My normal readers can ignore this, as it has nothing to do with energy or the environment.
This post is about a small measure of justice against a small-time scammer who tried to rip me off – and who has ripped others off. As I will document here, the attempted fraud happens on a regular basis. By writing this, people who are trying to figure out if he is running a scam should run across this in their Google search results – and realize that there is a history here they need to be aware of. This all started on 10-26-09, but I am back-dating this post so it doesn’t show up on the first page (but still high enough that the Google spiders will find it).
Here is the story. I like to play computer games with my kids. One of the games we play is called Diablo II, and to play together online we need two licensed copies of the game on two computers. Since I already have the software, all I needed was another key. (Actually two keys, as there is also an expansion).
People do sell game keys, and so I did a Google search for Diablo II Game Keys. Up popped a Google ad for this site: http://www.diablo-keys.com/. Here is a snapshot of part of the ad:
Note the language of the ad. “The keys are fresh from the box – unmuted, unbanned and only in use by you.” The bottom portion of the ad reads “If you have any problem with any of the keys, we will replace them free of charge, forever. All orders are shipped INSTANYLY [sic] upon purchase.”
There were other comparable ads, but this was the best price, so I bought two keys. I almost bought multiple sets – and would have later on – except for what happened after I bought the keys. Right after I got them, I tried them out and found out that they had already been registered. In other words, they were not “fresh from the box”, and were in fact worthless since I could not use them to play the game with my son. I gave the merchant the benefit of the doubt, and simply reported that the keys didn’t work:
For both of the keys below, I received this message when I tried to authenticate and add them to my Battlenet Account:
The authentication key you entered has already been claimed.
Each authentication key can only be redeemed once. Please refer to your games section of the home page to review the keys attached to this Battle.net account. If you’re sure you have not previously claimed this key, please double-check the spelling and enter it now.
The response I got was pretty lame, and immediately aroused my suspicions:
We are glad to hear from you. We fully investigate and reply to each e-mail submitted to us. Whatever your concern is, expect the best customer support ever!
Your request will be answered within 24 hours. We will be glad to fix any problem you, valued customer, could get. To ensure the best customer service, please do not submit multiple e-mails unless you have new information to submit, or if we haven’t replied for 24 hours (this usually means our response has been blocked by your junk filter).
As again, thank you for your great customership and for your trust in Diablo-Keys, top Diablo 2 reseller !
At that point, I started wondering whether this person was trying to scam me. So I did some Google searches on Diablo Keys scam and some other related keywords. I found that I wasn’t the first to have a problem with this guy. Here is someone documenting that his keys didn’t work. And here is the amazing response from “Diablo-Keys, top Diablo 2 reseller:“
So the response from email@example.com, the same address responding to me, was to verbally insult the customer who complained about getting ripped off. I also noted that he had used PayPal, but when I bought my keys PayPal wasn’t the payment option. He was using a service called AlertPay.com. In hindsight I think what that probably means is that PayPal dropped him after people complained about being ripped off. I also ran across multiple other accounts of people being ripped off by this clown.
So I knew that I was going to have trouble, so in response to the delaying tactic I got when I reported my non-working keys, I wrote:
Guys, I have a blog with a whole lot of viewers. Please don’t try to get funny with these keys. After my keys didn’t work, I looked into it, and I see that others have reported the same problem:
So I either need to get my money back, or two keys that work. Failure to do either one will result in me publicizing this and reporting fraudulent advertising to Google Ads.
That’s when it took a turn toward the comical. Based on the response, I knew that this scammer was simply trying to wear me down and hope I just wrote it off like a lot of other people have done:
We understand this problem might be frustrating.We are proud to offer one of the best customer service on the market, at no additional cost. Your satisfaction is our priority. We will do everything we can to fully satisfy you.
Per our 100% working guarantee, all products are guaranteed to be 100% working. We would be more than happy to give you all the required technical support at no charge. Our experts are ready to assist you. If you require any instructions, we can send full guide, written in simple words.
Once more I asked for either a refund or keys that worked – or I would take action:
I don’t need technical support, I just need keys that haven’t already been authenticated. The ones you sent me have already been claimed. So please send another pair or refund the money. Otherwise I will just contact the credit card company, dispute the charge, contact Google Ads, and then write a story about this on my blog (and then it will be one of the first things that pops up when someone Googles “Diablo keys.”)
