Transcript

394:

Bait and Switch
Transcript

Originally aired 11.06.2009

Note: This American Life is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Full audio: http://tal.fm/394

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Back when Cliff worked as a room service waiter at Holiday Inn, so many guests ordered in pizza delivery to avoid the lousy room service. But sometimes the food and beverage manager, who was this tightly-wound guy and immigrant from Algeria, would stake out the lobby and try to catch the pizza delivery guys and kick them out before they made it to the elevators. Then one day this food and beverage manager came up with a better plan-- to trick the guests.

The hotel got some cardboard pizza boxes and takeout menus that looked like they could've come from any delivery places you've ever seen. Each of them had a cartoon of an Italian chef with a moustache and a big hat. He was holding his fingers to his lips in the classic kind of "Mama mia, that's delicious" sort of pose.

This pizza place had a name-- Giorgio's-- but the menus didn't list any address. They did list a phone number. And the phone number was not an extension in the hotel phone system. It wasn't a room service number. It rang at this red telephone, an outside line that they installed on the basement wall right near the big institutional hotel switchboard that the room service operators normally use to take orders.

Cliff Doerksen

And to complete illusion, we were given stacks of-- you know those green checks that you get in diners, the waitress just fills it out by hand?

Ira Glass

This is Cliff. So we were supposed to fill one of those out and tape it onto the box for just that finishing touch of verisimilitude.

Ira Glass

And so how would it work? Somebody would call the number, and then did you have to answer the phone and say "Giorgio's"?

Cliff Doerksen

Yeah. We soon realized that being an outside line, we were relieved from the standards of ordinary hotel courtesy. So it was all this, "Giorgio pizza!" It was like a platform for improv. Use these ridiculous sort of Vaudeville Italian accents. "What's the matter for you? Hey Louie, where's the driver?"

Ira Glass

I want to apologize to any Italian-American listeners right now on behalf of Public Radio in general.

Cliff Doerksen

Absolutely unforgivable on any level.

Ira Glass

A room service waiter named Kevin had a character named Luigi that he would play on the one. The captain of the room service waiters, Brandon, been a loyal company man until all this absurdity began.

Cliff Doerksen

And he could do a really excellent sort of Sylvester Stallone croak, which I cannot. And he could also do Brando doing The Godfather, which he loved to do. And, you know, mumbling--

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Ira Glass

And so, all right. So if I'm calling for a pizza and I say, like, hi, I want to get like a--

Cliff Doerksen

You're getting a serious runaround, is what you're getting.

Ira Glass

There were two flaws in the deceit, and they were pretty big flaws, Cliff says. One was the pizzas themselves. They were frozen, and they were the size of room service pizzas, not real pizzas from a pizzeria. Smallest just nine inches. A large was the size of an old vinyl LP.

The other flaw was the delivery outfit. Conceivably, the room service waiters could have just changed out of their polyester tux jackets and bow ties back into street clothes and then pretended to be pizza delivery guys. Or they could have stayed in uniform and told the guests that they had intercepted the pizza on the way up.

Instead of either of those options, though, the food and beverage manager chose--

Cliff Doerksen

A very strange garment, the like I've never seen before or since, which was sort of a kind of peppermint-striped apron. White with vertical red stripes. And it was huge. It was enormous. I was absolutely, you know, lost in this bizarre garment. And it came with a floppy hat made of the same basic fabric.

None of it looked like anything any pizza delivery guy in this hemisphere had ever worn. And all sort of protested that this is a terrible flaw in your illusion. Because we had just been in the room. The waiter, you'd go up and you'd deliver a six pack of beer. And then 20 minutes later, you'd be back with the same face--

Ira Glass

To the same room?

Cliff Doerksen

But dressed as this-- I always thought of it as a rodeo clown costume. If you'd send me in as a rodeo clown when I'd just been there as a room service waiter, it's going to stimulate suspicion. Plus, it was humiliating to wear this ridiculous getup. And then it was so stupid. It was just done so badly.

Ira Glass

No matter if it was done badly. It was done just well enough, with just enough of the details right, the menus, the outside phone line, that it made lots of money, right from the start.

Ira Glass

Did guests ever say anything indicating that they were onto the scam?

Cliff Doerksen

People gave you weird looks. But only once did somebody completely tip their hand, and did somebody ask me. The guy, he's busy signing his name on the check. And he says, "So." And he sort of gives me a smile. He's not being confrontational. He's being sort of sardonic. And he says, "So just exactly where is Giorgio's Pizza, anyway?"

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our show, bait and switch. We have four stories. In some of these stories are people running the scam running the bait and switch, are unrepentant. In some they feel guilty, they feel contrite. But in all of theses scams, once you know it's a scam, you can't believe people try to pull it off with a straight face.

Our four acts involve a car, a fake valentine, a fake girlfriend, and treating people for the Lord Almighty. Stay with us.

Act One. Neighborhood Watch.

Ira Glass

Mark Douglas Ledford is 39 years old and plays in several punk rock bands. But don't let that give you the wrong impression. He's a Good Samaritan kind of guy. A tattoo across his chest reads, "To whom much is given, much is required." He owns his own home and has a day job. November 29, 2007 started off like any other work day.

Mark Douglas Ledford

It was a Thursday morning. I went to work. I came home, I pulled into the driveway, and there was a car parked on the curb near my driveway. I noticed that the windows were down, and the doors were unlocked, and the keys were in the ignition, and it was kind of a big dangly keychain. Like it looked like a girl's keychain. It had a bunch of stuff hanging off of it.

Michael May

Something was off. Mark lives a few miles north of downtown in a ranch home that sits on a corner of a quiet street with only one house nearby. The only people who park on this stretch are Mark's bandmates when they come over to practice.

