They say that bad stuff comes in threes. I can vouch for that.
First, our beloved nine-year-old Cavalier Spaniel, Natasha, got the heart/lung problem common to the breed and began gasping for air. Our vet put her down. Second, on the eve of our three-week holiday to Tasmania my wife, Primrose (pseudonym), and I hid our car keys somewhere unobvious but where they would re-surface automatically. When we got back we couldn’t remember who hid them, let alone where. Weeks passed and we steadily lost hope. While using the spare set, I checked the price of new keys: $800!
And third, I advertised my Macbook Air laptop on Facebook for $1250. Our daughters told us Facebook was the best bet with no fee on sale, unlike eBay which charges 13 per cent. But they warned me of Facebook scammers: unlike eBay, Facebook offers no seller protection. “Listen up, Pop! Accept nothing but cash!” said Winsome, my eldest.
I’ll now tell you how I got brilliantly scammed by a master (actually mistress) criminal who walked off with my laptop and never paid me a cent.
The Macbook was slow to sell, so I cut the price to $1080 and still got few nibbles, let alone customers at our front door. Then my mobile rang with a woman, Sammy, on the line, quite keen. I gave her our address but she was a no-show.
Next morning, a Friday, a different woman, Hermia, rang, ostensibly a friend of yesterday’s caller. She’d be round in 15 minutes. That was great news but just then Primrose announced she was heading out to Woolies. I said, “No, you mustn’t go yet. This lady might be nervous about entering a house alone with a large virile male. Women have been attacked. You stay here to make her feel safer.”
After some marital back-and-forth she reluctantly laid down her grocery list and we spruced up the dining table. The laptop looked pristine in its original box. Alongside we laid its 2019 purchase receipt for $2135 and Primrose brought out the good teacups and some Florentines on the off-chance of socialising with our lady visitor.
“Get cash,” Primrose warned me, unnecessarily as I wasn’t born yesterday.
The doorbell rang and there was Hermia. She was 5 feet of heftiness, about 40 and well-spoken. Straw-colored hair was cropped half an inch all round for spikiness. She sported a nose ring and had thrown on a none-too-spotless T-shirt. While she did small talk with Primrose, I had time to study her. At the top of her left arm was a tattoo of an attractive female face with red and yellows flowers in lieu of eyes. Next down was a full-frontal lioness face and on her forearm was a mess of symbols surrounding a naked but modest woman in profile clasping her knees. Her shorts were so baggy and loose that, when she turned to sit down, an inch of plumber’s crack came into view. There were leg tattoos which I don’t remember. Old thongs completed the ensemble.
Primrose and I exchanged glances. Far from being put off by this lady’s appearance, we felt an obligation to re-double our friendliness in the inclusive and accepting way expected of enlightened citizens in the 2020s.
She inspected the laptop. I’d reformatted it and it was asking for a new owner’s name, password etc before it did any demo. Embarrassed, I explained that I was a long-retired journalist and she in turn explained her finance and insurance-broking job and its COVID problems. I did wonder about clients’ first impressions, but reasoned she could be running her business online, or maybe dealing direct with like-minded ladies.
She admired the laptop and I began mentally slavering. I steered the conversation lightly towards payment, and mentioned how a friend had been scammed selling a large garden fixture.
Hermia (animated): “Facebook is full of scammers! They’ve tried things on me. People advertise stuff and just want money first and won’t let go of their stuff. Be careful, let me tell you.”
We all nodded knowingly about this naughty world.
“Well,” she said, “I’ll take it. It’s for my partner. She does graphic design. It’s just right.”
I felt a surge of relief after weeks of no-sale frustration. What’s more, she wasn’t haggling me down to sub-$1000.
“Great,” I said. “I’ll give you a receipt for the cash.”
“Oh, I don’t have cash on me. I’ll do a direct bank transfer on my phone. You needn’t worry. Here’s my driver’s licence to photograph, and I’ll screenshot the bank transfer. The funds will be in your account Monday.”
