I got scammed!
You sure have to be careful these days...
Watch out for the guys in foreign countries who offer you huge deals, appeal to your greed, and then take advantage of your inexperience in foreign relations!
That is what happened to me.
So, apparently, these guys in China routinely look for people in manufacturing or other sectors, in my case laser cutting, and send an e-mail with the schematics for a custom widget (mine was a steel gasket that they said was a "part for a textile machine"), including specs for the type of steel, the tolerances allowed, etc. They asked for a quote to create 300,000 of these parts.
Of course, I could not hope to fabricate that many pieces, and my laser is too weak to cut metal at all, never mind 1/8" stainless steel. So I looked around in town here (Edmonton, Alberta), and found a company that has a powerful laser and the capacity to handle a job of that size. They gave me a quote, and we both got pretty excited about the prospects of doing millions of dollars worth of business with a Chinese export/trading company.
I submitted the quote to the contact via e-mail, and it was promptly accepted.
The next step was to invite me to come to China to sign the contract. I asked them to pay for my airline ticket, put me up in a hotel, and all the expenses associated with the trip. They could not understand why I would want them to do that (apparently it simply is not done!), but they were willing to add the cost of the trip onto the contract amount. All I had to do is pay up front costs, and I would be reimbursed later (with an amount of $9000, when it was only going to cost $2000 or so for the trip.
So, I was going to make a killing on the main deal, triple my money on the travel, get a free trip to China, do some sightseeing, and be an international business man! I needed a visa to get into China, and you can only get those from the consulate in Calgary, so I took day off for a trip to Cowtown, got the visa (which was a long, bureaucratic story in itself! Not to mention a $100 fee...), and researched and bought airline tickets. I was going to China!
While this was in the works, I continued to refine the relationship with the contact guy, asking about company specifics, letters of guarantee, company website and references, and more about the parts themselves, and what they were to be used for, etc.
Part of the deal was that I was to provide shipping containers, and arrange for their shipper of choice to pick up the containers and make the deliveries. It turned out that the company I was dealing with was just a broker, buying from me and having me ship directly to the customer in South America. But the taste in my mouth started to get a little sour when they didn't say exactly what the parts were for, and exactly who the customer was, and exactly where in South America, and the company website looked a little too sparse and non-informative, and they refused another request for advance funds, even a small token amount as a deposit.
A friend of mine (Thanks, Paige!) did some digging into internet scams, and came up with a few references to scams that smelled quite a lot like what I was involved with, so I did a little digging myself, and found that indeed, I was not dealing with the most ethical people, to say the least.
Apparently, these guys do this all the time, enticing small business people to come to China for meetings, for which they expect you to pay the airfare, hotel rooms and meals and tourism expenses, not to mention the "gifts" that business partners are expected to buy for the CEO of the Chinese company. All of this is tourism that would otherwise not occur, and I can only guess that the perpetrators of the scam are in league with the hotels and restaurants, or something like that.
Anyway, I canceled my ticket, got a refund credit (which I used to take a trip to Belize with my wife), and politely refused to do business with them any further. Funny how little protesting they did when I said we would no longer be communicating!
I thought about harassing the guy by sending snarly e-mails periodically, or maybe leading him on and having him reserve a room for me, etc., but in the end, I decided that to actively get even would take more time and effort than I was willing to spend. So instead of scamming the scammer, I decided to spam the scammer. I had a client who had gotten a virus that periodically send spam e-mails to everyone in his contact list, and I was on that list. So, what I did was to automatically relay anything that come from that client to the scammer. That way, I didn't have to actively do anything, and if I could annoy him in some small way, I felt like I got even just a little bit every day.
The moral of the story is that you should check out the credentials of anyone you are considering doing business with, and you can't be too careful!