A Wild Tale
We've gotten some pretty unusual donations to the Biblical Museum of Natural History. There was a guy in Netanya who told us that he has a dead bear for us, if we come and collect it. It sounded unlikely, but he really did have a skeleton of a cave bear, a hundred thousand years old, which is now on display at the museum. There was an elderly lady who came to visit and told her that we should come to her home and she will give us a special donation. I schlepped two hours to her home, which was a tiny decrepit apartment, and she proudly gave me a box of seashells, worth a few dollars each. I thanked her politely, feeling extremely disappointed, and as I left her apartment, she casually added that she would like to sponsor a seashell exhibit - for which she later sent a five-figure donation.
Today began as one of those days. First we had a visit from some chassidim, from Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. They were from the so-called "zebra" sect, wearing black-and-white striped tunics. And they had a falcon! They said that they had found it in the street. We took it from them, and contacted the Nature Reserves Authority about releasing it back into the wild.
I had just finished dealing with the falcon when I got a text from my nephew. He told me that he saw someone on Facebook looking for a home for two blue-and-gold macaws. Macaws are amazing but very demanding birds, and this person was willing to give them away for free to someone who could provide a suitable home. I told my nephew to tell the guy to contact me. To be honest, I was a bit suspicious. But as long as there was no cost to us, I was willing to proceed.
The macaw owner, Hassane Issa, contacted me via WhatsApp. First he wanted to check that we were suitably equipped to accommodate such birds, which I was easily able to demonstrate. He explained that his daughter had taken ill, and he did not have time to give them the attention that they require. He said that he'd be happy to deliver them to me at no charge.
Great, I said, and gave Hassane our address. But I was still very curious, and asked him where he was located.
"Lebanon," he replied.
You must be joking, I thought. I pointed out to him that you can't just send macaws from Lebanon to Israel. No problem, he said. There is a special animal shipping service that does it. He sent me the URL of their website, and promised to send me the tracking number shortly. He did so, I entered the tracking number, and lo and behold saw that two macaws had been dropped off for shipment to me!
It was at this point that I had the good sense to look into things a little more carefully. I googled the name of the shipping company, and got no hits. I googled the URL of the shipping company,
and got no hits beyond the website itself. I looked at the website a little more carefully, and realized that it was a complete fake. The "Meet Our Team" section in particular was a dead giveaway, featuring stock photos of men, with women's names!
At this point it was entirely obvious that this was a scam. Any moment now I would be asked for money. And lo and behold, a few minutes later, I got an email from the shipping company, asking for 1200 shekels to complete the shipment process - to be sent to Unowa Bruno Mbakwa in Cameroun!
I asked Hassane if he really wanted to live his life as a thief, and if this is how his parents raised him. He kept insisting that he was serious. So I told him to make a donation to the museum online, and then we will pay all the shipping costs and send him some money as a token of appreciation. (Sometimes you can scam the scammers.) But it didn't work, he kept insisting that we have to first send money. I gave up and discontinued the communication.
Some further googling revealed that macaw scams are a big thing. They happen all the time, and gullible people get suckered in to paying shipment costs for birds that don't exist. I don't know why it's macaws in particular that are used for this scam, but it's always macaws.
The moral of the story is - be careful out there! And if anyone wants to have some fun with Hassane, or has a way to shut down the fraudulent website, his number is +1-781-312-9814.