She pulled out her driver’s licence and photographed it for me. This became a distraction as she made sure the text was well-lit. Primrose was uncomfortable but I was familiar with bank transfers and screenshots. Moreover, I was still in mode, “Be inclusive and tolerant of minorities.”
I looked on carefully as Hermia inputted the $1080 transfer and hit the ‘send’ button. Acknowledgement and receipt followed on-screen. OK, I wasn’t getting cash, but the money was in e-transit. I did recall daughter Winsome warning that to be fully safe, accept only transfers between accounts at the same bank, in my case ANZ. Hermia was CBA. But I had her driver’s licence, seen the transfer, so what could go wrong?
Hermia and I now bonded. I went to write a receipt but she waved the idea away.
Jumping ahead, I’d forgotten that Winsome, a veteran travel consultant, had also warned me to document any transfer of goods.
Hermia departed with the laptop and a wave of her tattooed arm.
Primrose fretted with her female intuition: “Something isn’t right.”
I assured her Monday would produce my $1080. But Monday came and went.
Oh well, clearance often take two working days.
Tuesday and Wednesday, still no money.
At this point I was convinced the sale had been on Saturday. Primrose said it was on Friday.
“Give me a good look at that transfer,” she said. We pored over it.
“It says the funds are to be transferred on Saturday. Your sale was on Friday. This was a scheduled transfer not a live transfer,” Primrose said.
She was on the ball and I was an idiot.
Hermia had gone straight home, logged onto her bank and cancelled the future transaction, which I now know is a piece of cake. Unlike trying to reverse a live real-time funds transfer.
I began phoning and texting: no response. I finally threatened to report her to her local police at Sunshine, an industrial suburb 12km west of Melbourne. Still no response.
My daughters, both financial experts, were incensed I’d ignored their advice on Facebook salesmanship. Winsome took over proceedings.
“It’s not a police matter,” I told her. “It’s now just an unpaid debt.”
Winsome: It’s Sunday, we’re going to the cop shop right now. We’ll play on their sympathies. You are to be a doddering old coot, which in fact you are, who’s been robbed of $1000 by a vicious young thief. Get your walking stick out of the cupboard. Shut up there and let me do the talking.
She armed us with our documents, and soon we were at the police station (above), behind flagpoles and a high cream-brick façade. It’s in a big complex including a children’s court. Cop cars were ranked alongside. It was my first time in a cop shop since a motorbike speeding incident in 1963. There were no other customers. The place had a hermetically sealed look and security warnings against photographs. Behind one counter slot was a door covered by a disquieting poster of a big police dog, a German shepherd, held in check by a copper’s muscular and hairy arm. On another door was: “Justice of the Peace service here.” Other signage:
“Bail reporting here” (with arrows pointing to the south end).
“Firearm licence applications.”
“If you are reporting a lost phone you must block the IMEI number first.” (Knowledgeable Winsome muttered that this stops anyone using it).
“If you have been affected by crime, support is available at this station.” That fits us, Winsome said.
A business-like young cop beckoned. “I’m Constable Matijević,” he said.
Winsome told our tale while I looked on piteously, leaning on my stick and twiddling my hearing aid.
“I’ll check if Hermia is known to us,” he said, re-emerging doubly business-like . We knew better than to ask if Hermia was a known local rogue.
“I left her a message to contact us. I suggest you make a report.”
He took us into a small bare room and inputted our story, not encouraging any emotional embellishments.
“What do you want?” he finished pointedly.
Winsome: “Our thousand dollars.”
Matijević: “Or your Macbook?”
Winsome: “Sure. She lives just a few klicks away. When your patrol’s got nothing better to do, why don’t they drop in and get it back?”
Matijević (giving the police version of an eye-roll): “Thanks, we might be in touch. Shame for this to happen to this gentleman.”
Winsome: “We’re very fond of him. You can see he’s quite alert for 81.”