Mark Douglas Ledford

And so I immediately walked across the street to my neighbor Sarah's house. And I knocked on the door, and I said, hey, do you have company over? I think they left the keys in the ignition over there. And she said, I don't know whose car that is.

And when I went back by and looked at it again, it looked to me like something had happened. Like someone left their car abruptly. And I thought it was suspicious enough, I went in and I dialed 911.

It was not even like 10 minutes, and there was a knock at the door, and it was a police officer. They said, did you report this car? And I said, yeah, isn't that crazy? And they said, well, what's the problem? It's legally parked. And I said, well, the windows are down and the key's in ignition. And they said, well, you know, you'd be surprised what we see out here.

And I was just like, are you kidding me? And so my thought was, OK. Well, maybe it doesn't seem strange to you, but it seems strange to me. Can you contact the owner or can you do something? Because they seemed just reluctant to do anything.

And the officers' response at that time was, well, you know. People, they buy these cars and they don't get them registered properly. I guess I could do a cross check on it.

And at that point, I was frustrated. And I said, listen. I don't know what your procedure is. They say if you see suspicious things in your neighborhood, report them. I'm reporting it. And there you go. And the officer went back to their car and drove off.

Asia Ward

There's women's clothing in the backseat. And not just like women's, but like, a women's, like-- they looked like stripper clothes, and then men's work boots and rope.

Michael May

This is Mark's girlfriend at the time, Asia Ward. She's younger than Mark, 21. A cute gothy girl with a thing for zombie movies. Likes to read books about serial killers. They both started to imagine all sorts of sinister scenarios.

Asia Ward

Like some poor little stripper lady was taken from her work and like murdered, and this is her car. Because if that cop walked by, even if they weren't going to do anything about it, they could have at least been like, oh, yeah. Get right on that. And like, made us feel better about it, you know? Or said that they were going to investigate it, or looked at it, been like, yeah, this does seem kind of weird. Because it does! Like, if you think that that doesn't seem weird then there's something wrong with you! You know? That's a fishy situation right there.

Michael May

By the next day, Friday, neighbors are trying to worry, too, about the car. Sarah, the woman who lives across the street, even calls the cops again and sends Mark a text to let him know she's on the case.

That night, Mark goes to play a gig in San Antonio. And when he and Asia roll back home around midnight, there's the car, still just sitting there with the keys dangling from the ignition.

Mark Douglas Ledford

So when I came home Saturday night, I expected the car to be gone. I expected them to have towed it away. And at that point, I was just like-- I had it. I was like, OK. We're going to figure out what's going on with this car. That's it.

Asia Ward

And I was like, well, there has to be insurance papers, business card, something in the car that'll let us know who the car belongs to, and maybe we can call them and tell them, your car's parked here.

Mark Douglas Ledford

And at this point we're thinking, there might be a dead body, someone bound and gagged, it's a crime scene. And I'm like, well, I don't want to put my fingerprints all over a situation like that. So I put some gloves on. I consciously go, I'm going to put gloves on so I don't leave fingerprints. And they're black knit gloves, and they have like a little skeleton screenprint on them.

So I get the gloves, and I open the door, and I start going through the glove box. And I didn't see anything. And I was talking to Asia. She's standing on the sidewalk. And I'm saying, there's nothing in the glove box. I go through the console. And then I would get out of the car and close the door.

And then we were talking, well, should I go in the truck? OK, go in the trunk. And so I'd open the door again, and I'd go back in the car, and I got the keys out of the ignition. And I tried to open the trunk, and it was like when I'd stick the key in, it was like there's something jammed in the lock.

And I was like, listen. I'm going to get a screwdriver. I'm going to open the trunk. If I break somebody's lock, I'll pay them back. You know, whatever. We're just going to get to the bottom of what's going on here.

And you know, I mean, I don't know what to do. I just stuck the flat blade screwdriver in the keyhole tried to turn it, and it wouldn't do anything.

Asia Ward

So he puts the screwdriver down and gets back into the car, and is digging through the center console. And he looks out the window, and he's just like, hey, Asia, is that a cop?

Mark Douglas Ledford

And Asia was like, no. And I go, that sure looks like a cop.

Asia Ward

And right about the time I say, I don't think so, out of nowhere--

Policeman

Get on the ground!

Mark Douglas Ledford

OK, sure.

Policeman

Get on the ground now!

Asia Ward

No.

Policeman

Get on it! Get on the ground!

Asia Ward

No.

Michael May

Suddenly they were surrounded by cop cars.

Mark Douglas Ledford

Hey, we live right here.

Policeman

Get on the ground!

Mark Douglas Ledford

Asia, get on the ground.

Asia Ward

OK.

And they tell me to get on the ground and I said no, and Mark is just like, get on the ground! Like, Asia, you need to get on the ground. Because I was so shocked! Like, I wasn't doing anything wrong. I was trying to help them out because they didn't want to do their job, is the way I was thinking, right?

Mark Douglas Ledford

And I was like, get on the ground! They will shoot. You know? Like, get on the ground. And so she laid down on the ground. And it wasn't long. There were like six cops there, just like that.

Policeman

Don't move, don't talk!

Asia Ward

And one of the police officers is like, you thought you'd go for a joyride! And then throws me in the cop car. And I'm like, dude, they thought we took the car? Like, they thought we stole this car and drove it around? And I'm freaking out.

Michael May

Mark and Asia are handcuffed and put into separate cop cars, still with no idea what's going on, and told to wait for a detective to show up and interview them. Finally, he arrives. Detective John Spillers.