Note that I have made multiple requests for replacement keys, and all I was getting was stalling tactics. So I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when I got the following typo-riddled response. This was supposedly from a Joseph Karlson (firstname.lastname@example.org) who claims to have a law firm at www.KarlsonandKarlson.com (located in Toronto).
from Joseph Karlson
to Robert Rapier
date Tue, Oct 27, 2009 at 6:20 PM
subject CEASE AND DESIST- Diablo-Keys.com
My name is Joseph Karlson and I represent Diablo-Keys.com
This notice is to inform you my client, Diablo-Keys.com, intends to press charges against your person for harassment, defamation, verbal abuse and fraud.
On October 28th, 2009, despite various answers that your cd-keys would be replaced, you have chosen to keep harassing, threatening and insulting my client’s customer support agent. As you are surely aware, such a behavior is not only unethical, but illegal.
For this reason, I now seek reparation on behalf of my customer. We are legally required to inform you that we plan to press charges on October 30th, 2009, unless you complete the following points:
* A complete apology letter for your rude behavior and abuse towards my client’s employees.
* A statement of retraction of everything submitted, posted or writen against my customer.
* A $5,000 compensation for the time and efforts deployed in this case.
If you fail to fulfill the following points by October 30th, 2009, charges will be pressed against you directly in state courts. You will then have to defend yourself directly in court.
Diablo-Keys.com intends to fully pursue you for any damage, interest, claim and compensation caused by this situation. You have fourty-eight (48) hours to complete the above points. By law, you are now considered to have been served the required preliminary notice.
For any further information do not hesitate to communicate with me.
So, not satisfied with simply ripping people off, now he is trying scare tactics that might work on a 12-year-old kid. But the typo-ridden rant above (just like the typo-filled website of this “attorney”) simply made me laugh. How funny is it to claim that there were “various answers that your cd-keys would be replaced” when a simple replacement set could have been sent instead of empty promises to replace the keys?
So after I stopped laughing, I responded to his lame extortion attempt. I also decided that instead of making a “statement of retraction of everything submitted”, I would do the opposite and publish all correspondence:
You are either the stupidest lawyer on the planet, or a fraud like your client to think you can “serve” someone over the Internet and across national borders. Or your client isn’t really your client and is falsifying this response (copying the real Karlson and Karlson in case that is the case). No matter, you picked the wrong person to defraud, and the end game is all the same.
Let me tell you what is going to happen. Your client is committing Internet fraud. He is fraudulently advertising keys to a game. He is guaranteeing that they work, and money back if not satisfied. He is selling keys that have already been sold and used, and therefore do not work.
So here is the deal. I tried to buy these keys for my son’s birthday. I received a lame response from your client informing me that my satisfaction is his highest priority. I informed him that I merely wanted keys that work, and then I received the same message from him again, and now this from you. So here is what is going to happen.
Your client has 12 hours to either refund my money or provide keys that work. Failure to do so will result in the following:
1. I will file a claim with the credit card company, explaining the nature of the fraud. As I have observed already, others have documented this fraud from your client.
2. I will file a report with Google, with whom your client is advertising. This will stop your client from advertising with them, as they will not tolerate fraud.
3. I will file a report with AlertPay, which your client is using to receive money.
4. I will document this on my blog, which has very high traffic. Rest assured that when people Google “D2 Keys”, on the first page of the Google results they will see “Diablo-Keys.com is a Scam.” Google my name if you think I am exaggerating.
5. I will file a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx)
Now, the ball is in your court. You don’t have to respond with any further lame threats. Your client has never offered to replace the keys; he just keeps saying that my satisfaction is his highest priority. So if you are truly stupid enough to harass me over this, assure that you will be counter-sued for wasting my time – and I think you know you will lose.
12 hours to replace the keys. Any other response will result in Actions 1-5 above, no further response from me, and publication of all correspondence related to this (which will put a damper in your client’s scam). To be honest, I will probably do all of that anyway, but if I get keys that work I might be in a generous mood and forget this ever happened.
