Looking at an early mail postal scam

Looking at an early mail postal scam

I stumbled across an interesting early mail scam while reading through supplements to the Canada Post Guide. I came across a reference to a scam that seemed to plague the postal system to such an extent, the Postmaster felt obliged to issue a directive:

July 1913
INFORMATION FOR POSTMASTERS.
(15) Circulars regarding Fortune-telling business – 

Circulars posted by Clay Burton Vance, Palais Royal, Paris, France, offering to sell horoscopes for $3, have been observed in the mails, and postmasters are instructed to look out for such circulars, which are posted in Paris in square neutral tinted envelopes, and treat them in the same manner as circulars relating to illegal lotteries. Letters are not to be forwarded to the address of Clay Burton Vance, and money orders are not to be made payable to him.

Monthly supplements to the Canada Postal Guide 1912 to 1916 (pdf format) – Library and Archives Canada

That’s pretty darned specific. I started to wonder who Clay Burton Vance of Paris, France was and what did he do to warrant being singled out by the Canadian Postal authorities.  After digging around a bit I got a pretty clear picture of Mr Vance – he was a scammer of international infamy in a pre-mass communication age.  He used the post office to bilk the unwary for years.

Vance ran his postal scam in the first part of the 20th century and likely raked in a tidy fortune.  I found hundreds of ads that ran year after year,  in papers all around the world. For a mere $3, he would create a personalized horoscope for you, among other services. He drew in his marks with the same ad, promising a free reading and from there, it snowballed into serious money. 

The Australians are not amused by the mail scam

Scan of a large ad that ran in an Australian newspaper, the Bombala Times,  in 1912 - early mail scam

1912 Australian paper Bombala Times showing same ad that ran worldwide for about 6 years – click on image for a full size image – “Advertising” The Bombala Times (NSW : 1912 – 1938) 6 September 1912: 1. Web. 8 Oct 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article134590305>.

He ran his scams from least from 1911 to 1916, possibly later. How pernicious was Mr. Vance? Prohibitions popped up in other mail services, instructing post masters to return all mail to/from him. 

Scan of instructions to Post Masters in Australia 1912 to deny deliver of mail to Burton- early mail scam

Australian prohibition from 1912

Who was Clay Burton Vance? That’s a good question.  Was he English, French, maybe American? No idea. He left a big footprint, but few clear details.  He was a scammer who would make Nigerian princes envious.  Australian papers began writing articles about his fraud. I loved the big headline screaming out “A Parisian Imposter”. 

Scan of newspaper article titled Parisian Imposter - early mail scam

Parisian Imposter Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), Sunday 6 October 1912, page 1 – click to see large version

The  scam will be familiar to anyone who’s clicked a link promising something for free only to be hit with a pay wall. Vance did the snail mail version of this. He would offer a free reading or handwriting analysis and, in a classic bait and switch, send off an order form instead of the promised reading.

“…send me a sample of your handwriting. I’ll send you a list of your characteristics”. I sent Clay Burton Vance a sample of my writing, and, I think, six penny or half penny stamps. In due course I received a letter (or printed circular as I would call it) marked ‘A’ and order blank, also copies of testimonials”. Parisian Imposter Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), Sunday 6 October 1912, page 1

A year later the Sunday Times ran another article titled Two of a Kind focusing on another scammer who they suspected worked with Vance, (or may have been Vance in my opinion). 

Scan of newspaper article 1913 accusing Vance of being a partner with another grifter - early mail scam

Two of a kind Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), Sunday 27 April 1913, page 7 Click link for larger version

How bad does a scammer have to be to warrant a specific mention in Postmaster instructions? Pretty damned bad. The $3 per horoscope would be equivalent of asking for 3 weeks pay. In 1911 the average pay, in Canada, for a labourer was between $1 to $1.50 a week. A skilled job, like civil engineer pulled in $2.55 weekly. (University of BC).  

