Friday, June 7, 2013

Genuine or Scam?

At the end of March this year, I wrote a post about a young German woman who'd arrived in America to vacation with an American man she'd met in Germany when he was traveling there.  One of the women in our group had stepped forward to try to help this young German woman, whom I called Lena in my first post.  They exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers.  What happened next convinced our friend that this young German woman had been running some sort of a scam.

Most of us believed Lena's story but we all had questions.  It was truly crazy to make plans to travel with a man she barely knew, crazy to spend hard-earned money to travel to the U.S. with such shaky plans, crazy to end up stranded.  Our friend, Gail, in the week following the German conversation group meeting, e-mailed Lena and set up some sightseeing together.  When Gail picked her up, Lena mentioned that she hadn't used the extensive public transportation system in the Twin Cities.  She'd been here for over 2 weeks and hadn't used the city buses?  What was she doing? 

They went to see the Guthrie Theater, downtown Minneapolis, the Mississippi River, the University of MN, and other sights that were free.  When they stopped for lunch downtown, Lena confessed that she had no money.  No money?  She wanted Gail to give her money.  Gail offered to pay for lunch but not to give her money.  During the lunch conversation, Gail asked Lena if she'd be at the German conversation group's next meeting.  Lena, according to Gail, replied, "Will all the same people be there?"  Gail said, "Yes."  "Well, then, why would I want to go again?"

As the day wore on, according to Gail, she became more and more uncomfortable and suspicious of Lena's motives.  She wasn't behaving like an innocent tourist who'd been stranded at the airport and more like someone on the prowl for an easy buck.  Lena was obsessed about Las Vegas, also.  Gail witnessed Lena on the phone with her mother in Germany, who was arranging for Lena to fly to Las Vegas.  Why couldn't her mother arrange for her return ticket to Germany?  When the group discussed it (and we have several times), none of us can understand Lena's fixation on Las Vegas.  She claimed to be a zookeeper in Germany, interested in America's national and state parks.  So why wasn't she making arrangements to see some of our better known zoos, or national parks, or even the Minnesota Zoo which has a good national reputation? 

Well, after spending a day with Lena, Gail heard from her only one more time -- an e-mail about leaving for Las Vegas.  Lena had told the group that she'd return to the Twin Cities in order to catch her flight back to Germany towards the end of June.  We asked Gail last night if she'd heard from Lena.  No.  Strange.

We are now speculating that Lena wanted to go to Las Vegas in order to troll for high rollers at the casinos.  Perhaps her stop in the Twin Cities was to test out her story and refine it.  Who knows?  None of us believe we'll see her again.  What is sad is now we question Lena's honesty, whether she was genuinely in trouble, whether she was running a scam and looking for easy marks.  How will we react if something similar happens in the future?  Gail is a savvy woman, a world traveler herself, and she is convinced that Lena was running some sort of scam.  Whoever she talked to on the phone may have been her partner in the scam.  Her mother?  Who knows.

At least none of us got pulled into whatever Lena was involved with.  But isn't it sad that we live in a world where this kind of thing can happen and turn out to be far less innocent than it seems?

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