Sunday, March 20, 2011

I Met the Spring Break Scammer

The freak magnet's alive and well and still reeling them in. This time it looks like it caught a big one.

Spring Break is going full throttle down here. All week long the streets were jammed with rental cars put-putting down A1A. You can always tell the tourists because they go real slow down the beach as if they've never seen sand nor sea. You can see them trying to take pictures of the beach with their cell phones as they drive. For locals, it's absolutely maddening if you need to get somewhere because, you know, you actually live here and aren't on vacation and you have an appointment. Forget trying to get into your favorite restaurants this time of year. Out of towners create two hour plus waits, so we have to cook at home until Easter's over.

It's kind of a requirement for Florida residents to bitch about the tourists during season - as if you aren't a true Floridian if you don't at least huff and puff over the traffic or make disparaging remarks about how the Quebecois don't tip well (or at all as some servers say) and well, everyone has to make fun of the Germans on the beach in their Speedos and knee socks. Yes, at the same time. Truly though, I think we Floridians welcome our tourists. Deep down we know that one of the trade-offs for living in a hot tourist destination is that we have to share the place with vacationers and we do so with grace.

That's why we're particularly ashamed and angered when we hear about scammers taking advantage of our guests. Last week a story aired all over the local news about a guy who was posting ads on Craigs List listing condos and hotel rooms in South Beach for very low prices. It sounded too good to be true and of course it was because most of the addresses didn't even exist or they were for alleyways or run down abandoned buildings. Unsuspecting visitors actually signed contracts with this scumbag and sent him their payments via Western Union. Then when they arrived they realized they'd been duped and were stuck with no place to stay. I can't imagine how they must have felt.

The craziest part of this story is that the very same guy who was (allegedly pfft) perpetrating this scam showed up at my parents' house last May and tried to pull a scam on all of us. We were shocked when we saw him on the news and then at the same time, we pretty much weren't because of our own experiences with him.

I"m not going to use his name in this post because I don't want him googling himself and reading this, but I'll link to a news article and video at the end of the post so you can see him for yourself. For the purposes of the story, we'll call him RP.

Last May my parents held a big fundraiser at their house for the wounded troops at Walter Reid Hospital. My uncle runs a charity organization, which you've read about here before and he came down from Millpond and we had a big BBQ. Local politicians showed up, everything. It was a big deal and we raised a lot of money and had a great time.

Now at the same time, a real estate agent was showing the house across the street from my parents. You may remember several posts about that house too. It's an ornate mansion, built as a spec home, which has never been lived in and the builder has still never found a buyer despite open houses every weekend. I think it's been four years vacant now.

Drawn by the tractor beam of the freak magnet in my parents foyer, RP showed up to look at the house across the street just before the fundraiser was about to begin. He told the realtor that we was a doctor who ran a chain of weight loss surgery clinics owned by his wife's family. His wife, he said, was Colombian and had been Miss Colombia in the Miss Universe pageant a couple years back. This already raised the red flags because this guy was a pudgy, dorky Vietnamese guy who looked like the kid from "Up." There's no way any Sofia Vergara look-alike would be interested in him, doctor or not. He also told us he was definitely buying the house and was buying with cash. In addition, he told us he was investing a massive amount of money in a hedge fund that week and he bragged, at least forty times, that he had gone to Harvard medical school and that he had taught up at the University of Florida in Gainesville. That's a lot of accomplishments for someone who didn't look very old. I don't know how old he was, but he appeared to be about thirty give or take. To really drive it home he was wearing a tee shirt from Harvard medical school.

The realtor, thinking he had a high rolling, cash-buyer for the money pit, was totally smitten and brought RP over to meet the neighbors. RP ate up all the attention, promising a sizable donation to my uncle's charity. All the guy did was brag. He never shut up. The strange thing was that a friend of mine, a local prosecutor, actually recognized the guy from her college days in Gainesville! She said he had been a bartender at a popular hangout up there.

RP left and came back to the party later that night. He changed out of his Harvard tee shirt into a BMW shirt and I'm guessing that his fancy watch was a flea market special straight from China. All night long he schmoozed at the BBQ. He ate and drank and talked about his hot wife, mysteriously absent, his rich family, his in-law's rich family, his cars, his penthouse and of course how we went to Harvard. 