Asia Ward

And he starts asking questions. And he asks, he says, do you mind if I record this? And he's like, you have the right not to say anything. And I was like, yeah, I don't care. I'll tell you whatever you want to know. Like, I haven't done anything wrong. I'm not hiding anything. Like, I'll tell you whatever. So he's like OK. And I was like, I don't need a lawyer or anything. So he turns on his recorder, and I tell him exactly what happened.

Thursday night I was coming to visit him, and I was walking from the bus stop to his house, and I saw the car outside, and I was like, hey, is somebody here? And he's like, oh, no, the car's been there since, I guess, that morning? And he said that he had called the cops and a [UNINTELLIGIBLE] officers did come out, but say the car wasn't reported stolen or anything and there was nothing they could do about it.

Mark Douglas Ledford

They said that they were going to have to talk with some witnesses about me going in the car. And I said, you don't need to talk to any witnesses. I'm telling you, I went in the car.

I mean, if you find out who owns it, you know, I would gladly pay for the repair of the lock.

Detective John Spillers

What I think we're going to do tonight is, I'm going to verify some things from the office. What I will probably end up doing is examine the photos suspects for you and her. That way--

Michael May

In case you didn't catch that, Detective Spillers is calling them suspects and talking about interviewing witnesses. He says a neighbor reported them breaking into the car.

Mark Douglas Ledford

[INAUDIBLE] who the witness was?

Detective John Spillers

Well, the person who calls in saying there's people out here.

Mark Douglas Ledford

Oh. Well, yeah, we were out there!

Detective John Spillers

I mean, as investigator, I have to do my job.

Mark Douglas Ledford

Oh, OK. Well, I mean, you don't even have to have a lineup. I'll tell you [UNINTELLIGIBLE] out here.

Michael May

Finally, after a few hours of talking with Mark and Asia, who explain everything, including the calls to 911, and after talking with Sarah across the street, the cops leave without arresting anyone. Asia said they even shook hands.

Asia Ward

Yeah. All right, great. Well, thank you.

Policeman

Thank you, ma'am.

Michael May

But there's one thing the cops didn't tell them-- a crucial detail that made the whole thing make sense. The police had put the car there themselves. There were no witnesses, no neighbors who saw them break into the car, and for that matter, no victims.

The car is what's known as the bait vehicle, and it was out with surveillance cameras and microphones assigned to lure and catch car thieves. The gear was in the truck, which is why Mark couldn't get in it with the key.

Police departments across the country use bait cars. It's even funded by major insurance companies. And that's because it's effective. The police can sit back and wait for someone to take the car. Then the suspect comes in for booking, complete with their crime preserved on videotape.

If this sounds like a setup, legally, bait cars are not considered entrapment. Just like it's not entrapment for an undercover cop to stand on a street corner dressed as a hooker. For it to be entrapment, the cop would have to egg you on, would have to suggest that you pay for sex or steal the car, and that's not what they're doing here.

The Austin Police made 70 arrests last year using bait cars, and Mark and Asia were about to become another statistic. Around two weeks later, on December 17, Asia's birthday, the couple is woken up at 6 AM. There are flashlights being beamed into Mark's bedroom window.

Asia Ward

I had stayed the night at Mark's house and then we hear banging on his door in the morning. And we wake up, and he goes and he answers the door, and it's two police officers. And he is just assuming that they're going to ask him more questions about the car, but they actually say, we have warrant for your arrest and we're going to take you to jail.

And he's like, are you kidding me? I felt really upset, you know? Like you're going in jail for what? And plus, it's early in the morning, so I'm just like, you're going to jail, like, what?

Mark Douglas Ledford

They asked me if anybody else was in the house and I said, well, yeah, my girlfriend Asia. And they go, well, we have a warrant for her arrest, too. We were about to go get her, too. And I was like, what?

Michael May

The officers show them arrest warrants for burglary of a vehicle, a charge that could land them in jail for up to a year. They're confused, arrested for something they didn't do, and they still don't know it's a bait car.

In the waiting room at the jail, Mark whispers "happy birthday" across the room to Asia. It's against the rules, and he gets thrown in solitary confinement. He's in there half the day, and he doesn't exactly handle it like a hardened criminal.

Mark Douglas Ledford

I mean, they put me in some little isolation room for a while. And I was like, are you kidding me? But yeah. And I kind of lost my mind in the cell. They took all my clothes, and they gave me this jumpsuit, and they stuck me in a cell.

And they had these slippers, and when I would walk, they would go, [SQUEAKING]. And I thought that there was a cat somewhere in maybe the violation duct, and I was like, how did you get in there, little guy? Are you OK? I was, like, [BLEEP] losing it. And it was weird, because he would only meow whatever I walked around in the cell. Then I'd sit down, he'd get real quiet, and I'd be like, are you OK, little guy? I didn't realize until they like, they go, you're going to be released, and I was walking down the hallway, and I could hear the little [SQUEAKING] of the slippers. Yeah. I was tripping.

Michael May

To be fair, Mark and Asia's case is very unusual. Bait cars are usually played in high crime areas to trap people who already have criminal records. In this case, it was part on a quiet street in a nice neighborhood, just blocks from a high school, right where dozens of kids walk by each day. The police were less likely to catch a hardened car thief and more likely to snare someone drunk or high or broke or bored who'd walk by and see the car just sitting there with the keys in it.

Case in point. Turns out Mark and Asia weren't the only ones on their block snared by the bait car. The boyfriend of their neighbor Sarah, who had no criminal record, drove the car on Friday night around one in the morning. He drove down the block, turned it around, and parked it in the exact same spot. He was caught on video, laughing hysterically as he rolls down the block, with Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" cranked up on the stereo. He was charged with a felony.