Following that, I did go ahead and file reports with the Internet crime division (he may only be scamming $5 at a time, but I hate low-life scammers), I filed a dispute with AlertPay, and I filed a complaint with Google Ads. No response the next morning, so I sent my final communication:
You have had 8 hours. Four more hours and I also have a word with the FBI’s Internet crime division. I think they would be interested in the $5,000 extortion attempt below.
About to get on a plane. When I get off, if I don’t have 2 working keys, or a refund, don’t say you weren’t warned. And I don’t bluff.
This will be the last communication from me.
One more comical response from the “attorney”, who doesn’t seem to understand the difference between civil and criminal law. (I think it obvious that this wasn’t written by an actual lawyer; if it was then it truly is the stupidest lawyer I have ever encountered):
from Joseph Karlson
to Robert Rapier
date Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 4:19 AM
subject Re: CEASE AND DESIST- Diablo-Keys.com
Thank you for your response. Any additional evidence is appreciated and only adds to our evidence.
By harassing, threatening and blackmailing my client, Diablo-Keys.com, you have committed fraud under federal law. Although we intend to prosecute you under state laws, this crime is a felony in most of the United States and punishable by up to three years in jail and/or $100,000. As you are without a doubt aware, verbal violence is not tolerated, and Diablo-Keys.com will not make an exception.
As your e-mail was very clear, we will begin legal procedures against Mr. Robert Rapier in the state of Hawaii. Karlson and Karlson is authorized to practice civil law in the United States.
I have recommended my customer to refund your order both to help procedures and to prove good faith in the case of Diablo-Keys.com, Inc Vs. Robert Rapier. For now, you have nothing to do. As required by US Law, every legal document will be served to you. For now, you have nothing to do, except maybe finding a suitable attorney.
Diablo-Keys.com had no choice but to prosecute you to protect its brand, image and quality service. While it is sad this matter couldn’t be settled off court, you have given us very little choice.
For any further information do not hesitate to communicate with me.
LOL! Yes, Diablo-Keys is going to “prosecute me.” Oh no, I have to get an attorney. I might go to jail for three years! What a douche. Then the scammer himself responded twice more:
from Lawrence Irwin “email@example.com”
to Robert Rapier
date Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 4:09 AM
subject Re: CEASE AND DESIST- Diablo-Keys.com
Thank you for the additional evidence. I know you mentionned this was the last communication, but please keep writing to us: every e-mail is more and more evidence and our lawyer LOVES it.
Our lawyer has been very strict: we are unable to make comment this situation. We will see each other in court.
So Lawrence Irwin (which is probably just a name this loser is hiding behind) at firstname.lastname@example.org, is “unable to make comment” on the advice of his make-believe attorney. But stupid people rarely know when to shut up. So two minutes later, he sends this:
Yes, continuing the theme of illiteracy, “such it hard” is his answer. He must have gotten help with the spelling from his “attorney.”
So if you happened upon this because you were trying to determine whether http://www.diablo-keys.com/ is a scam, now you know. Here is how the scam goes:
1. He sells you invalid keys that have no value (and because you can find invalid keys from free from lots of places). You pay $5 because he claims they are new.
2. You report that the keys are invalid, and he promises to investigate.
3. He sits tight and hopes you forget all about it.
4. If you are persistent, he has his make-believe attorney write a threatening letter.
5. If you continue to be persistent, he refunds your money, lashes out like a two-year-old, and has his make-believe attorney send another letter.
It is just brilliant enough to have been crafted by a couple of 7th grade dropouts.
If you are coming here because you have gotten a pair of bad keys and are trying to get resolution, my recommendation is to file a fraud complaint and dispute the charge. If the guy had any actual working keys, he would have sent them instead of refunding my money after I made multiple requests for a replacement, before finally disputing the charge.
The guy could have had an actual business, but instead tries to scam people, and then scare them if they complain. If you are looking for a legitimate site for Diablo keys, after this experience I went to http://www.mmo1st.com/ and got a pair of working keys for $7. No problem at all from them, unlike the scammer/con artist/fraud at Diablo-Keys.com who will charge you $5 and then proceed to waste your time.
