Proof I wasn’t born yesterday!

Well mom can’t take all the credit for this one, since In New York, Paris Tomorrow did give me some stellar advice when I mentioned a perspective client just didn’t add up. I’m sharing this with you, because many people do fall prey to this kind of vermin, and it can actually cause a small business to fail. What I didn’t know is it can also land you in another whole world of bother, too!

It all started when a man called Paul Klee (first red flag since I do know my artists) sent me an email request for business through my website. He claimed to be an independent petroleum geologist from Barbados, currently working in Scotland, and wishing to spend a six week holiday in Des Moines, Iowa (second red flag). No offense to my home town, but what sane person from Barbados would choose Des Moines, Iowa in October and November for a holiday? He’d obviously done his background research on me – a fact that did not go unnoticed, but I decided to treat it professionally just the same, and asked him to send me his family food preferences which he did in great detail.

Des Moines in October

I figured as long as I don’t give out any pertinent information that could be used for identity theft, and he really does cough up the deposit I should be fine. After all, it could be a free trip home to visit the folks. I quoted him a hefty fee (red flag number three when he agreed without question) since it would mean blocking off my busiest time or year, plus a great deal of commuting back to LA to keep my regular clients fed. Then I sent him the service agreement to sign and send back – using only a post office address, of course.

My social father in action

First I got an email stating that since his account is not a US account he would have a client in Texas send funds owed to him (not totally a red flag in my mind, but should have been). I got “the check is in the post” excuse for a couple weeks. It must take time to research a real, yet small, local bank, their sort codes, and then to make a very convincing looking counterfeit check. In the meantime I received another email asking if the Texan could just send one check for me containing money for a chauffeur in Des Moines as well (red flag number four – my family run in social elite circles there, and no one is that pretentious). I figured, okay – I’ll send a cashiers check once his check clears, to protect my own account identity, and said yes. The check arrived drawn on a small New Orleans bank, yet the return address on the envelope said Texas (red flag number five).

Fraudulent check

Here’s where my friend’s advice comes in – I mentioned the story to her, and she said be careful to walk that check through the bank rather than just deposit it. When it arrived I called Privacy Alert for advice, then asked the bank manager to confirm the check was indeed drawn on a valid account before depositing it. Bank and sorting code were both valid, but the account did not exist.

Unless he is reading this post, which I hope he is, I will most likely receive an email asking me to wire transfer the funds to some account under the guise of it being the chauffeurs’ account for payment before the deposited check would have had time to clear (or in this case not clear). The scam was not to steal my identity, but to rip me off the extra money they had supposedly sent. I would have lost that money, but that’s not all.

Didn’t yo mama teach you not to mess with a chef holding a knife?

If I had deposited that check, it would have made me complicit in the fraud, and I would have been flagged by financial institutions for it! Luckily it only cost me a few jobs I turned down, but just think about what a fraud tag would do to your business!

Sorry Paul, I prefer my eggs on a plate, not on my face. Here’s my brown butter omelet recipe for my readers who will now be eating their eggs instead of wearing them, too. Not a good look.

Brown Butter Omelet

It was Lord Anthony Snowden that actually taught me to use brown butter when making an omelet. He was in Des Moines for a photographic exhibition at Younkers, the chain of stores where my father was president, as part of an English promotion dad dreamed up. He came to our house for dinner, but my mother was horrified to learn he was vegetarian (she had prepared steaks), so he made us all omelets instead. Be sure to have all your ingredients prepped in advance, because eggs cook quickly.

Serves: 1

Ingredients

2 large eggs
1 tablespoon cream (for a richer more decadent omelet) or milk
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon brown butter (see note below)

Directions:

1. Whisk the eggs and cream in a small bowl until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste (plus any herbs…thyme, chives, dill, basil etc…you wish to use).

2. Heat the tablespoon of brown butter in a 6 inch nonstick skillet. Add the egg mixture. Once the eggs starts to cook, use a spatula to gently ease the corners of the omelet to allow most of the uncooked mixture underneath.

3. If adding further ingredients, do so while the egg mixture in the center is not quite set and remove pan from heat. The ambient heat will finish cooking the omelet. Gently fold one half of the omelet over, slide onto a plate, and serve immediately.