After spending the day in jail, Mark and Asia are released, and right away they get a lawyer and start trying to get to the bottom of this whole mess. That's when they finally learn it's a bait car. That meant that when Mark called 911, the officer who answered the call went so far as to deceive him at his own home. He was furious.

Mark Douglas Ledford

And a lot of things ran through my head at that point. I was like, you know, even at best, they've just planted something to lure a criminal element 15 feet away from my bedroom window. You know?

And then secondly, the conversation with the officer jumped to mind. I'm like, that cop knew exactly that that was a bait car, and sat there and lied to me that, oh, what's the problem, oh, you'd be surprised what we see around here, oh, these people don't register these cars, right? All of that was a lie, and they knew.

Michael May

Yeah. I mean, how about the night you were detained? They didn't-- did that change the way you were thinking about their conversation when they said they had a tip, and someone had reported you at the car?

Mark Douglas Ledford

Yeah. Which once again was a lie. I was pissed, yeah. I was pissed.

Michael May

I repeatedly asked the police and prosecutors to explain their actions, but they refused to go on record. But Travis County attorney David Escamilla told a newspaper that nobody thinks Mark wanted to steal the car, but quote, "It's not appropriate to go out and jimmy the lock on the trunk of a car that doesn't belong to you."

Detective Spiller's affidavit also focuses on the fact that Mark tried to break into the trunk with a screwdriver, and even wore gloves like a real criminal. And there are couple important details Detective Spillers has left out of the affidavit. He doesn't mention that the car was parked in front of Mark's home, nor that Mark had called 911 as soon as he saw the car, or that Sarah had also called, or that there is surveillance video of Mark milling around, looking through papers in the glove compartment for 20 minutes.

No. Instead, Detective Spillers concludes that he, quote, "believes this section constitutes more than mere curiosity or trying to locate the owner's information."

The prosecutors were put in a tough spot with this one, given all the evidence of the couple's innocence. They almost immediately offered a deal. If Mark and Asia stayed out of trouble for a year, the prosecutors would completely drop the charges.

Asia Ward

So we were going to take that offer, but then the other little small print of the offer was that you signed a guilty confession. And I refused to do that. I said no, and Mark did too. Both of us were like, we are not signing guilty confessions, because we didn't do this. And what we did do, we believe we were in the right for doing. So I mean, we're not signing a guilty confession.

Mark Douglas Ledford

And I said no, you know? We'll just go ahead and go to trial. And I think if six of my peers here this story and apply any sort of level of common sense, no one's going to find me guilty of burglarizing a vehicle.

Michael May

So instead, Mark and Asia demand a jury trial. But like everything leading up to this point, it's not so simple. For more than a year and a half, they regularly show up for court ready for the trial, and for one reason or another, are repeatedly told it's being postponed. Finally, out of desperation, they decide to talk to the media-- me.

I wrote a story for the daily paper, the Austin American-Statesman, and the next week, prosecutors call with a much better offer. Asia's case would be dismissed outright, since she never technically entered the vehicle. Mark could plead no contest to criminal mischief, a class C misdemeanor, same as a traffic ticket. And if he stayed out of trouble for a month, the charge would be dismissed. He takes the deal.

Mark Douglas Ledford

I don't know. There's a lot of things about the whole situation that just really piss me off, you know? And I try not to-- I try to keep it funny, because at times, I can get really angry about the situation.

Michael May

Mark and Asia paid a pretty high price. Asia wants to work with kids, and for the past two years, she couldn't even get a volunteer position because of the burglary charge on her record. It's cost them $3,000 for lawyers and to get their records expunged.

But there are less tangible effects, as well. Asia works at a toy store, and a few months ago, someone left a cell phone on the floor. At first, Asia didn't touch it, just let it sit there, ringing and ringing and ringing. She was thinking, it's not mine. Could be a trap. Is it worth the risk? Eventually, she picked up the phone.

Ira Glass

Michael May. When he's not chasing parked cars, he is books and culture editor at the Texas Observer.

Coming up-- a message from Madonna on your home answering machine, and other really scary bait and switch techniques from people who feel they have no choice in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two. Raw Sex.

Ira Glass

This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our show we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show-- Bait and Switch.

There was a flyer taped to the wall by the water fountain in the English department at Penn State this week. It says, "Raw," and then underneath it in bigger letters it says, "Sex," then underneath that, "Everything you need to know." And then under that, a website, rawsex.psu.org, and then under that, an address and time for a meeting of some sort. And then under that, at the very bottom, in teenie-weenie little type, you have to look very closely, it says, "Hosted by Orthodox Christian Fellowship, a ministry of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church."

This flyer, yes, is a not-very-disguised bait and switch for Jesus. Which means us to the next act of our show, Act Two, Raw Sex, in which there will be no sex, but there will be a bunch of Jesus. One of our contributors, Dave Dickerson, was raised as an evangelical, and he says baiting and switching was just taken as a given. After all, being an evangelical comes with a huge responsibility to bring nonbelievers to God.

Dave Dickerson

You have to. You know, Jesus actually said, go out into all the world and preach the gospel. And at the same time, we're also told, and they're going to hate you, just like they hated me. And so you have this kind of Biblical imperative to spread the word to people who don't want to hear it. And Paul at one point says, "Be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents." And so, you know, a little bit of trickery to sort of like help the medicine go down seems like a reasonable thing to do.

Ira Glass

So what would you do?