Update 12-09-09: All of the scammer’s websites that he tried to use when scamming me are now offline. Further, I am cooperating with the authorities to actually track him down and bring him to justice. You can read about the initial account here: Exposing a Two-Bit Scammer
Update 12-03-09: This saga has also been mentioned over at The Consumerist. (And thank you to people who have forwarded me game keys). There are two things I want to clear up. First, I am not the person who posted the story at Reddit. I only became aware of the story because I saw the traffic coming in from Reddit on my Stat Counter.
Second, a number of the commenters at The Consumerist have alluded to the idea that I was trying to buy illegal keys. That is absolutely untrue. I have the software and licenses already, and I had it installed on the computer I was using. I was attempting to buy another pair of licenses so my son and I would both have licensed copies so we could play online together. People do legally sell licenses to software all the time. (As one poster at the Consumerist noted, the Consumerist has hosted “morning deals” for Diablo CD keys). I just looked around and thought I found the best deal. If I buy your licensed copy from you, there is nothing illegal about you selling it to me. And since I have the software, all I needed was a license. (Explained well by this commenter at The Consumerist).
I have a hard time believing that if people are setting up websites and selling cracked licenses that Blizzard isn’t shutting them down. After all, the last time I checked Blizzard’s attorneys had essentially stopped people from selling game items on eBay – and this used to be a big business. So I had no reason to think there was anything shady here. Come on, do you think I would have written about it if that was the case? If people are setting up websites – and advertising with Google Ads – to sell cracked licenses, then this is news to me. But I admit this is not something I know a whole lot about.
Update 12-02-09: For those linking in from Reddit, yes, www.d2key.com is the same guy running the scam at www.diablo-keys.com. (Update 12-07-09: As of today both sites are offline, as is that of the fake law firm. The former because the guy “sold out” of keys. LOL! If you follow any of the threads below, that mantra of “I am making loads of money” is very consistent with the behavior of my scammer; he would make this claim in every e-mail he sent to me. He apparently has a self-esteem problem, trying to compensate for his inadequacies by lying about making lots of money).
For those who doubt this, here are screen shots showing both sites at the same IP address (courtesy of Reddit viewers):
Regarding that, our scammer says “I do not have a good response for that (yet).” Translation: I haven’t yet thought of a plausible explanation for that. He has now changed it, but that was the case earlier today. There are also reports at Reddit that the initial support e-mail was listed as the same for both websites (again, now changed). I also have very specific other proofs that I am not going to share publicly, but have shared with Reddit moderators.
File a claim with PayPal immediately and let them know what he is doing. He reinvented himself because PayPal banned him for running the original scam (more on that below). This guy isn’t just a scammer, he is a complete scumbag; twice threatening to harm my elementary school aged son. (I published one of the threats below; the first one was so graphic and horrible I am not publishing it).
He will be glad to know that he is getting the kind of exposure I promised him: around 3,000 views from Reddit today and rising. Thanks Reddit readers! Oh, and someone at Reddit proved that the “law firm” threatening to sue – Karlson and Karlson – is indeed fake as I presumed. Too bad. I wanted to see this scumbag in court.
This is off-topic, but hits upon a topic very important to me: Safety. In my previous post, I mentioned that I thought those long-distance family vacations were going to become rarer as gas prices cut deeply into budgets. But Yellowstone National Park will remain a popular destination as families do venture out on the road.
Having lived in the shadow of Yellowstone for a few years, you hear a lot about the tragedies that happen there every year. It seems that people will go to Yellowstone and act as if they are at an amusement park or a zoo. I could list case after case of stupidity that has gotten people either injured or killed in Yellowstone. It is a real pet peeve of mine that people go there and don’t take basic precautions. So when I read this story yesterday, I just had to shake my head:
A 12-year-old Pennsylvania boy was flipped in the air by a bison near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone Friday morning. A mature bull bison, apparently annoyed at the close proximity of the boy, tossed him approximately 10 feet in the air.
Witnesses said the boy was posing with members of his family within 1-2 feet of the animal despite repeated warnings from other visitors.
I have a 12-year-old son as well, I couldn’t help but think of him in that position. I don’t fault the boy here, and I certainly wish him a speedy recovery. Fortunately, he lived and has learned his lesson the hard way. But I do fault the parents, who should know better than this.
The other incident in recent years that really got to me was the fatality of a Michigan woman that happened right in front of her husband and two children:
(AP) A Michigan woman who stepped over a retaining wall to take a photograph lost her footing and fell 500 feet to her death, park officials said.