US Assistant Attorney General isn’t amused by the mail scam either

This was serious business. The US Assistant Attorney General filed a suit against Vance in Jan 1916 in an attempt to halt his abuse of the postal system. They went further and forbade post offices around the country from drawing up any money orders to Clay Burton Vance. 

you are hereby directed to inform the remitter of any such postal money order that payment thereof has been forbidden, and that the amount thereof will be returned upon the presentation of the original order or a duplicate thereof applied for and obtained under the regulations of the Department  – Post Office Department, Washington Order No. 9420 Jan 29 1916  Case No. 32436-S

US authorities went further in their wrath. They ordered all mail sent to Vance was to be stamped “FRAUDULENT: mail to this address returned by order of the Postmaster General” and returned to sender.  It would be interesting to know if any such covers still exist. 

… send your full name, address, the date, month and year of birth (all clearly written ), State whether Mr., Mrs. or Miss, from ad copy in numerous magazines … Correspondence received from Vance 

The initial offer was “free”. But as with Australia and Canada, the curious person was soon hit with a fee for the “complete life reading”. What was sent was a vague, nondescript reading:

Scan of US Post Office Department's complaint about Vance

This limited examination of your horoscope has indeed been interesting to me and I much regret my inability into go more fully into your indications. From US Post Office official complaint 1916

Vance would then go on to demand money for the full reading with promises of significant details about the person’s future. 

Another scan from the US post office's official complaint against vance's snail mail scam

I can assure you that your Complete Life Reading w ill contain information which you would highly prize and I trust you will post your order immediately. From US Post Office official complaint 1916

The post office goes on to explain how the con works: “… [what]Vance does is to send to the remitter one of the forms already made up and printed, according to the sign of the Zodiac under which he alleges the purchaser was born” ( From US Post Office official complaint 1916). In other words, Vance had pre-packaged horoscopes or handwriting analysis that he sent off. 

The first request for payment was $3. If the person did not respond, Vance would continue to send requests, slowly dropping the fee to .50c. It’s unclear how many fell for this, but judging from the international response, I’d say Clay Burton Vance was a pretty successful conman. 

C. B. Vance of The Hague, Holland incurs the wrath of the US Postal Office 

In May of the same year, the Post Office extended the ban to include C. B. Vance No 5 Groenedelstraat, The Hague, Holland for the same mail fraud offences. Looks like things got to hot for Clay Burton Vance of Paris and he set up shop as C.B. Vance of The Hague. I’m sure if a diligent search was made of various archives, this name and address will pop up on fraud lists as well. 

I was a bit amused to find Vance also published a book, in Portuguese, Oraculo – A Leitura da Vossa Vida – Revela o Seu Futuro which translates roughly to Oraculo-The reading of your life-reveals your future. It was printed by Livraria Civilização Porto, Portugal. 

Cover of book Oraculo

Best copy of book cover I could find – courtesy Good Reads

It’s the same photo that shows up in the ads. Makes me wonder if he was Portuguese. It’s highly unlikely he was using his real name. I don’t know if he sold any books, but I’m sure he found willing marks. 

A Sampling of Where the Ad Appeared

Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday, October 13, 1912, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States Of America
Salt Lake Tribune Sunday, February 23, 1913, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States Of America
San Antonio Light Sunday, October 5, 1913, San Antonio, Texas, United States Of America
Sydney Sun Sunday, July 21, 1912, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate Saturday, April 20, 1912, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
Newark Advocate Saturday, May 30, 1914, Newark, Ohio, United States Of America
Broken Hill Barrier Miner Saturday, January 27, 1912, Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia.
Sydney Sun Sunday, July 21, 1912, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
San Antonio Light Sunday, January 5, 1913, San Antonio, Texas, United States Of America
Sydney Sunday Times Sunday, October 6, 1912, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Helena Independent Record Monday, May 11, 1914, Helena, Montana, United States Of America
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette Sunday, December 8, 1912, Fort Wayne, Indiana, United States Of America
Bluefield Daily Telegraph Sunday, May 17, 1914, Bluefield, West Virginia, United States Of America
San Antonio Light Sunday, December 1, 1912, San Antonio, Texas, United States Of America
Lowell Sun Saturday, June 1, 1912, Lowell, Massachusetts, United States Of America
Middletown Daily Argus Saturday, June 20, 1914, Middletown, New York, United States Of America
Cleveland Gazette Saturday, April 26, 1913, Cleveland, Ohio, United States Of America
Ardmore Daily Ardmoreite Sunday, May 31, 1914, Ardmore, Oklahoma, United States Of America
San Antonio Light Sunday, October 19, 1913, San Antonio, Texas, United States Of America
Salt Lake City Herald Sunday, March 16, 1913, Salt Lake City, Utah, United States Of America
Kingston Daily Gleaner Friday, April 3, 1914, Kingston, Kingston, Jamaica
Melbourne Punch Thursday, October 10, 1912, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
London Standard Tuesday, June 18, 1912, London, Middlesex, United Kingdom
Enderby Press and Walkers Weekly Thursday, December 21, 1911, Enderby, British Columbia, Canada
Cumberland Islander Saturday, November 18, 1911, Cumberland, British Columbia, Canada