Dave Dickerson

Well, when I was with Campus Crusade for Christ, who was famous for doing a lot of these things, one time we went out to California-- I was, you know, originally in Tucson. And we went up two people on the beach and said, hey, we're going to have like this luau party tonight! You know, come! We had flyers to hand out. And then it said, there's going to be music and food and drinks! It said "drinks." It didn't say "non-alcoholic" drinks. It just said "drinks."

And it was almost shameless. Because, of course, the women who would go out-- this was spring break-- they were in bikinis, and they were very attractive. And so we could see, they would go up to guys, and of course the guys would take the flyer. And they were going to go to this luau.

And there was no real tip-off. It didn't say "Campus Crusade for Christ" at the bottom or anything like that. And when we actually had the actual presentation--

Ira Glass

Wait, the presentation, you mean the luau?

Dave Dickerson

Yes. The "luau," in quotes, was kind of a skit show. You had the Diet Coke and whatever, and the pretzels. But the entertainment was, oh, you know, they would lip sync to Journey. There was an air guitar contrast. It was silly stuff that was wholesome and not at all like the wet T-shirt contest stuff they were maybe expecting.

And then every two or three episodes, someone would come out and say, you know, I just want to point out that Jesus Christ has made a huge difference in my life. And if you have any questions about that, you can talk to some people over here, and we've got literature, blah, blah, blah. And now back to your program.

And as this happened, after about the second or third of these sort of commercial interruptions, I could see-- I mean, I was cringing anyway. I knew this was wrong way to go. But you could see people looking at each other. Like, guys would go, oh. They would look around, and you could see them sort of thinking, these women are not on the market. You know, this is like the almost exact opposite of what we were promised!

Ira Glass

And so you would see this a lot. And you would always feel kind of strange about it.

Dave Dickerson

Right. I felt like there must be something kind of inherently flawed with the system. I got trained once in doing something-- and this is another classic-- to do a survey, a spiritual survey of people, to walk up and say, hey, we're doing a survey of religious attitudes. So do you believe in God? What sort of God do you believe in? And that kind of thing. And it would just ask a series of questions that would eventually lead them to, by the way, do you belong to a church? Hey, would you like to join ours? That kind of thing.

And we got put into pairs. And this friend of mine and I started at one end of the campus. And while we were walking down this thing, I had all these ideas in my head, thinking, OK. What if they ask, like, who's sponsoring the survey? Or what statistical model are you using? You know, we were in college enough to know that there's a survey, and then there's a survey. And we hit a statistics major, we're in trouble.

And one woman came by, and my friend said, I don't know. She looks kind of busy or angry, so let's avoid that. And this other guy came by, and he said, this doesn't seem right. And we kept talking each other out of confronting people. We're like halfway down the campus, and finally we just looked at each other and said, we just can't do this, can we?

Ira Glass

But is the thing that bothered you the fact that you're going to have to walk up to strangers, or is the thing that bothered you that you were walking up to strangers under a false pretense?

Dave Dickerson

Oh. Well, it was both. But clearly the false pretense was supposed to make it easier, was supposed to give us cover so that we didn't seem religious. And it wasn't fooling us. So it seemed both false and didn't really help.

Ira Glass

There's a big debate among evangelicals about how to better reach out to non-believers. You'll find shelves of books on this at Christian bookstores. One of the evangelicals who's trying to change some of the old tactics is a guy named Jim Henderson. And he's tried all kinds of things to reach non-believers.

When a guy named Hement Mehta offered his own soul for sale on eBay to the highest bidder, it was Jim Henderson who won the auction with a $504 bid, which is, you know, cheap for a soul. And what he we did with that money was he simply asked Mehta to attend a few churches with him and tell them what was persuasive and what put him off. This project led to a book.

Henderson has another book called Evangelism Without Additives. He says in his decades as a pastor trying to convert people, he noticed that sinners like Jesus, but they don't like Jesus's people. Which led Henderson to completely rethink how he was approaching non-believers.

Jim Henderson

It was not an epiphany. It dawned on me slowly that I was tired of feeling bad. I was tired of thinking about you as a project instead of you as a person. And so I didn't like that.

And then I also noticed that in spite of all the preaching I did about this to get other people to do it, they just wouldn't do it. I mean, they're just Christians, ordinary Christians, vote with their [UNINTELLIGIBLE], and they just do not participate in these programs.

Ira Glass

In the programs to evangelize, you mean? They wouldn't evangelize?

Jim Henderson

Yeah. I mean, you can push them for a few days like a diet or something like that, and then it's like, are we done with this now? Can we go back to our normal life of thinking about ourselves? So--

Ira Glass

Usually it doesn't work.

Jim Henderson

No, it doesn't work. It doesn't work for the same reasons it doesn't work for normal humans. We don't like being pitched. We don't like being treated that way. I don't like being invited to a party to kibbitz and chat, and then find out you have a pitch you want to give me. You know, we can smell a sell coming.

And by the way, most of the ways you have observed evangelism being done as it's being marketed are ineffective. The large rallies-- all that stuff. The statistics are just abysmal about the number of converts that actually stick. It does not result in what the church wants.

The church wants disciples. Jesus actually didn't say, go out and make converts. He said, go make disciples. Which is a completely different project.

So the founder of our movement, Jesus, did not model this behavior. You never had to lower himself to a bait and switch.

So this has been an adoption of sort of American consumerism that we've adopted as a church. And it's really largely based on sales. The way of getting people to join.

I mean, quite frankly, I want people to follow Jesus. I believe Jesus is God and all that stuff. But I am completely done with the whole evangelism as a sales model deal. I'm done with it.

Ira Glass

So walk me through what is that you're advocating. You have this thing called doable evangelism. Evangelism that actually normal people can do without feeling weird about it. So give me the steps of it. Like what do I do if I want to do it?

