautifully in parenthesis, as if replacing the phrase "insert name of troubled faraway country here", like they'd copied it straight from The Bumper Book of Email Scams.

It then continued with a harrowing tale of stolen money and phones, "too casual" police, and furious hotel managers. It ended with "You are my last resort and hope", which, when you think about it, is actually pretty insulting: "Oh Cal, I've emailed literally everyone else I know, and I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel with you - how's about some lovely moolah?"

Naturally I didn't fall for it; quite apart from anything else, never lend a comedian money.

Then, in Auckland for work, I got royally ripped off by a taxi driver. Stumbling off the plane late in the evening, I hopped in a cab to go to downtown Auckland, and was relieved of $97. Ninety. Seven. Dollars.

Oh, the curse of being a visitor to a city. Cabbing it is easy from Melbourne airport, when you live in Sunshine - you just tell the driver "Western Ring Road, take the McIntyre Rd exit, and turn left where you start to feel uneasy" - and I know how much it's meant to cost.  It's been so long since I've lived in Auckland, I wasn't totally across the fare.

Later, friends said it should have been $68 depending on the traffic. At 10 o'clock on a Sunday night, we were the traffic. There was no one else trafficking but us. There was no way it should have been that much. It wasn't that he was taking a particularly long route - we didn't go via the South Island or anything - it was just that the meter was ticking over faster than the seconds on a digital clock. By the time I realised, it was way too late.

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His trick was to immediately engage me in conversation, and get me chatting away so I didn't notice what was going on. He told me about his family, asked me about mine.

Afterwards I was furious with myself. I hadn't argued the fare, I'd just paid it, in shock. And I've got no way of complaining. I'd done none of my usual verging-on-the-paranoid safety precautions of noting the name of the company, driver's name and number, his home address, next of kin and birthweight. I was so tired when I got off the plane I didn't think of any of it.

I have no way of identifying the taxi company. Even if, by some fluke, I work out which one it is, I don't know the driver. All I've got to go on is: big, old, has four daughters living in America, and one teaching English in South Korea, two lovely grandchildren and a wife he's had for ages. Mind you, who's to say any of that's true? He might have no children at all, and live alone, sleeping naked on the huge pile of gold that he's amassed from ripping off overtired passengers.

Next time I go to Auckland I hope I get that taxi driver again, and when he asks for the fare at the end, I'll tell him my wallet got stolen in the Ukraine, and if he could just lend me the money for the airfare, I'll go get it back.

- Sydney Morning Herald


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