One reader did the legwork that saved her money

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Very often readers make terrific reporters. Take the case of one Celena Pope of

Severn, N.C. She bought a copy of The Tidewater News at a store in Boykins last week and read through the classified ad pages.

That’s a good section to invest time in any newspaper. It bleeds the life’s blood of a community. In this paper’s classified ad section you can learn about a summer rental on the North Carolina beach, learn that International Paper is hiring for a variety of positions or that an older car is on sale — a real fix-er-upper.

You can also learn about pets whose owners need to part ways. Sometimes, a little critter is too much for the family to handle. Sometimes the family is moving and can’t take their pet with them. Sometimes the owner is breeding pets and is a looking to sell.

And sometimes, as Ms. Pope learned after a dogged investigation that crossed an ocean, the so-called owners are looking to bilk a few bucks from unsuspected animal-lovers.

Here’s what happened, according to Ms. Pope.

She read the ad from someone who sorrowfully “needed” to part with a Cute Teacup Yorkie, a small and affectionate dog. The owner needed $300 to ship the dog overnight. The ad looked reasonably legitimate, but there wasn’t a whole of information included for the reader. That’s not unusual. Ads are often billed by the word, so advertisers try to keep costs down by limiting the number of words used. In turn, the purpose of the ad is to get the attention of a would-be buyer and begin a direct dialog.

That, apparently, is where the seller made his mistake.

His name is “Wilton,” according to the ad, and Wilton said the reason for needing to part with the Yorkie was because he was off to perform “missions work”

in Nigeria. All right; sounds reasonable so far. Plus, Wilton was persuasive in his e-mail replies. He seemed genuine. Communications continued.

But Ms. Pope still had a nagging feeling about the whole thing. The classified included an e-mail address, so she used it. A few e-mails went back and forth and things seemed above board until, as Ms. Pope wrote us, “After a few emails, I got a little suspicious, and then I got a phone call from this Wilton and I was trying to tell him I’d rather pay for the dog C.O.D. Without a goodbye, suddenly we got cut off. I suspect he hung up. The number on my [caller] ID was 808-419-3248. I tried to call right back and somehow that number is no longer in service.” It was disconnected, she wrote.

But this investigative reporter did not quit.

According to her own words, she “did some research on the Internet and sure enough, the type of ad, right down to near perfect wording of the emails, was compared to a scam from Nigeria and in other locations.”

Naturally, she kept her $300 but offered this newspaper and its readers a piece of sounds advice: Be careful of offers of good deeds from people we do not know.

To this paper, she asked that we no longer publish the ad, which we have done. She also asked that we alert readers that someone, by using this newspaper’s resources, is probably trying to scam people out of a few hundred bucks, which we also have now done.

When “Wilton’s” request to place the ad in the paper, it looked no different from the many we get in a week’s time

However, we will no longer accept his advertisement, thanks to the investigative work of one Celena Pope of Severn, N.C., and will probably be more suspicious ourselves. We live in a small community where folks are, for the most part, good and kind and honest. We all know not everyone who lives here fits that bill. And that’s only from the people we know. This seemingly honest ad arrived from almost a half a world away. The goal of advertising is to put people with something to sell in touch with those who want to buy.

Ms. Pope believed the request of the dog’s owner was, on the surface, just and honest. Then she did what good shoppers do. She asked questions.

She made some requests of this newspaper that have been acknowledged and asked for some changes that have been made.

What she did not ask, however, is something that will be done anyway in this space: To remind readers to be careful. Be careful of unsolicited mail, telephone offers that seem reputable but are equally suspicious or, basically, any offer that sounds too good to be true.

If in doubt, call a friend. If still in doubt, call the police.

If still in doubt after that, perhaps Celena Pope can lend a hand to get to the bottom of things.

PAUL McFARLANE is the editor of The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is