Jim Henderson

Doable evangelism does not concern itself with converting people. It's not about sales. It's about connecting. So the paradigm is about connecting with people.

The way we connect, there's three what we call spiritual practices for connecting with people. Number one, notice people. Practice the art of noticing. Sit and watch. Sit in the mall and watch people go by and ask yourself, I wonder what's going on with that person. Just reflect.

The second one is, pray for people behind their backs. You know, Christians like to pray for people. And we believe prayer matters. So pray for them behind their backs. Unauthorized prayers. You don't need their permission. You can pray. But pray for these people. It's fine. It's not going to hurt them. It's not going to hurt you. Maybe something good will happen. Who knows.

The third thing is to go to someone and actually listen. And the way you listen, usually you say something like, how are you? And then you listen. And the person will be amazed when you don't interrupt them with your own story of how you are not doing yourself.

Ira Glass

So you would send people out. You say, I want you to listen to people, I want you to notice people. And then does this work in bringing people to Jesus? Or is that just like the first step?

Jim Henderson

So that's a question, of course, Christians ask us. They want to know about numbers and results.

Ira Glass

But I feel like that's a fair question. Because you're saying, like, well, this is a kind of doable evangelism. So all right. I can go out and listen to people. That part I can do. So where's the part where they come to Jesus?

Jim Henderson

You have to keep in mind, our mission, our goal is to not to get converts. Our goal is to get Christians out connecting with non-Christians. Our goal is to get Christians learning how not to be jerks. Our goal is to help Christians learn to be normal.

And what happens, over a period of time, is they start befriending people, and they get in people's social circles, and yes. Naturally, just like if you were interested in something and I knew you from some length of time, the likelihood of me going to the school you're recommending, buying the car you recommended increases, because we're in proximity to each other.

The way it happens is just through relationships. That's how human beings actually change, when you and I like each other. My saying is, when people like each other, the rules change.

Ira Glass

Is it possible that your tactic just leads to nothing? Like I think about my own circle of friends. And for whatever reasons now, I have a bunch of friends, my wife and I have a bunch of friends, who are very devout religious people. And we hang out with them, and we share our lives with them, but they are no influence at all in pulling us towards Christianity away from our staunch atheism, and vice versa.

Jim Henderson

That would be what my ideological enemies within evangelicalism would accuse me of. That this will lead to nothing. And so the alternative is for me, then, to imagine your social circle. What are your alternatives, then? To begin to intentionally try and persuade each other. You know, I have this one chance to try and get Ira Glass saved, so here I go.

And then what happens as a result of that, typically, is that's the end of our relationship, and we go our separate ways. And so now I have zero influence in your life, and I'm not going to be able to be influenced by you, as well.

Ira Glass

When you describe it-- and I'm not saying this to be critical, I'm just observing-- what you're replacing bait and switch with is-- it's all bait. And then there's no switch at all! Honestly, you're just assuming that at some point, like, something will happen, and maybe it'll be good. And hopefully it'll be good. Right? Because the bait was pretty good. And so let's just go with that.

Jim Henderson

Now, that doesn't offend me in the least. I kind of like that. All bait, no switch. I might use that.

I admit, I could be wrong, maybe I'm living a delusion, whatever, but this is one that I prefer over the alternatives. And I'm happy with that. Again, our goal is to get Christians engaged in the process. We're not concerned about results.

The average amount of time it takes to be a Christian, before you actually make a decision, is about four years. So I'm much more concerned about the starting like of faith. Why don't we try and get them across the starting line instead of the finish line?

Ira Glass

Jim Henderson. He records his thoughts in books and at two websites, offthemap.com and doableevangelism.com.

Dave Dickerson, who we heard before him, has a book of his own called House of Cards: Love, Faith, and Other Social Expressions.

Act Three. Friends With Economic Benefits.

Anna Boiko

It was Saturday night, and I was walking around alone in the city, and I stopped at the shop to get some water. People were hanging out on benches in front, eating dinner, playing with a little girl. A woman in a yellow dress called out to me, "Hey Obruni," white lady, "what do you want?"

That's how I met Marion. I liked her right away. She seemed genuine, direct. We ended up spending the rest of the evening sitting on the wooden bench together, eating beans and rice and talking. Her husband was in Italy, and my boyfriend was in the U.S., so we bonded over that. She said she would be my friend, and I really needed one. And she warned me. She told me I should be more careful around Ghanaians, that they would try to cheat me.

Now, this isn't the first time I'd heard about Ghanaians scamming foreigners. Who doesn't get those fake e-mails from West Africa? But here in Ghana, they call it "sakawa," which some say comes from a word in the Hausa language that means to put something into something else. Like, I put the stolen credit card number into the order form. Or more metaphorically, I scammed those people so well, I've got them in my pocket.

A lot of sakawa scams start on internet dating sites. The scammers are usually young men. They're known as sakawa boys. They pretend to be women online, and start chatting with guys overseas, hoping to hook one of them in a relationship. Marion told me her friends and cousins do this all the time.

When we were talking on the bench, she leaned in closer, and she told me in a low voice that she was right in the middle of a sakawa scam. She was the bait.

Her friends and cousins, sakawa boys, had asked her to talk to a foreigner they were scamming. They wanted her to talk to him on the phone and pretend to be the girl he'd been chatting with online. I asked if I could interview her about it, so later we sat down and talked.

Anna Boiko

So the first time they asked you, your cousins, what did they ask you?

Marion

OK. They told me to tell the man, my parents are dead. That no one looks after me. So I spoke to the man. I told him, yeah, it's true. My parents are dead. No one looks after me. So I needed money to start something. He said, oh, no problem. The white man said, no problem.