The Chamberlins and their two children had stopped their vehicle at an overlook along the road about three-quarters of a mile north of the Tower Fall area about noon EDT Saturday.
Chamberlin stepped over a low rock retaining wall to take a photo when she lost her footing, slipped down an embankment and went over a cliff. She fell about 500 feet, coming to rest near the Yellowstone River, park officials said.
I visited that exact location shortly after the incident. There is a guard rail there, and it is there for that very reason. Imagine the drive back to Michigan for that man and his children.
But this story wouldn’t be complete without sharing my own story of stupidity. I visited the park in the winter of 2006 with my two oldest kids. We rented a snowmobile, and were riding it around. It was built for three, but very difficult to steer with that many people on it. I was taking it up a hill that was steeper than I should have, and it stalled out near the top of the hill. The front end tipped over, and my son and I jumped off on the uphill side. My daughter went off the downhill side, and I watched as this 700-lb snowmobile rolled directly over her.
It took me about 20 (endless) seconds to get to her, and during that time I was certain that she was at least seriously injured. Fortunately for us, the snow was deep, and it crushed her into the snow. It knocked the breath out of her, and scared her badly. But she wasn’t hurt. I consider this the luckiest day of my life: The day I almost lost my daughter, but was instead given a terrifying reminder of just how quickly a life could be snatched away.
So, please be careful, especially with your children. Don’t put them into dangerous situations. Stop, take a minute, and evaluate the situation. Ask yourself what’s the worst thing that can happen, and then presume that it will. Remember, the world can be a dangerous place, and a life can be snatched away with just a moment of carelessness.
And I won. For the most part. Thanks to all who wrote and commented with advice. Here’s what happened.
As I wrote earlier in the week, I had a little misunderstanding with the game wardens while home for Christmas. The (optional) court date they gave me was January 30th, but I fly back to Scotland on the 6th.
I was planning on just getting an attorney and letting him deal with it, but I also wanted to be able to tell my story. So, my son and I first went to the court clerk, where the game warden had just brought the tickets in. She was very friendly, and asked me what happened. I told her, and she was appalled. She told me that she and her husband had a similar run-in when they were checking on some of their cows, and she knew how over-zealous some of those game wardens can be. She finished filing the charges, and sent me over to the district judge’s office.
I talked to the judge’s secretary. She also commented about this new crop of game wardens, and said that they had been having issues with some of the citations they had written. She made a comment about them needed to exercise a bit of common sense when dealing with people. She stuck her head in, asked if the judge could talk to me, and he said that he could.
The ticket had my Montana address on it, and at first he didn’t realize I was from the area. He said “Son, you had a gun and a spotlight in a vehicle. Here in southeastern Oklahoma, that’s a problem. What happened?” I told him who I was, and where the incident happened. (He has property not far from there.) I could see his demeanor change as I told my story. He said “Wait a second. You were on your own property?” I told him we were. He said “And they came all the way down to the house?” (The house is well off the road). He wasn’t happy. He then asked about Scotland, and if another court date would work. I told him that we were leaving this weekend. He said “Let me go and talk to the District Attorney.”
So, he went upstairs to the DA’s office for about 10 minutes. My son and I sat out in the hall, and I told him that this was a good sign. So far, nobody had been sympathetic to the game wardens’ actions. After a bit, the judge came out and said the DA wanted to see me. I went in and talked to him about my options. Again, he was sympathetic. He said “Look, I know that farmers around here need to get out and check on fences, cows, etc. They are almost always going to have a gun in their possession. So what they cited you for could be cited on private property all the time. In fact, I could have been cited for this before.” I was thinking “This is starting to sound pretty good.” He then said “But, the game wardens are going to want to contest this in court. I would rather not waste the court’s time on this, and I know that you aren’t going to be here after this week.”
He then handed me a copy of the game warden’s report, and asked if it looked like the facts were correct. I read it over, and other than one statement, it was written up correctly. That one statement was “Mr. Rapier said that they weren’t deer hunting, but were trying to spot raccoons.” I don’t know whether he meant to say that I actually said that we weren’t deer hunting (the word deer was never mentioned by me or the game warder) or whether he was trying to convey that information in his report. But I wanted to clarify that I was never questioned about whether I was deer hunting.