My Flavor Combination Suggestions:

Gruyere cheese + smoked turkey (ham or cooked bacon) + pinch nutmeg
Feta + roasted red peppers + spinach
French brie + steamed asparagus + black truffles
onion + chopped red pepper + chopped green pepper + diced ham + cooked bacon + sprinkled with hot sauce
goats cheese + fresh thyme + smoked salmon
Mozzarella fresca + seeded and thinly sliced tomato + thinly sliced avocado + fresh basil
Fontina cheese, stemmed arugula, and Italian turkey sausage (cooked, and crumbled)
sharp cheddar + broccoli + pinch of cayenne

Serving Suggestion:

Serve toast with butter and/or jam, croissants, or muffins; 1/2 grapefruit, strawberries and cream, or fruit salad; tea or coffee with milk and sugar, and fresh squeezed orange or grapefruit juice.

Note:

To brown butter, melt butter as you normally would over medium heat in a skillet. Butter goes from brown to burnt very quickly, so keep an eye on it and stir constantly to distribute the heat evenly. The milk solids will separate, then the butter will begin to turn color…once it is a deep golden color and you can smell the nutty scent, pull it off the heat immediately. Strain the browned butter to remove any bits. In addition to omelets; brown butter (also known as Beurre Noisette) adds a wonderfully complex, rich, nutty flavor to fish, pasta, vegetables, and baked goods such as cookies and butter cream icings.

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  • October 7, 2011
    9:58 am

    No one really knows what it’s like to be in the public eye until they are and are able to see the dark underside of things. We can all ‘imagine’ what it’s like but experience is real knowledge. Best example being the Late Princess of Wales. Who knew the kind of pressures she’d be under by the palace, the people and the papps? I am so relieved you were suspicious and had help from valued friends. I just don’t get people like this. Who has that kind of time and evil intention?? Karma will be taking care of THEM for sure.

    The omelete looks fantastic… one of the basics to know WELL for sure. My girls love them and it’s such an opportunity to hide a few veggies!

  • October 7, 2011
    10:00 am

    Never hurts to be patient when it comes to banking–and I don’t think there is such a thing as over-cautious.

    Your family is so good looking!

    • October 7, 2011
      10:21 am

      Thanks Lane, my girlfriends all had crushes on my dad.

      • October 7, 2011
        10:33 am

        And more than one boyfriend seemed more interested in mom than me.

  • October 7, 2011
    9:55 am

    there are so many people who make a living from ripping unsuspecting people off! it’s disgusting.
    also…the pic w/the pineapple…so funny!!

    • October 7, 2011
      10:11 am

      The atmosphere is ripe for fraudsters – with so many people suffering stock losses, out of work, losing their homes etc. – our guard is down and a seemingly legitimate job offer more appealing than ever – so much so we might ignore the red flags.Thankfully I didn’t, but I don’t want any of you to either. Being tagged for fraud would be a huge nightmare!

      • October 7, 2011
        10:13 am

        PS. You don’t even know how funny – I always cook with my hair tied into a knot on my head which my daughter unkindly refers to as “pineapple head”, and the only time I’ll run to the grocery store more than once a week is if I run out of pineapple. I’m addicted to my one cup of pineapple a day.

  • October 7, 2011
    9:56 am

    It’s amazing the effort people will put in to trying to rip someone off. Why can’t they put their energy to positive use?

    I remember when I was a Duranie and I first found out you were from Des Moines, I was really surprised. I grew up in the Quad-Cities which was not that far away, and I couldn’t believe someone as beautiful and exotic looking as you was from IOWA. But your family was living a much different life than mine, obviously! Lord Snowden making omelets at your house! How wonderful! I’ll have to try this, I love a good omelet.

    • October 7, 2011
      10:15 am

      Lord Snowden was not an everyday occurrence – BTW, love meeting fellow Iowans!

  • October 7, 2011
    10:20 am

    My friends tease me all the time for being so suspicious of people. While I value my friends deeply, and don’t like to dwell on this fact – the world if full of people this devious and much worse. I always let people tell me who they are through their actions, not their words. Lying is easy – don’t miss the red flags, and when you see them, proceed with caution.