Anna Boiko

Marion played an important role in the scam, but according to her, she wasn't on the inside. She was the bait, not an official partner. So not entitled to a cut of the money. Instead, it was more like she was helping her cousin out so he would be more inclined to return the favor later, and give her money when she asked him for it. But only however much he chose to give her.

Anna Boiko

So how much money did your cousin receive from this man?

Marion

Thousands of dollars. He gets money. So much. My cousin, he's not the only person. There are many who collect money from the whites, who spend the whites' money.

Anna Boiko

Marion's cousins recruited her to talk to a man she called Mr. Johnson from New York.

Marion

We chat, OK. Sometimes we talk about love. Because he is in love. So we talk about love, sex. Having sex on the phone. I make him feel good about me so that when I need anything, he can send me.

Anna Boiko

And how long do you talk on the phone?

Marion

More than four hours. We talk, we talk. We talk, sometimes midnight he calls me. We chat, we chat. He makes me laugh. Sometimes he entertains me. We're jovial. We joke, and [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. But Mr. Jones could be my grandfather.

Anna Boiko

He's very old.

Marion

Yes. About 72 years. He's old. But when he talks, he's bold. He talks to me. We talk about love. But I pity him. Because he sends my cousin money so much.

Anna Boiko

Marion says that after two conversations with Mr. Johnson, she couldn't stand the deception anymore, and she told him the truth-- that he was being conned. She said she told him not to send any more money. She says that he thanked her, and that her cousins don't know she's the one who busted up their scam.

But I couldn't verify anything she was telling me. I asked her for Mr. Johnson's phone number, but she didn't get it from her cousin's phone for me, even though she swore she would. And I couldn't talk to her cousins without getting her in trouble.

And somehow, during the interview, the more we talked about the scam, the more confused I got. The details kept getting murkier. First she said she only helped scam Mr. Johnson, then she mentioned others. And the timeline of what happened with Mr. Johnson became less and less clear. At one point, she said she hadn't talked to Mr. Johnson or seen any of her sakawa friends since she got married.

Anna Boiko

So this was all before you became married?

Marion

Yes. Since I got married.

Anna Boiko

And so you've been married since--

Marion

2007.

Anna Boiko

But you were speaking to Mr. Johnson even this year.

I said that because when we first met, she said she was talking to Mr. Johnson then. That was only a few months ago. When I reminded her, Marion said--

Marion

No. This year, let me see. No, I don't actually remember. I don't remember.

Anna Boiko

And then the interview took a different turn. She hinted I should give her money. She needed a job, she said, and she had a lot of stories to tell. She told me she was broke, which I wasn't sure I believed. There are a lot of poor people in Ghana, but Marion doesn't seem to be one of them. Her mom owns a hair salon and a grocery store. Her husband has a new TV and kitchen appliances. But she said her mom is sick of giving her money on the time, and her husband ran into immigration problems in Italy.

We went back and forth a while, and it kept coming down to the same thing. She said she wants foreigners to give her money like they give the sakawa boys, but she doesn't want to defraud anyone.

Marion

Yeah, I want the same thing, but I don't want it in a fraud way. I wouldn't lie to them, men, stealing from them. Because what they are doing is stealing. I can't do that.

One thing is, I don't lie. Even if I would lie, not because the way you approach to me, you are like a sister, you see? That's why I don't want to lie to you. That's why I told you everything. I don't want to lie to you. I'm telling the true facts.

Anna Boiko

Sakawa is about setting up a basic transaction. You find what the other person wants, like a girlfriend, a radio story, and you use it as bait. I believe Marion did see me as a friend, but also as an opportunity. Frankly, that's how I saw her too.

We hung out a couple of times as friends beside the interview. We ate lunch-- some spicy Ghanaian food-- and played with her cute little baby. A few days later, I called her to press for Mr. Johnson's phone number, but as soon as we decided talking, she yelled that I was only interested in her as a story. I wasn't interested in being a real friend. Then she hung up on me. In her version of the story, I'm the opportunist.

Ira Glass

Anna Boiko-Weyrauch reports for Voice of America and other radio programs from Ghana.

Act Four. Me And Cherry.

Bill Cotter

February 14, 2008. Annie, my girlfriend of ten years, comes in the house and says in a tone not entirely free of suspicion, "Look who got a valentine." She holds a pink, squarish envelope hand-addressed to me just out of my reach. "I see your secret admirer was too modest include a return address," Annie says. My secret admirer was also too modest to use a stamp. The envelope had been posted by bulk rate meter. "So what's her name?" Annie says. I open it. "Friendly Card Services," I say.

"Dear Mr. Cotter, Your account is currently four months past due. Please pay $19,243.53 immediately, or we will be forced to deliver your account to a third party for more aggressive collection efforts. Sincerely, Friendly Customer Appreciation Department."

I have long since stopped entering calls from the many, many collectors coming after my many, many wholly unmeetable obligations. These calls, which routinely number 200 every day, start exactly at eight in the morning, and they end exactly at nine o'clock at night.

In the beginning, identifying a collector was easy. The area codes were almost always something numerologically unclean combination of sixes and eights. Then one day I get a call from my own area code. I listen to the message.

"Yo, hey, Bill. This is Cherry. What's up? I haven't heard from you for ages."

Whoa. Do I know a Cherry? I Google the number. My old friend Cherry apparently lives at the I Love America Financial Recovery Resolution and Outstanding Account Consolidation and Settlementations Response Center, LLC, with offices in Los Angeles and Guckeen, Minnesota.