The mystery of how they arrived so quickly was also solved. They said we were spotted by an airplane flying directly overhead (looking for “illegal hunting activity”), and that it was called in at 20:48. They were very close by, and when it was called in they were pulling down the driveway 10 minutes later.
The DA said “Look, I don’t want to prosecute this. But I would like to make some kind of deal that satisfies everyone.” He turned to his computer and did some research. He said “How does this sound. I can give you a pair of options. First, we can try to work out a court date, get the game wardens in here, and contest the charges in court.” He told me that that face value of all of the 3 fines was actually about $800 EACH. He said “That’s one option. But I would rather do this. I will dismiss the first two charges – Hunting from a motor vehicle and spotlighting in exchange for a no contest plea and the minimum fine for hunting without a license. I will order return of the gun and light.”
We discussed this for a bit. When the game wardens showed up, I had a predator call in my pocket. When we had been out target practicing earlier, we had planned on calling up some coyotes. They had been making a lot of noise the past few nights. While we never used the call, we were walking around in the woods with a gun and would have shot a coyote had we seen one. That means that technically, we were hunting earlier in the day for coyotes (again, on private property). However, we weren’t hunting when the game wardens cited me.
I asked about the seriousness of the charge. In Oklahoma, here is the classification of the charge:
“Non-serious offenses” offenses which are not recorded in criminal history records, adapted from the list of FBI non-serious offenses.
It is essentially equivalent to a speeding ticket. So my options were to take this deal, or hire a lawyer and send him in to tell my side of the story without me being there (risky, in my opinion). So, I took the deal, paid a $200 fine plus $100 in court costs, and was done with it.
One more interesting thing happened when I was getting my Dad’s gun and light back. They let me look around the evidence locker. They had a bunch of automatic weapons that they had confiscated from a meth lab. There must have been a total of about 100 guns in there. Pretty cool. And once again, I got a sympathetic view from the deputy who released my gun. He apologized over the whole thing.
All in all, not a terrible way to end the episode. It was still a bad deal, but it could have turned out a lot worse.
I seldom post off-topic material, but this is definitely off-topic. So, if you would rather read only energy-related posts, I will have another post up in a couple of days.
While I won my $1,000 bet on oil prices by a whisker, an unfortunate incident happened during the last weekend of 2007 that wiped out my win.
I spent Christmas with my wife and kids on my parents’ farm in Oklahoma. During our time there, I tried to teach my kids something about sustainable living. One of the things I did was teach my 11-year old son how to shoot. We have a place on the farm that we use for target practice, and we worked on shooting with my dad’s .22 Magnum.
After we finished shooting, we went back to the house. After the last shot, I had left the spent shell in the chamber – intending to dump the rest of the shells out when we got home. We had some work to do – my son wanted to pick up some pecans (he had picked up 40 pounds and sold them for $20 already) and I was building a composter for my parents – so I put the gun in our rented minivan.
When it started to get dark, my son and I went inside. I began watching a football game with my dad, but my son wanted me to take him down to our pecan orchard to see if we could see any animals. I have done this since I was a kid – take a flashlight or spotlight, walk down to our pecan orchard, and get an idea of how the animal populations are faring. I have never in my life fired a shot when doing this. Many people do essentially the same thing by setting up game cameras that catch animals moving about at night. I don’t have one, so I just go shine the light and have a look.
At halftime of the Texas A&M – Penn State game, I told my son I would take him down and we would have a look. I picked up a handheld spotlight so we could walk down quietly – which is what I normally do – but it wasn’t working. The only other spotlight we had plugged into a cigarette lighter, so we grabbed it and hopped into the minivan. I had forgotten to take the gun out earlier, so I pushed it to the side and we set off.
We made the typical loop, which is less than 300 yards to the pecan orchard, shined the light, and returned home. We didn’t see anything, and we quickly returned home because I didn’t want to miss the start of the second half of the game. We had been gone less than 10 minutes.
As we were pulling through the gate back into the yard, a vehicle was coming down our driveway. My son asked who it was. I told him I didn’t know, but I knew as soon as they pulled in behind us and turned on the flashing lights. I said “It’s the game warden, but don’t worry, we didn’t do anything wrong.”
