Saturday, October 11, 2008

Funny Scam?

About 9:30 this evening, I pull into the parking lot of a supermarket. The parking lot is not terribly bright, but fairly full, as it serves not only the supermarket, but also a craft store, a party supply store, and a couple of restaurants. I need to pick up a single item for church and head back to work, but I'm in the middle of listening to an interesting NPR segment on investing, so I sit in the car for a few minutes.

I notice a young lady, perhaps in her twenties, messing around with something in the trunk of her car, which is parked not far from mine. It doesn't look like she is loading groceries, or anything, but I don't make much of a note of that in my mind at the time. A few minutes later, a man, perhaps in his thirties comes and speaks with her, and then he comes over and signals me to roll down my window. I think perhaps their car had a dead battery, and I roll down my window sympathetically (having had a dead battery in my own car recently, ahem).

The man says, "Excuse me? Do you by any chance listen to hip hop?"

I tell him I do "on occassion," not really knowing where he might be trying to take this conversation. The fact is, I really enjoy music (of many types), and do in fact listen to hip hop, but can't listen to any music frequently because it bothers my sensory issues. When I do listen to music, these days it is mostly on my sattelite radio, and rarely a single artist I've selected in particular to listen to. If you ask me to name a favorite recording artist of any genre, I wouldn't be able to name any names because of my memory problems in combination with the fact that I just don't select a whole lot of music to listen to right now.

So the man then introduces himself by a name, and I swear that name is Chewbacca. (It wasn't until I got back to the church that I realized why the name sounded so familiar. Yep, Star Wars.) He also points to the young woman he was just talking to and says she is his girlfriend. Anyway, he says he is a rapper and that he has a CD he wants me to listen to and tell him "what I think."

Um, okay. I figure he wants to sell me something, but I am willing to give him a couple minutes of my time for him to make his case.

So then he proceeds to pull out a CD with absolutely no label on it. More on that in a second.

I turn it on and listen, and we chat for a few minutes. He swears that he is well known, that he has been on MTV and everything, but that he and a whole lot of other rappers are starting to just sell their own stuff independently because the record labels are ripping them off. He tells me that if you calculate it, most rappers working with big labels make under $1 an hour. He claims that the rapper "50 cent" makes 50 cents. He also talks for a bit about his favorite musicians, naming 80s rock musicians he thinks I'll recognize. He asks me what I had in my CD player before he came to my car, and I honestly tell him "nothing," which catches him a bit off guard.

I start flipping through the songs, and periodically he tells me to go to a particular track. He is obviously directing me to tracks he thinks I'll like, all the more "mild" sounding, cheezy love song ones (bleh!). I say, "So you are trying to sell these CDs?" Yep, he tells me. "Well, I don't have any cash on me, but how much are you trying to sell them for anyway?" "$10" he says.

I notice one track is skipping a bit, and he doesn't seem to hear it but does direct me to another. Then he directs me to one that he says has some vocals from his daughter "Jewel." This skips as well, and I look at him puzzled and he says it has never done that before. I eject the CD, and we thank one another: he thanks me for actually being willing to listen, saying most folks are scared to even talk to him, and I thank him for sharing his CD with me. We re-introduce ourselves, and then I go in and buy my falafel mix and get back to my car to see his car is gone.

The whole encounter was polite and pleasant. He seemed nice. I actually enjoyed talking to him. But the way I figure, it has got to be a scam.

For one thing, the CD had no label. As in, no sticker on it. You can get labels and make them up yourself on a computer for like $10. If he was any kind of singer, wouldn't he want to present his name, his image on his sample? He didn't even write his name with a Sharpie marker on the CD. For another, if you are trying to sell your rap/hip hop CDs, wouldn't you find a better target market than sitting outside in the parking lot at the grocery store and hitting up random people. Especially if you are well known and have been on MTV. Wouldn't you at least be selling over the internet or something? Which reminds me, I paused and said in a hesitant voice that I listen to hip hop "occassionally." I am sure he could tell I was hugely ignorant about singer names. That makes a great target for a scam...not such a great target for building up CD-purchasing customers.

Now that I am back at the church, I can't find a rapper with his "name" or anything similar on the internet.

So what do you think this could have been about? I'd like to think the best, but truly this situation was all off. My first guess is that he has burned various songs (not his own) onto a CD and is trying to sell it for $10 a peice as his own.

Although I suppose he also could have been trying to get me to take out my purse so he could rob me. Robbery is a not-infrequent crime in my city. Then again, my purse was sitting on the passenger side of my car the whole time, so I suppose he could have robbed me in any case, if he had really wanted. He also could have been trying to find out if I had a CD player in my car, and what type (easy to take out or not) or a stash of CDs, which could be stolen and sold.



Ketten said...

Wow, that's interesting... and you are brave for even rolling down your window!

Sounds like, to me, he was either a crappy new artist who just wanted to get his stuff out there or had pirated a bunch of tracks and was just trying to get money for them. But, like you said, new artists would probably want their name on their stuff.
So, he probably just grabbed a bunch of tracks, burned them (inexpertly) to CD, and was trying to sell them. We get these people all the time on my college campus (until they're ran off by public security). :)

Masasa said...

Thanks for posting! I wonder how many folks are successful doing these types of scans. It just seems like such a longshot to me that someone would actually be like, "Yeah, it's 9:30 at night in the parking lot of Shaws and I am running in to get some groceries, but I'll go ahead and buy a $10 unmarked skipping-CD randomly from some guy who swears it is his own music." Especially in this economy.

Ketten said...

Ah, but the question is, how many people would actually fork over the money... just to get the guy to leave them alone? I'm guilty of that... I put a dollar in the salvation army bucket just to keep the guy from giving me a dirty look! :D

Laurie said...

Honestly, my first thought was that he was a little bit crazy, and that randomness would worry me a whole lot more than the scam aspect would have. It's not a normal act, and I would say typical of a family member (now deceased) who had a mental illness. She was extremely unpredictable, yet could still function (barely) at a level that kept her from being institutionalized; and smart enough to fool people whose interactions with her were limited.

Masasa said...


In my work, I have gotten to know a wide variety of people. With mental illness, I don't worry too much about random acts. Most random, unstable acts cause no harm to anyone but perhaps the person who is doing them. And alone, those acts don't harm those is more a global picture thing. When acts are more directed and harmful, they usually involve those known to the offender.

I wasn't too worried about this guy-- and the damage his instability was doing to himself-- because at least he had company. What he was up to also seemed harmless enough to me.