“WRENLY DALGAARD” AND THE ART OF THE SCAM
PATRICK S. WOLFE
“Be careful, online scammers becoming more sophisticated,” was the headline of an Aug. 16, 2023, commentary in my local newspaper. It reminded me of the time, in 2012, when I met “Wrenly Dalgaard,” a scammer who was supposedly from Sweden. Boy, did he put on a show! He even included a poem. His performance was right up there with Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “The Sting.” The only trouble with this comparison is that, by extension, it incongruously casts me, the innocent, deer-in-the-headlights victim, in the role of the movie’s mobster villain, played with scene-chewing ferocity by Robert Shaw. The upshot: some movies about elaborate grifts are poor facsimiles of real life, and as that headline says: Stay alert for scammers!
“Large, self-contained 1-bedroom suite,” my Craig’s List ad said. “Must be quiet, considerate and have good references.” In short order I had an inquiry from Wrenly who used the novel email ID firstname.lastname@example.org
He said he was 27, from Gothenburg, and a non-smoker who rarely drinks. “I’m coming to resume work as an IT Infrastructure Analyst for the next couple of years in Canada…. I look forward to your positive response.”
I replied that I’d be happy to show him the suite at a mutually convenient time.
“I look forward to coming over to Canada alone on Sept. 15 but I’ll be resuming work officially on the 24th of Oct.,” Wrenly wrote the next day. “My employer will be sending you payment for the first month and/or deposit. Also my shipper will be shipping my car and other personal effects before I move into your place…. If this is ok with you, kindly mail me back your name to make out the payment in & your address to have it sent to. I will be off to see my sick mum in the hospital who is due for surgery soon. You can call me anytime on Skype i.d. abound.abound.”
“You sound like you would make a good tenant, but we should meet each other via Skype before coming to an agreement,” I told Wrenly. I gave him more information about my home and the suite and reiterated the type of tenant I wanted. I provided my Skype ID. Then I added: “I hope your mum isn’t too sick, that her surgery goes well and that she makes a quick and full recovery.” I also tried to connect with him via Skype, but I needed his phone number. “Wrenly, I’ve sent you a Skype invitation,” I said in another email. “What is your phone number in Gothenburg? My phone number in Canada is 250-123-4567.”
“I have added you on Skype so we can talk,” Wrenly wrote back. Not long after, we were chatting on Skype. Although our conversation had a jumbled quality, I attributed it to Wrenly’s accent and imperfect English. He was also clearly worried about his mother. I felt I’d done my due diligence. I sent him another email providing my address so he could send me the first month’s rent.
“My employer has sent payment,” he wrote back the same day. “This is the first time I will be traveling to North America…. my shipper will be getting in touch with you regarding shipping of my car…. His name is Matthew Peter and he’ll contact you by email.”
Two days later he sent another email. “I haven’t heard from you. Hope all is well? Let’s try to Skype today.”
“All is well here, although I’ve not yet heard from your employer or your shipper,” I replied. “Don’t worry, I won’t give the suite to anyone else in the meantime. You’ll be here on Saturday, which is only three days from today.”
Later that day I heard from the shipper whose email ID was email@example.com . Matthew asked for my address and advised: “I have been instructed not to commence shipping until you confirm receipt of your rent.”
I provided my address to Matthew.
“My mum’s surgery is scheduled to take place in three hours, wish me luck!” Wrenly wrote the next day. “Also you can track payment on www.canadapost.ca with tracking :7218809007643724. Here’s a poem for you below, hope you like it.”
His poem’s eight very earnest stanzas included the following:
Canada, oh Canada
what hast thou done with me
I feel thou whispers in my soul
I wish to be with thee
I see your children playing
out on a frozen pond
at snowball fights and slapping pucks
a magic way beyond
Mem’ries of the days gone by
engraved into my soul
return to you I will some day
it’s always been my goal
“Yes, very definitely good luck to you and your mom!” I replied later that day. I understood from our Skype conversation that it was major surgery; the possibility that his mother might not survive had crossed my mind.
“The unimaginable thing I feared most has happened to me, my mum passed away!” Wrenly informed me the next day. “I am extremely distraught, I can’t believe this can happen! My mother is the catalyst behind all my present achievements and I have been highly dependent on her…. Why did she have to go? This shouldn’t be happening to me, not now. I told my employer…. He made a mistake of sending you my shipper’s (Matthew’s) money along [with] your payment, instead of sending it separately. I’m so confused and depressed. What do we do now?”
“Steer steady and true, Wrenly. You will get through this. I am so sorry to hear about your mom,” I told him. I added that I had that morning received a cheque for $3300 from Marchand Electrical Company Ltd. “If you provide me with your shipping company’s name and address, I would be pleased to send them a cheque covering your shipping costs.”
