THE young woman had seen the flyers, had gone to the website, and had been in a state of subdued excitement as she entered the office.
She was there with her 18-year-old brother. The ad made the promise, 'On hire purchase, Jamaica's coolest car. No deposit required, just your monthly installment! Of $20,000.'
The flyer had pictures of three spanking new cars.
It then said, 'Same day hire purchase approval, same day delivery, no early repayment penalty, fixed monthly instalment.'
What were the requirements?
Valid identification, first monthly instalment, four passport-sized pictures. Once the contact was made, it required a job letter and three character references.
The place became flooded with people who wanted cars. According to the young woman, 'This is the American system. As long as you have a job that allows you the ability to pay the note per month, that is cool.'
In Jamaica, it is a bit different. Way different. The very least that any organisation will accept from a prospective car purchaser as deposit is in the region of 15% of the stated price. The balance, of course, with substantial interest over five years will be covered by a financial institution, usually a bank. And the car has to be fairly new and covered by an expensive comprehensive insurance policy, probably in the region of a little over $100,000 per year.
As people flocked to the place, very few dared to ask the obvious. What sort of arrangement could this new player have to allow him to purchase cars from foreign principals but, as his own financier, only collect the monthly instalment? Who was his rich godfather?
People are not as rational as they believe they are.
As the young woman entered the office, she was introduced to the principal -- a Jamaican who gave a Spanish name. Her young brother gazed to the wall, saw a huge picture of the very man shaking the prime minister's hand.
That was really a pulling card.
But the young man also saw a certificate -- something giving the company a licence to operate in the specific field that it was in. The name attached was different to the Spanish name given.
'How come that name is there and you have this Spanish name?' asked the young man.
'That is my lawyer's name,' he said in response, then as afterthought added, 'Hey young boy, keep outa mi business.'
With all of that, the young people, gullible as they were, went through the process. Processing fee, including $3,000 for credit search came to $74,300. As far as they were concerned, the car would be had before the week was out.
The script changed a few days later when they called the office and was told that because so many people had collected cars, the company had to re-order and it would take four to six weeks for delivery.
It was at that stage that they made contact with me.
When I called, the man whom I spoke with had my first name, or so he said -- Mark, beautiful name. He told me that the company was genuine, on the up and up, and blah, blah, blah.
By this time, the media was involved because people had got wind that something was amiss.
On Tuesday when I called the company's number, I asked for the name that the young man had seen on the certificate on the wall. The same one that the 'Spanish man' had said was his lawyer's name.
Specifically I was seeking the man's cellphone number. Said the person, 'Can you call back in about one minute.'
I called back in five.
'Sir, right now it is impossible to speak to him because he is in the custody of the police. I don't know if he is detained or arrested.'
On Wednesday when I called back, it was apparent that the organisation was shut down, gone, kaput. Lady and others, kiss your $74,000 goodbye.
What is especially painful for all of these people whose only fault was in trying to better their lives is that the media -- and probably our archaic laws in those situations -- have let them down.
All I had to do was google the name on the wall, the so-called lawyer's name. Remember now, when I called, I did not ask for the man by his Spanish name. And yet the man who answered the phone said that the man was in the 'company' of the police and was probably being detained or arrested.
When I googled that name, it came to me that the man was a serial fraudster, arrested in 2005 and 2007 under the same name of the same company that was, up until Tuesday operating on Old Hope Road.
The laws of Jamaica do not allow me to give the man's name, yet he is a crook and he has carried a lot of people wide.
The fact is, even if he was still operating and I had information that he was crooked, the laws of libel, defamation, etc would not empower me to warn the citizens of this country. Those laws would actually assist the fraudster to continue to defraud others.
I commiserate with many of those people who have had their monies stolen from them. All they wanted was a chance to drive a reasonably good, second-hand, Japanese car.
What galls me is the effrontery of the man to continue his fraud in the same name of the company that was used in 2005 and 2007. That takes guts.
He must have collected many millions of dollars.