Guess sucker really is born every minute

Published 10:03 am Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It could have been worse. Some years ago, I had just spent the last of my savings to have a British convertible restored.

I was a master then at buying high and selling low. Nonetheless, desperate for cash, I was eager to sell.

I figured I could get $4,900 for the car, but I was also a master at poor timing: Only a fool would sell a convertible just before winter.

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My newspaper ads generated no calls. My for-sale sign in the window generated only one lead.

He was a 40-ish-looking fellow, who had arrived in a brand-new Infiniti. His clothes were impeccable, his presentation flawless.

In short order, he told me about his distributor business; he provided specialty supplies to hair salons in a three-state region.

He told me he was looking for a sports car as a gift for his girlfriend — that she longed for a red British convertible.

He looked over the car carefully, praising me for the quality of the restoration. He said he’d gladly pay my full asking price, in cash — even joked that I wasn’t asking enough — so long as his mechanic could give it a once-over.

I handed him the keys without hesitation. He was, after all, the car buyer I had dreamed of.

“This car is in excellent mechanical condition,” he said, smiling, when he returned an hour later. “Could I come by tomorrow with a cashier’s check to finalize the deal?”

Of course he could!

I slept peacefully that night. I was in a fine mood all the next day — until I arrived home from work to see my garage door open and my British sports car gone!

The fellow didn’t drive my car to his mechanic, you see. He drove to a hardware store and had a key made .

My stupidity didn’t end there, regrettably.

Clever fellow that I was, I had hidden the title — that’s right, the title! — in a crevice under the rear seat. The silver-tongued con man found it.

He drove my prized British sports car to a used-car lot and, forging my signature on my title, sold it to the dealer for a lousy $1,600.

That should have been the worst of it, but it was not.

Eager to reduce my insurance costs, and certain the con man would buy my car, I had called my agent and told him to cancel my coverage the following day.

He did as I asked — both of us unaware that the cancellation would commence at 12:01 a.m. the following day, some six hours before the con man stole my car.

Thankfully for me, even stupid people catch a break now and again.

An off-duty policeman spotted my car at the used-car dealership and it was eventually returned. The used-car dealer was the only one to suffer — he was out 1,600 bucks.

When I testified at the con man’s trial, I would learn that he was a master thief who had been in and out of jail his entire life. I’d also meet six others who’d been duped the very same way he duped me.

We all agreed he was a master at tuning into our wants and worries and pretending to be exactly what we needed him to be.

In any event, the incident haunted and embarrassed me for years, but it doesn’t trouble me anymore.

At least I’m not one of the 63 million Americans who fell for that “hope and change” nonsense.

Tom Purcell is a freelance writer and also a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Tom at