I gave up after 200 ads and didn’t even get around to non-English speaking papers, but I’m sure he hit them as well. So, who knew – spam predates spam! Mail fraud is as old as the postal system. Modern day email scammers have simply picked up were the snail mail cheats left off. 

NOTE: I forgot to bookmark the location of the US Post Office Department’s pdf file on Clay Burton Vance. If you are interested in reading the entire Assist Attorney General file (about 11 pages) leave me a note and I’ll send you a copy. I downloaded the pdf and forgot to save the page location. 

Suzor-Cote #492i line from knee error

Suzor-Cote #492i line from knee error

Sometimes you can look at a stamp over and over and not spot an error. This happened on the weekend when I posted a set of plate blocks on the Facebook group Stamp Collecting. I’ve owned a full set of Suzor-Cote’s “Return the Harvest” (1969) for at least 10 years now and love looking at them. Imagine my delight when someone pointed out I owned the line from knee error (thanks Michael!). Gobsmacked would be a better description.    

Canadian Stamp #492i – Return from the Harvest Field

Scan of Suzor-Cote plate block #492i showing line from knee error

Return from the Harvest Field LL plate block 492i

I dug out both the plate & the scan and peered closely and thought “son of a …” #492i – line from knee variety (pos.41). “How could I miss it after all these years?”

Close up of the line from knee error on the Suzor-Cote #492 stamp

Up close look at the line from knee error

Just goes to show, there’s always something new to find in your own collection. I missed it for so many years because I assumed there were no errors. The stamp auction house I purchased them from never spotted the error either and sold the 4 plates as a full set, no errors. Bonus!

Read more about Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté at the Canadian Encyclopedia  

Tech Gifts for Women – not the usual pinkification

Tech Gifts for Women – not the usual pinkification

I’ve been looking over tech gifts for women lists and keep having the same visceral reaction to many of them. The pinkification is alive and well in the tech industry. Ideas  seem to end with “and cute” too often.  Many lists are simply insulting and out of touch. Women do not possess a hive mind and a shocking number of us loath pink & decorative tech. Here’s a list I culled from various sources this morning:

  • A piece of smart jewellery – “that looks cute’
  • A pair of wireless headphones that “look cute” 
  • An instant camera – “even has a selfie mirror so your leading lady always looks her best” 
  • Smart watch “If you know a girl who likes cutting-edge tech and sighs longingly while walking through the smartwatch section”
  • A “pretty charging cable”  
  • A “beautiful” or “cute” or “pretty” iPhone case
  • Commute Laptop Sleeve can be “carried along with her cash, cards, lipstick, and other necessities in this convenient clutch”
  • Blinq Ring “in pink”
  • Carry on luggage “in pink”  

So many lists seem to think women are only interested in tech if it’s made to “look cute” or has a function to help us “look our best”.  I’m not against people purchasing pink stuff or something that makes you feel pretty or cute. My objection is the forced diet of pinkified shit. It’s like a stroll down the toy section in any store. You have all the “boy toys” in neutral packaging and then the wall ‘o pink.  So, my response is to explore tech gift ideas for women that don’t pander to the notion we all want to look pretty and take selfies. It’s a list for everyone

Tech gifts for women – and everyone else in your life.

Things are a better, in regards to tech for women, than it used to be. A growing number of gift ideas are eschewing the stereotypical “pink & pretty” for practical, fun and functional.  So I’m going to start my recommendations with one of my favourites – a knapsack I bought over a year ago. 