Back in our car, Winsome and I de-briefed excitedly. It all went well, the cops are going to prioritise our case.
But weeks passed. Primrose and I came back from our Tassie holiday, and another week went by.
I got a call with “No Caller ID” and was about to give him a mouthful but just in time heard, “Constable Matijević again. What’s your Macbook’s serial number?”
Luckily it was on a screenshot on my Facebook ad.
A week later, just before lunch today I got another call.
“Constable Stankić here from Sunshine. The station could be renamed ‘Little Serbia’, I mused. Come and pick up your Macbook. Mention reference 4596B50Y66.”
“Wow! Thanks mate.”
In an hour I was back at Sunshine Copshop, now crowded with five swarthy young men, a sixth wearing a sweater in vivid red yellow and black, two ladies of Chinese appearance and one other Skip. The men seemed all in tan workboots or black leisure boots. Two were talking quietly about a recent fight. I wished I had better hearing. One bloke was directed to the bail reporting section.
Every few minutes pairs of coppers came in and out, bulked with equipment like Ukrainian commandos headed for Russian lines. I wondered how female coppers could ever lug such burdens and if they were good shots.
A bespectacled blond non-Serbian copper emerged and I gave him my code and my ID. He came back with a huge brown security bag, which I signed for.
I had brought along a box of Guylian Sea-shell Belgian chocolates and a gift card reading, “Thanks everyone at Sunshine Copshop!” I became uneasy about regulations on such gifts, so will draw a veil over what happened therewith.
Back in the car I fished out the Macbook from the bag. Its outer box and the Macbook itself had stickers, “Cash Converters, $899”.
Obviously Hermia had gone there with my Macbook, and Cash Converters had reported the serial number. I wondered whether Hermia had made off with, say, $500 cash from Cash Converters, or whether they avoided paying her pending the police check. Also, Cash Converters pricing was reasonable – $899 vs my imagined $1000.
I was within minutes of Hermia’s home and decided to take a squiz. Not a good idea on unfamiliar roads clogged with trucks, and I had two near-misses. My car-navigator took me to a tired 1960s bungalow with white couch, two red chairs and dirty cushions on the verge. But I found Hermia’s unit was actually down a long driveway amid middle-class villas backing onto green sward and a creek. Most had mid-tier cars. Hermia’s unit was tidy too. I wasn’t sure about our line of conversation if she materialised but she didn’t.
To wrap up this drama, I now had to make good on the 20 per cent commission I’d rashly promised daughter Winsome for Macbook recovery and also reimburse Primrose for $500 she’d transferred to cheer me up after Hermia’s malfeasance. Primrose had earlier bought me a cute Tibetan Spaniel pup from a breeder in Cairns, and the car keys did turn up this week – Primrose had wrapped them inside a winter nightie. It was unseasonably warm and she’d continued wearing her summer satin ones, labelled Victoria’s Secret which she told me was a K-Mart house brand. So good things also come in threes.
Meanwhile, anyone want a 2019 Macbook Air, strictly for cash?
Tony Thomas’ latest essay collection “Foot Soldier in the Culture Wars” ($29.95) is available from publisher ConnorCourt
 “Cash Converters stores in most states regularly upload a file to their State police service notifying them of all items bought or borrowed against. The police check these reports against their own databases for any matches. If there is a possible match, the police will contact the appropriate store to determine if it is the same item that has been reported to them as being stolen. All outlets are required to hold second hand goods for a period of time prior to them being offered for sale to enable these checks to be made.” But Cash Converters also advertises:
Get instant cash for quality items. We buy everything from smartphones, tablets and digital cameras, to musical instruments, jewellery and everything in between.
 For tech-heads, I’ve just discovered that Hermia or Cash Converters locked my Macbook with their password. This looked grim for me. “Admin”, “Password” and “Macbook” failed and I was in despair until I tried “1234”. Mirabile dictu, it worked!