A second vehicle pulled up behind them, and a total of 4 very young (20-something) game wardens got out with guns drawn. They said through a loudspeaker “Get your hands up where we can see them”, followed by “Roll your window down.” I told my son not to make any sudden moves, and I very slowly rolled the window down.
They told us to step out, put us up against the vehicle, and frisked us. They questioned us about what we were doing, and I told them. I explained why we had the gun in the vehicle, and that there was a spent shell in the chamber. They quizzed my son about this, and he told them that we had been target practicing.
At about this time, my 5-year old son looked out the window, saw what was going on, and informed everyone in the house that there were several trucks in the yard. My dad and brother-in-law came out and asked what was going on. The four game wardens huddled up for a few minutes, and then the driver of the first vehicle came up and started writing me three tickets: 1. Hunting without a license; 2. Hunting with the aid of a motor vehicle; and 3. Spotlighting. Fortunately they are only misdemeanors, but the face value of the tickets is about $1500. They also confiscated my dad’s gun and spotlight.
While one was writing the tickets, another kept mouthing off at me. At one point, he said “This gun’s just been fired. When were you target practicing?” My son told him that we had been doing that at 4 p.m. (about 5 hours earlier). A few minutes later, he said “You don’t even have a valid driver’s license.” I caught myself just as I was about to ask if none of the four of them had any actual poachers that they could be out chasing. (I did think about the irony of driving a vehicle with Texas tags, while having a Montana driver’s license, living in Scotland, and getting written up in Oklahoma. But my Montana driver’s license is valid. I have to get a UK driver’s license after being in the country for 1 year, but I haven’t yet been in the UK for a year.)
My son was shivering, as neither of us was dressed to be outdoors in the cold. So I asked if he could go inside. They let him go. I told the one writing the ticket that I knew he was just doing his job, but we were not hunting. He responded “If you have a spotlight and a gun, then as far as I am concerned, you were hunting.” That’s probably true if you catch someone out on a public road at night, but I guarantee you there are lots of times on a farm that someone will have both a spotlight and a gun in a vehicle and not be hunting. And that was the situation with us.
Unfortunately, I was given a court date of January 30th. I fly back to Scotland on January 6th. But, no worries. I was told I can just go to the courthouse and pay the fine. Now what kind of message does that send to my son? We were not hunting, and he knew we were not hunting, but I am supposed to go pay a fine for a bunch of hunting violations?
Let’s review. First, I was in a rented minivan. I have to turn it back in to the rental car place at the airport in a few days. Who would hunt in that? There were two pickups at the house that we could have taken had we been hunting. We weren’t dressed to be outdoors. The gun was not ready to fire. They quizzed my 11-year old, and he told them that we weren’t hunting. My dad and brother-in-law told them we weren’t hunting. I told them we weren’t hunting. So, I am definitely going to contest the charges if I can see a judge or district attorney before we fly back home. I will probably lose, but even if it ends up costing me more money I won’t plead guilty to a charge that I didn’t commit. Had the ticket said something like “Possession of a gun and a spotlight in a vehicle”, then I would plead guilty to that. But the violations are all for hunting, and we weren’t hunting.
My son thinks the whole thing is terribly unfair (as does the rest of my family). But I have explained to them that game wardens often catch people with guns and spotlights, and probably 90% of the time they are hunting illegally. I certainly support their efforts. And unlike police officers, the vast majority of the people that game wardens deal with have guns. They have dangerous jobs. So they tend to be a very non-nonsense bunch. But I don’t think even the guy who wrote the ticket really thought we were hunting. He just thought he could make that charge stick.
What I can’t figure out is how they got there so fast. We live out in the sticks, and yet 2 truckloads of game wardens – none from the closest town – were there in less than 10 minutes. My guess is that they had been called out on someone else, and just happened to be in the area. They do fly airplanes over looking for poachers, so if they were in the area and the plane spotted us immediately, that could explain it.
The incident certainly put a damper on our holiday. One good thing may come out of it, though. My son got a taste of what it’s like to have a run-in with the law, and he got that taste at an impressionable age. I told him to remember how scared he was when we were being frisked; that this was the sort of unpleasantness that comes from breaking the law. So maybe it will ultimately be an incentive for him to always stay on the right side of the law.
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