  • October 7, 2011
    10:30 am

    PS. The email arrived three hours after I originally wrote this post claiming he’s found an ex FBI driver, but she was in high demand, so please wire the funds for her through Western Union immediately or she will take another job.

  • October 7, 2011
    11:46 am

    My husband and I had a similar thing happen regarding an e-bay transaction. Luckily, we were smart enough (like you) to realize what what going on before giving out any info that could be used for ID theft.

    Your experience was much more elaborate though. So scary that there are people who will go to so much trouble to try to ensnare others!

    Love the FBI angle. Did you reply?

    • October 7, 2011
      6:06 pm

      Hope he gets his FBI driver after all!

  • October 7, 2011
    11:50 am

    Wow, Jewels, thank you for this post! I have an aunt who is an attorney, now semi-retired. She works online on a legal website and tells me quite often how many people reach out to her for advice on frauds and scams of which they have fallen victim.

    Thankfully you have friends who give you solid advice. Can you imagine if you deposited that check?!?

    The predators out there are very scary.

    I was trying to find a home for one of my cats, so I posted an online ad on a petfinder site.

    I got a person claiming to have a wonderful family out on Long Island but he couldn’t pick the cat up himself, he’d send a driver over.

    I told him I wouldn’t turn my cat over to anyone I don’t know.

    He then persisted and said he would send a check which I would have to deposit and then when it clears, pay the driver, a lot of similarities to your story, actually.

    My aunt had told me, after the fact (since I didn’t see the scam coming, I just thought it was a weirdo), that it was a classic scam and that my cat would most likely have been taken and either killed, given to someone for cruel purposes, or just let go somewhere to fend on its own. I get hit with cashing a fraudulent check, they get my money.

    My love of animals is actually what saved me. Because I refused to hand over my cat to a stranger, I saved his life as well as my bank account and my jewelry business.

    This happened a couple of years ago.

    I kept the cat, by the way. It was an omen, lol!!

    You have very good friends, Jewels.

    Thanks for posting this, it’s an eye-opener!

    • October 7, 2011
      12:00 pm

      Losing the money would have been a drag and I would have felt foolish, but it’s the fraud flagging that had me freaked out!

      I’m too smart to fall for the please send the funds on before it has cleared, but I could so easily have deposited that check thinking the worse that could happen was it would bounce and I’d get a charge for that. Thank GOD, my fiend warned me not to.

      Being flagged for fraud would not only destroy a small business, it could prevent or certainly be an obstacle for future ventures.

  • October 8, 2011
    7:51 am

    Stuff like that makes you really leary about the human race today.

  • October 8, 2011
    7:53 am

    Also your Father looks like he should be in the Rat Pack in the picture above.

    • October 8, 2011
      9:07 am

      My attitude about it is this, I know people like this exist and much much worse, so I am cautious. I let people tell me who they are through their actions and do my best to protect myself until I know they are both legitimate and sincere, but I also don’t want to cut myself off from the vast majority who are interesting, funny, and kind people I DO enjoy in my orbit – so it’s all about recognizing the red flags (and those will always be there with someone with predatory intentions), and taking heed of them – go with your first instinct about them rather than allow yourself to rationalize the warning away.

    • October 8, 2011
      9:08 am

      That’s exactly why I love that photo of him. You don’t want to hear him sing though.

  • October 10, 2011
    1:13 am

    Oh Julie Anne how awful. Thankfully your friend was right on the ball and gave sound advice. I must say I am pretty much on the ball when it comes to fraud. I work in the financial industry and let me tell you we are trained up constantly on what to look out for.
    There is one word we Aussies have for people like this fellow you encountered and it’s one I cannot write. But I guess you might know already.
    Hopefully KARMA will get this guy in a way he deserves.

    • October 10, 2011
      11:10 am

      I think the term pond scum might apply.

  • October 10, 2011
    1:13 pm

    Right on the mark Jewels. It’s SCUM indeed!