“Peace be with you, Wrenly, and courage and resolve,” I concluded. “You and your mother are in my thoughts and prayers.”
Sometime later I received a tearful phone call from Wrenly. He sounded shattered and absolutely bereft. I tried to be supportive. After the call I remember wondering how he would cope.
Wrenly’s next communication, an email which arrived an hour or two later, was considerably less emotional. “It’s just so hard knowing I won’t hug, kiss and see my mum again, never again. She was an amazing woman and I believe a better place awaits her. I also appreciate all the soothing words of encouragement and how much you understand what I’m going through right now, no other future situation can be worse, unarguably…. In the midst of all the confusion I made an error and gave my employer the wrong amount for the rent which was sent to you… $2450 is meant for my shipper. I’ll have him email you now so he can give you details of how he wants the funds for him to commence shipping today as my car might be held under demurrage today because it has been at the port for a week.”
Soon after, I heard from the shipper again. “I have been instructed by Mr. Wrenly Dalgaard to commence shipping of his personal effects to his new place. Also, he instructed me to get in touch with you about the funds ($2450) you will be sending me so I can prosecute the shipping of his effects and also to give you details of how I will be receiving the funds. You will be required to send it via Western Union Money Transfer to the details below…” Matthew went on to provide an address in Jonkoping, Sweden, and to say: “You will be required to send the transfer information details to me today which include the amount and sender’s name and MTCN (Money Transfer Control Number)…. Also Western Union will be charging you to send the funds so you can deduct the charges from the funds before sending.” Matthew also sent another email that provided a long list of Western Union outlets in the Greater Victoria area where I live.
After depositing the cheque from Marchand Electrical at my credit union, I went to a nearby Safeway that provided Western Union services to transfer $2400 to Matthew (the transfer fee was another $58). I had to pay by cash or debit card (credit cards are not accepted). As the amount involved was well beyond my debit card’s limit, I had to return to my credit union to withdraw the cash. Once back at Safeway, while I stood at the Customer Service counter as the clerk completed the transaction, the thought crossed my mind: Could this be a scam? I mentioned this to the clerk. She said the thought had crossed her mind too. I resolved to do some checking before emailing the MTCN to Matthew.
At home, I searched online for “Shipitfastfastfast.” Top of the list of results that came up was the “Moron’s Blog – I WAS SCAMMED!!!” The more than 60 comments posted there quickly revealed that Wrenly and his accomplice(s) were a busy bunch using the same approach and often identically-worded emails—including the same poem, the sick mother, her pending surgery and death, and Wrenly’s distraught phone call—to try to dupe landlords mostly in B.C., but also in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and, in one case, the Netherlands. They’d been at it for at least eighteen months. By my count, Wrenly had used at least nine other aliases and his shipper, Matthew, had used three others. Moreover, while Wrenly and his alter egos have claimed to be Brits and Spaniards as well as Swedes, the fraudulent cheques from his alleged employers appeared to always come from Ontario.
I had a near miss. I never provided the MTCN to Matthew (or whatever his real name is) and I got my money back. Western Union even refunded the $58 transaction fee, but they also said some fraudsters are able to collect funds sent to them without having the MTCN.
In many ways the scam was sophisticated and psychologically adept in how it manipulated me. But looking back there were any number of clues that could have alerted me that things were not legit: Wrenly’s second and all subsequent emails used a different email address than his first inquiry; he twice claimed he was traveling to Canada “to resume work” but later said it was his “first time” coming to North America; he never provided a phone number despite my request; he didn’t provide a picture or video link when we Skyped; when I asked him if he was going to work at the university close to where I live he didn’t answer, nor did he reply when I inquired if his travel plans were going to change due to the death of his mother; in one of Matthew’s emails, Matthew Peter became Peter Matthew; and, finally, why would he be moving to Victoria when Marchand Electric, his supposed employer, was located in Ottawa?
I wasn’t thinking of Wrenly when the phone rang the next morning, but it was him. It was Sunday, the day after he was supposed to arrive in Victoria.
“I haven’t heard from you. Is everything alright?” he asked.
“I’d like to know what your real name is,” I said.
“Why are you asking that?” He sounded dumbfounded—an actor to the very end.
He stayed on the line a few moments longer before hanging up. I can still hear the click followed by the dial tone. The show was over and Wrenly was gone.
The price of admission for landlords like me to the Wrenly show is the time it takes us to post our ads on Craig’s List. Of course, at that juncture we are unaware of the pending show or the possibility that we might find ourselves underwriting its cost to the tune of thousands of dollars. So, if you’re a landlord, beware the “Wrenly Dalgaards” of this world.
Text copyright © 2023 Patrick S. Wolfe
All rights reserved. Short segments may be quoted with due attribution.
An author and historian, Patrick Wolfe lives in Victoria, British Columbia.