Variants on this gambit abound. Citibank sometimes sends their threats express mail. Such letters usually start, "Dear debtor, you're probably wondering why we just paid to overnight you just one sheet of paper." I always do wonder, but they never explain. They simply go on to itemize the ways in which you've disappointed them, and conclude with a demand for payment in full, just like their not overnighted letters. Other lenders disguise their collection notices inside and out as surprisingly convincing U.S. treasury checks. Discover's method is to simply send one letter a day.

April 25, 2008. My bankruptcy attorney, Mr. H., during our first meeting, charges me with many tasks, the most demanding and subjective of which is evaluating my assets. For most objects, there are guidelines. Clothes-- 10% of retail. Cars-- Blue Book value. Buffalo nickel collection-- whatever you can get on eBay.

But occasionally an object occurs whose worth is subjective. We acquired our housecat in the fall of '04. In all respects, he underperforms as a pet. He won't pounce or chase a laser dot. On every page of his vet file are big fluorescent stickers that say, "Will Bite." He's taught himself to frown. So under "Animals" on page 14 of the Bankruptcy Questionnaire, I generously evaluate him at $0.50.

"What's a Vinnie?" asks Mr. H. "A cat," I say. "That cat?" "Yes, sir," I say. "$10," he says, and then wipes out my figure and enters his own.

This is frustrating, because the job of a bankruptcy attorney is to assign as small a value as possible to each of my objects. "How about $3?" I suggest. "Why don't you just give the beast away, then?" he asks. "Just drop it off behind a chicken restaurant." I look at him, trying to decide what to say. If you can't bare a shameful truth to your attorney, then to whom?

"Well," I admit, "I like him."

"$10, then. Next item."

September 28, 2008. Bait and switching now starts in earnest. A neighbor leaves a Post-it note on my door saying she's just gotten a call from someone trying to find me, that the caller said it was an emergency, and to have me call this 866 number immediately. My parents, sisters, and former employees call me. "Billy, some angry dude who will not identify himself or his business is looking for you."

The subterfuge isn't just from collectors. Envelopes arrive with absolutely no markings at all, demanding to be opened. These contain letters from law firms offering to defend me. Similar envelopes arrive from debt consolidation companies posing as law firms offering to defend me.

Somehow mailed threats aren't that worrisome. Not like calls. Like a voicemail I received dialed from a spooky telephone number made of nothing but zeros, and consisting only of the Madonna song "Open Your Heart" played in its entirety. Among the lyrics is this provocative passage.

[MUSIC - "OPEN YOUR HEART" BY MADONNA]

I follow you around but you can't see/ You're too wrapped up in yourself to notice/ So you choose to look the other way/ Well, I've got something to say/ Don't try to run, I can keep up with you...

[MUSIC FADES]

October 10, 2008. By now, I've learned not only to never answer the telephone, but also to ignore knocks at the door. But one afternoon, I'm expecting an interesting rare book restoration job to be delivered by UPS. I checked the tracking number, which indicated that my package was On Vehicle For Delivery. Hark! The downshift of a grumpy diesel engine. I peek out the blinds. There, parked under a beautiful, spreading pecan tree, my beautiful, brown delivery truck. Hark again! A firm, authority-backed rap.

I answer. Standing before me is a diminutive woman wearing not a penny-brown UPS uniform, but a tan polo shirt and khakis. Just as I was about say, "Hey, what's with the merry new uniform?" and "Where's my parcel?" I see the UPS truck driving away. I notice a pistol at her waste.

She announces that she's from the Travis County Constable's Office, precinct five, and that she's here to deliver a citation initiated by Citibank South Dakota N.A. She hands me a sheaf of papers. I have been officially sued.

Annie, my girlfriend, in her customarily disarming fashion, invites the deputy inside for a cup of coffee. Annie asks the deputy if she would like cream and sugar. The deputy begins to cry.

Annie sits her down on the couch. We listen as Dana Perry, the deputy, confesses how much she hates her hypocritical job. She's in some pretty bad debt herself. And how all she really wants to do is go back to school and play with her baby and start an organic lavender farm. Annie gives her to-go coffee and some rubber tawdries left over from a cashed pinata to give to the baby. And, just in case, Mr. H.'s business card.

October 22, 2009. Finally, case number 091263-CAG, my bankruptcy, is officially filed. My creditors will get $4,911 worth of rare book inventory, $750 worth of archival letter and paper, and $40.45 in cash. I don't have enough rare book inventory left to start fresh as a bookseller, but luckily, I do still have restoration tools and materials, so bookbinding is the direction I'll go.

I hope I'll never have to go through other bankruptcy, though that's about as meaningless as someone recovering from a car wreck saying they don't plan to ever crash again. Still, it's unlikely, as one must be in debt to go bankrupt. As it stands now, I will not qualify for any kind of meaningful credit for seven years. I won't qualify for almost any home, school, or car loans, nor for many jobs. And I won't be able to rent anywhere that has an application process, which leaves those cash-only motel-like tenements out by the airport. With such options, I'm hardly in danger of crashing. I'd never be able to build up enough speed. And that, I suppose, is the point.

Ira Glass

Bill Cotter. He's the author of the novel Fever Chart. His story about bankruptcy first appeared on the McSweeney's site at mcsweeneys.net.

Our program is produced today by Lisa Pollak and our senior producer, Julie Snyder, with Alex Blumberg, Jane Feltes, Sarah Koenig, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Production help from Aaron Scott. Seth Lind is our production manager, Emily Condon our office manager. Our music consultant is Jessica Hopper.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International. WBEZ manager and oversight for our program by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, people always ask me, what did he sound like before he got on the radio? I have a recording.

Cliff Doerksen

"What's the matter for you? Hey, Louie, where's the driver?"

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week for more stories of This American Life.