Today’s gift is a great idea – a knapsack with slots and pockets.

Not strictly speaking a tech gift, but everyone could use help carting around tablets, cameras, rechargers etc without the hassle of digging through a mountain of stuff. The Tamrac Tradewind 18 camera bag is perfect. It has adjustable slots to keep everything organised, a separate slot for a notepad  and a tablet or 13” laptop and it’s water resistant.  This bag is lightweight and holds more than you think

Try the Tradewind Backpack 18 

Tradewind Backpack 18 - tech gifts for women

An off the shelf Tradewind 18

Unzipped Tradewind Backpack 18 showing compartments - tech gifts for women

Lots of adjustable storage compartments

The main thing I looked for when I was searching for a replacement bag, was adjustable slots. Depending on what I’ll be doing, I can change them up to fit my camera, battery chargers, snacks, cables, computer components and everything else.  Supper handy.  The top compartment is big enough to hold a windbreaker and a bagged lunch. 

The back of the knapsack serves as a zippered sleeve large enough to securely carry a note pad and 13″ laptop or pretty much any tablet. One thing I don’t worry about is slipping and falling in the winter, I know the tablet is well protected in the back. 

Make it unique

The bag is in a neutral grey/black so it’s the perfect canvas to express your personality. Here’s mine, all kitted out to suit me. My favourite button and badge store was a victim of gentrification so now I’m a little short on fun buttons. I’m still in mourning. My bag has had some hard knocks over the last two years and still looks like new. It’s very hard wearing. 

My Tradewind Backpack 18 complete with patches - tech gifts for women

Some buttons, a few patches and it’s personalized

Tradewind Backpack 18 showing filled compartments - tech gifts for women

Velcro compartments make it easy to adjust

The internal slots are fully adjustable. Strong Velcro keeps the slots in place so there are no worries about them slipping or detaching. After a lot of use, they are still a bugger to pull off and rearrange. The middle divider can be unzipped and all the slots removed if you need a full sized bag instead of compartmentalized one. 

The mesh side pockets are handy, but they aren’t good for holding a large water thermos. If you lean over, it’ll come crashing to the ground. I solved the problem with a few cheap clips I picked up at the local Dollar Store. Staples carries them as well.  Look for carbiners.  

A couple of dollar clips are great for securing water bottles

A couple of dollar clips are great for securing water bottles

 
Tradewind Backpack 18 showing mesh pockets holding water bottle

Two mesh pockets come in hand

The bag itself is lightweight and the padded straps make it comfortable to use for hours. 

Tech gifts for women, don’t forget the extras 

I’ve added  a few extras to my bag. The local Dollar Store carries bike lights that clip on to the loops and straps. At night light up like a Christmas tree.  I also grabbed a bunch of small string bags to keep items sorted. 

Small cloth bags to keep items sorted

Dollar store cloth bags to stay organised

One bag carries phone re-charger, headphones and a spare USB cable. The second one carries loose change and a third one … okay .. it carries hot sauces because you never know when you’ll have a hot sauce emergency. If I’m off to a client’s place, I can grab a fourth bag that holds extra flash drives and batteries. Any small string bags help keep everything in place. 

The bag retails for between $78 to $100. I bought mine on sale at a local camera store for around $60. Tamrac has a number of knapsacks and shoulder bags that might fill a need so wander yonder and check them out –  https://www.tamrac.com/ Don’t be put off by the notion they are camera bags.  Think of them as the ultimate organisational tools. 

I’m going to be reviewing and writing about more tech gift ideas, some I’ve actually tested, many I have on my wish list so keep checking back for ideas.  

I’m getting too old for this shit

I’m getting too old for this shit

I changed the name of the column to “I’m getting too old for this shit“.  I switched the name on the Facebook page back in August to test if it worked. It’s a keeper.  It fits perfectly with my mind set lately. 