Here's the thing this fool didn't understand. We know lots of people who are rich and well educated. We have friends who are literal billionaires and I know lots of people who've gone to Ivy League schools. NONE OF THEM TALK ABOUT IT. That's the rule of the truly high class. They don't discuss their accomplishments or possessions. There's no reason to. So when some idiot comes spouting off all kinds of hyperbole about who he is, where he went and what he's got, it set off some alarms. In other words, we all knew he was bullshit. 

RP didn't do anything criminal to us that night. He was an actor playing a role. Though he was a bad actor and no one believed him, he still got to go to a party. He ate and drank for free and probably felt like he was a somebody, but that's not against the law. He didn't take anything from us except our time and we never heard from him again because he couldn't have kept up the game for very long. He wasn't buying the house, investing in a hedge fund or making a donation, but I'm sure saying those words - purchase, invest and donate, must have made him feel very powerful.

Down here you meet a lot of people who aren't who they say they are. This place seems to attract a lot of lost souls with identity crises or maybe the glitz and glam of South Florida causes this behavior. I wonder often what makes a person like RP do the things he does. Is he a sociopath? Is he evil? Is he mentally ill? What was his life like?

Is it too hard for some very insecure and confused people to live in a place where most of the people you encounter are on vacation, having fun, going out on weeknights, staying late and napping on the beach, their biggest worry being sunburn? Even more difficult then, for people who feel like failures, to live so close, so very close to decadent fortune, passing each day the restaurants you can't afford, the opulent homes not built for you. You see the boats speeding down the canals with wakes like plumes and you aren't on them, cocktail cavalierly in hand and a bikini beauty smiling coyly at your side. Each day you drive by communities fortified by gates and guards and you know that those gates were designed to keep you out.

Maybe the frustration accumulates. There could be break-ups, lost jobs, missed opportunities, letters of acceptance wished for and never received to places like Harvard medical school. I wonder at what point in all that disappointment, does a man go from harmlessly playing a part and touring open houses he knows he'll never buy or trying on a new identity just to crash a party at a waterfront mansion, to becoming a felon and hurting innocent people for personal gain. How does that happen? What makes someone think that's ok, or if they know it's not ok, what makes them do it anyway?

RP is an idiot and a loser. He wasn't even good at being a criminal. When I saw him on the news, after my initial disgust I felt almost pity for him because I realized from the encounter we had that he was desperate and self-loathing, so pathetic. But I don't feel sorry liars and scammers. I pity the people he conned, whose money and trust he stole.


Read the article about RP here and make sure you watch the video where the news crews bust him, Chris Hansen Dateline style.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would think there is somem way to post on Craigslist, "WARNING! Robert Pham is a scam." And how ironic is it that his names rhymes with scam? What a D-bag.

Suffer Kate said...

Wow. Just...wow. What a horrible thing to do to a person.

Anonymous said...

I figured you might be interested in knowing the colombian part of the story! Most things went the same way, exept he was suposedly building clinics for the terminally ill. His girlfriend in this case was his hs sweet heart who was suposedly loaded. He some how managed to rent out really expensive apartments from wich he some how got kicked out, managed some how to run tabs for thousands of dollars! Now he did meet a colombian super model, I stil can't explain how as he realy is repulsive. Any way long story short he ended up beeing locked up at the bogota airport for forging the date of his visa, and afterwards deported...

Anonymous said...

RP at it again.

http://www.mercurynews.com/southbayfootball/ci_22882630/super-bowl-ticket-scammer-arrested-after-taunting-bilking

Anonymous said...

so crazy. I knew this guy and he was a supposed doctor with lots of money and single. He also bragged and disgusted me. Total sociopath. Looks like its all catching up with him now.

Anonymous said...

I knew this guy in college at U.F. Definitely all talk but never thought he would end up that low!

He appears to have faked his PhD from "Harvard Medical School" and published it on personal webpages he wrote himself. There are no records of publications from his PhD work and no mention of any research lab he might have obtained his PhD in at Harvard or anywhere else (every science PhD graduate should be part of a research laboratory)! So sad he went down that low and scammed a bunch of people but I guess his fake career is over now, and he's not even 40...

http://www.ourstory.com/thread.html?t=1115970
http://www.healthgrades.com/physician/dr-robert-pham-ypygf

Anonymous said...

How is your sister really your aunt by the way?

Anonymous said...

Robbie Pham, Rob Pham, Robert Pham forged power of attorney to sell his parent's condo / town home in Gainesville, FL.

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