  • October 10, 2011
    9:35 pm

    Good for you Julie Anne! I think your senses were right on that scammer :)

  • October 11, 2011
    12:16 pm

    Wow, good thing you protected yourself and didn’t go further. There are a lot of people who fall for scams and aren’t as vigilant as you. I just found this article today and thought of you. It’s the top 10 online scams compiled by the Vancouver Police Department: (worth the read) http://ca.finance.yahoo.com/news/Top-10-avoidable-scams-cbc-4091246900.html?x=0&mod=pf-sp14d

  • October 13, 2011
    3:48 am

    So many scams to be aware of and you need to be on top of these to stay safe. So many companies do sell their customer lists to others who will again sell them. Be careful to sign up with reputable companies only when wanting them to send information or news of new products to you. Once your name gets out in cyber land, you could really land in some not so pleasant places. Like most police departments advise, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it very likely is not a valid one. Be vigilent about not opening e-mails that do not list anything in the subject line, these are often viruses waiting to attack your computer. If you do open something and it seems suspicious, do not click on any url’s contained in the e-mail as this will take you on a not so pleasant experience with cyber space and will require time with a tech expert to remove the virus from your system. A family member actually had her system held hostage unless she would pay some hefty sum of money. She unplugged her computer and got a professional in immediately to remove the problem. Then, there is phishing, a company that you deal with supposedly sends you an e-mail asking for personal information. No bank or institution would ever do this. Contact your local branch immediately to see how they would like to handle it and definitely do not click on the link in the offending url. Last of all, do not share your e-mail address too freely. I’ve had to help many set up a new e-mail address because someone was harassing them or had guessed correctly the password to the account. When setting up a password, use upper & lower case letters, numbers and symbols if at all possible. And don’t share the password with anyone who should not have access to your system!

  • February 7, 2012
    3:20 pm

    I got done in by the same guy…although we didn’t get quite that far. I Googled his email and phone number and they came up as a scam about a year ago. Now, he(or they) are back at it again. This time with different numbers and email address. They contacted a local limousine company to do their dirty work for them and then contact the chefs themselves. Quite sneaky these a-holes are.

    • February 7, 2012
      3:29 pm

      Hey Chuck – at least something good came from it! I just met a kindred soul – LOVE your website, and your cookbook!

  • April 3, 2012
    6:12 am

    I just copy/pasted a link to your web page
    in reponse to Mr. Klee’s email request for a limo service for his six week stay in Toronto. I knew it sounded fake, and a google search for “Paul Klee geologist” brought me to your site page.

    Thanks for the heads up and great recipes.

    Ciao,
    Frank

  • November 12, 2012
    1:05 pm

    Thanks for posting this “Abraham Curtis”, an oil consultant working in the United Emirates, contacted me regarding providing a Personal Chef service for his family for 6 weeks etc. Basically following the same pattern that you describe.

    I also wasted time with creating interesting menus. (At least now I have some terrific meal plans ready). When he asked me to accept overpayment for the limo, I said I would not accept nor tranfer funds on behalf of anyone else. I got suspicious. I sent a document outline the agreement and stated “no refunds” and restating that I did not accept payments on behalf of other service providers. After that I checked online and found your site. Thanks for posting this. The wording in the emails are almost identical!
    Although I don’t think I’ll hear from Mr Curtis again, I sent a report to the Canadian antifraud agency.

    • March 24, 2013
      1:37 pm

      Hi Deborah, my husband received the same email from A. Curtis last week…How and who do we report this to?

  • March 27, 2013
    6:54 pm

    Got the same email from A. Curtis as well! Would like to know how to report this too.

  • March 30, 2013
    11:39 am

    So relieved to find this post. I’ve just been contacted for the second time by this group of fraudsters. The first time was abraham curtis, and this time, irbraham habeeb. My first experience ended when I refused to accept the deposit for the driver, but I did get a lot of new dishes out of the detailed family preferences he gave me.
    Thank god fraudsters are not always so smart. I think they would have realized they had allready tried pulling this one over on me a few months ago.
    I’m going to repost this link on my site, www.personalchefontario.com because I think there is a lot of people (personal chefs) still being targeted with this.
    Keep fighting the good fight!