The Leather Scam

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My father was a traveling salesman. He was a kind-hearted soul and often picked up hitchhikers. In 1975, or thereabouts, he picked up an Italian headed for Dublin airport. This man spun a long, complicated story about how he’d lost his fare home. He was a leather worker and had a couple of samples in his suitcase that he could sell to raise the money for his fare. My father bought a poor quality leather jacket for 70 pounds (a crazy price). He never wore it; it was fit only for the dustbin.

About a year ago, in Woodies car park, I was approached by a man in a car. He was about 30-40 years old. He claimed to be Italian and asked if I would be interested in some end-of-stock items of Italian leather. He had them in the boot of his car. I laughed and told him my father had fallen for that scam over thirty years earlier.

“I hope you don’t think I’ve been doing this for thirty years,” he said, and he drove off.

This morning, walking to the shop at the end of my road, a car pulled up. The window opened and an old man looked out at me. He must have been seventy-five or eighty. “Scusi,” he says, followed by a torrent of Italian. I love the sound of spoken Italian, but I don’t speak a word of it. He asked me if I spoke Italian. Then, in very broken English, he asked where the leather shop was.

“There are no leather shops around here,” says I. “There are none that I know of in Greystones. The only one I know of is on the south quays in Dublin.”

He thanked me, apologized for his poor English and said, “I can ask more questions?”

Then he produced a pile of papers, air tickets, his identity card. “Exhibition International” it said. His name, Alphonso Copolla, under the photo of a man at least thirty years younger. He mentioned the name of two hotels in a nearby town. I gathered there had been an exhibition. It was now over and he was heading back to his Momma in Milano.

“I have some samples left over,” he said, and bells and claxons went off in my head.

I laughed at him, and told him that my father fell for that story about thirty years ago.

It’s amazing. To have stood the test of time like that, his must be a really successful scam. It’s worrying, though, that both my father and I look like ideal marks.

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