Banner that reads I'm getting too old for this shit, it's all bafflegab until the caffiene kicks in

It’s all bafflegab

So, why the name change? Well, the memoir’s section has undergone a number of transformations over 20 years of blogging. I started out with my first site way back in the 1990s and I can’t remember what it was called. Somewhere in the late ’90s it changed to Catpaw’s diary, then Diary of a Mad Cat. That stuck for quite awhile.  In the last 2 years, I felt the name didn’t work anymore and needed a new face so I switched to Memoirs of an Analogue Person. It was a good temporary name because it reflected the passage of time. I’m certainly not the same person I was when I was in my 30s. When I stumbled on I’m getting too old for this shit, I had a Eureka! moment.  That’s it! I’m a year off of 60 and boy am I getting too old for a lot of shit. 

I’ve begun recording new vlog entries. Some of the new topics will be Reddit content, for no better reason than some of it cracks me up. I have one video discussing the poor shaming I see on Reddit though. There’s a huge number of people who have zero empathy for working poor struggling to find adequate childcare. I’ll save this for the video. I’m playing a big game of catch-up in editing and re-recording content so that’ll come in time.  

Don’t forget to check out new content posted on the site. I enjoyed writing the last article on airmails, Canada’s Last Airmail Stamp, so much I’ve begun writing a small series on airmails. It really is my favourite area to collect. I’ve also found a treasure trove of great content for Typography & Design, as well as the Tech section.  So many ideas, so little organisational skills.

I’m still struggling with scheduling everything and taking care of mom (who is doing much better), so occasionally there will be bumps in the postings. But things are slowly falling into a manageable schedule. Keep coming back, don’t forget you can follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. But Facebook is the best place because it’s easier for me to log on and chat there.  Not much content up at the Youtube channel, but don’t forget to subscribe so you know when I finally post new content. 

Open letter to James the would be phishing scammer

Open letter to James the would be phishing scammer

A customer just sent me this email. I’ve blocked out what they wrote along with the 6 lines of cc: email addresses for obvious reasons:

Screen capture of a badly constructed phishing attempt by a spamer

Not sure if they should be arrested for phishing scams or the egregious use of upper case letters.

It is eye-wateringly bad.  Oh James, James, James! This is what happens when you don’t pay attention in class. You end up spending your life writing unreadable phishing scams and living in a cardboard box, wondering why no one is taking you seriously.  I don’t understand the wretched use of upper case letters. I mean, what did the alphabet do to deserve this level of abuse from you. And don’t get me started on the basic construction of the email.

Hi, This Is James Tyron,  From PC CARE  SOLUTION And The Reason You Are Receiving This Email Because We Will Like To Inform You That The Services Which You Have Signed Up With Us Has Been Expired. So, The Services Will Be Automatically Renewed In 2 Days And The Renewal Charges Will Bei599.00$(USD) For Lifetime Technical Support Contract And It Will Automatically Debited From Your Account Because You Have Signed A Contract With PC CARE  SOLUTION For The Auto Renewal Contract However,  If You Dont want To Continue With Our Services Then You Can Call On Our Customer Helpline Number:+1 (321) 351 6089  This Is Our Cancellation Department’s Number And Ask For (James Tyron) PC CARE SOLUTION  To Cancel The Services And after That You Need To Fill Up A Cancellation Form In Order For The Services To Get Cancelled and We Will Like To Inform You That The Services Which You Have Signed Up For The Computer Protection. I Hope You Remember That You Called Us when You Were Facing Problem And Errors in Your computer And Printer And Fixed That Problem And You Paid Us Certain Amount And The Invoice Of That Contract Was sent To Your Email.So Kindly Call Us On +! (321) 351 6089  If You Wish To Cancel The Contract Otherwise The Contract Will Be Renewed Automatically and The Money Will Be Debited From Your Account.

THANK YOU,

REGARDS,

PC CARE SOLUTION

The only thing missing on this letter was a huge neon banner reading “THIS IS A SCAM”. 

Look James, at least master the basics of BCC before diving into the criminal pool. Save yourself the embarrassment now. Or better yet, try a job at MacDonald’s. I’m sure the abuse piled on you there will be far less than than the ridicule you’re receiving for this laughably bad phishing attempt. Plus you will get a pay cheque in return.  Maybe cold cheese burgers at the end of your shift.  What I’m trying to tell you James is … well … you just don’t have what it takes to be a criminal. I’m not sure you have what it takes for MacDonald’s but give it a try.