This is a warning ahead of time that this is going to be a long tirade and not for the faint of heart. One would think that the amount of “out in the open” gay-bashing would have long drawn to a close with the passage of such things as The Matthew Shepard Act and attention drawn to such things by Rachel Maddow, Ellen DeGeneres and Dan Savage, but let me tell you folks that it does happen right in the open because it happened to me just this week.
My wife Kathy and I were recently the victims of identity theft and let me tell you that they got everything from our bank accounts. It was one of those things called a “pump skimmer”. They install this device on the gasoline pump card reader so when you stick your credit card or ATM card in it reads the information and transmits it back through the store’s internet connection to the waiting computer of the thieves and they then proceed to use other filched accounts to “wash” the money from one account to the other to the next until they accumulate all the cash in one account then they transmit it to an account in the Cayman Islands where it’s like a Swiss numbered account and bye-bye to your money! They got us for close to $40,000; our entire life’s savings.
The one asset we had was a collector’s car that we had paid to restore. It was worth about 2/3 of what we lost to the thieves according to an expert we had it appraised by in Orlando, Florida.
So we decided rather than pay an auction house 20% to auction it off for us that we would try to sell it ourselves so we could stand the best chance of recovering our lives and recovering at least some degree of dignity from a very low point as victims of a crime. We looked up Craig’s List upon the recommendation of a friend who said she had a good experience dealing with it. She just said to beware of people trying to buy out the area or asking for money to wire you money. That’s a no-brainer.
A day after I listed the car I began to get these ridiculous inquiries from people about “muffler bearings” and “slosh reservoirs” on the cars having been replaced, which I know just don’t exist. I tried to be civil and just told them the entire car had been rebuilt by a certified mechanic, which it had but I began to smell a rat.
The emails started to step-up until I was getting more than 50 per hour but I was also getting people who seemed to be giving me legitimate offers on the cars and Kathy and I were hoping that we could breathe a little easier about our money troubles.
Then I guess one of the people involved in what was going on got a guilty conscience and sent me a link to a forum called VWVortex.com with the simple message; “you should see this”.
When I opened the link I was treated to visions of gay-bashing, age bashing and all manner of being made sport of. Apparently, these “frat-boys” think Craig’s List is more entertaining than Survivor. They do this sort of thing to a lot of people who sell cars through there and try to keep it going as long as possible. They think discussing wire fraud and gay-bashing is, in their words, “gold”, as you can see by the comments below. I was also called an, “old, unattractive lesbian”, and they made plenty of comments about LGBT-Today. They also copied my Facebook page and made plenty of humorous remarks about the fact that I have a personal and a business Facebook page as well.
This sort of thing, as most members of the LGBT community know, violates The Matthew Shepard Act and is, under federal law, considered a hate crime. Also, making false bids on a person’s legitimate property with no intention of purchase is called “wire fraud”. So Wednesday morning I called the local FBI office and spoke with an agent in Tampa. I’m not allowed to talk about their investigation but I can say that there is one ongoing.
I was wise and left the forum link up in my browser which was a wise decision because the moderators put the thread into what’s known in the trade as a “black hole”. They simply deleted the thread from their server. They did this not once but twice! After the first time they did it, the “frat-boys” just went right back and started it back up again!
After reporting the entire incident to the FBI I wrote to the admins of VWVortex and told them I had filed charges against those involved and this is what I got in response:
I am surprised to hear that you have taken all this action without even contacting us first and asking for the thread to be removed. If you had checked the forum recently, you would see that the thread was already removed:
• 13:24, 26th Jan 2011
Action: Closed Thread
• 13:24, 26th Jan 2011
Action: Thread moved to 'Black Hole'.
There are 580,000 members on this site and only about 100 moderators, all of whom are volunteers. It is virtually impossible for us to check every post in every thread, which is why we ask that users report a thread if it needs attention. Furthermore, the first thread about your craigslist ad was removed yesterday:
• 22:32, 25th Jan 2011
Action: Thread moved to 'Black Hole'.
We have done our due diligence, and I apologize that users shared your personal information, but often times that is the nature of the internet (regardless of the fact that is it wrong to do so). As someone who runs her own website/forum, you should definitely understand that. That’s also why I feel that it is quite inappropriate to say you are going to write an article on your website about how we handled this, when we just found out about it right now, especially after it was promptly handled. Also, if you wish to continue to make threads towards us regarding alleged misconduct and threatening lawsuits, then our conversation will be over. Again, I apologize that this happened, but it’s not like we were encouraging it, and it has been taken care of.
Excuse me but apology not accepted! Simply removing evidence is not acceptable! If someone hits you in the back of the head with a baseball bat wouldn’t you want to make sure that person was arrested and punished under the law? My response to this “smack them on the back of the hand” approach to moderation was as follows:
I appreciate you closing the thread but to simply throw the entire matter in the waste basket is not enough to satisfy me. I run a website, yes, but I control my website and it’s a magazine, not a forum for puerile armchair infants to run around turning Craig’s List into an entertainment medium more popular than Survivor.
I want to know what actions were taken against the individuals who participated in this scam. For instance, the user BrennanA made what I regarded as legitimate offers on the car and then posted my confidential replies to the thread and then bragged about it. The user “lowredcabrio” called me an “old, unattractive lesbian” and then copied my business and personal Facebook pages and posted them on your group which violates Facebook’s privacy issues. Brennen also sent me even more threatening emails today telling me that no matter what I do that the users will just continue to open new threads on VWVortex and if you throw them off the site that he will open his own site dedicated to harassing me. I realize that you can’t stop him from doing that but you can stop him from any further posts on your site.
I think it’s in your best interests to ban all participating members to this thread and to retain their information when the FBI contacts you so you will not appear as uncooperative.
If you inform me that you have in fact done this then my article will reflect favorably that you cooperated in stopping this dead in its tracks. I want to show that as a website, VWVortex is gay-friendly and wants to help stop harassment of a member of the LGBT community and I’m sure that you do, too.
I then signed it and sent the email. This is what I got back:
I do not want our site to be listed as gay friendly or not gay friendly. It doesn’t matter to me what sexual orientation, preference, gender, or anything else that a member is or may be. Everyone is treated equally on here, period. This place is for discussing Volkswagens and that is it. That is no political or other motivation behind our website.
The users that posted the information were dealt with according to our rules, and that is all that I will share about that, as it is our policy not to discuss user disciplinary action with other people. As someone who also runs a website, you should understand and appreciate that.
As for your comment about how the thread would not have gone on forever had you not threatened us, that clearly isn’t the case as it was already taken care of before you e-mailed me. Please let’s just drop this now knowing that the situation was already resolved and will not resurface.
About the same time, one of the people who was “playing” me and was passing himself off as a car collector and offered me $50,000 for the car and asked for my bank account information to wire me money sent me this email:
You can think the thread is closed down, but there is others, which all of these replies are going into, and if they do disappear, I’ll just make a website , good luck getting that shut down.
Also, how dare you? Are you completely out of your mind? Bringing up the brutal killing of Matthew Sheppard for some sort of weird and twisted justification? I never mentioned anything about sexual orientation in any of these emails, or in any of the threads on vortex.
My! How hubristic of a heterosexual to tell me how offended I should feel about being called an “old, unattractive lesbian”!
Perhaps it’s just me but does anyone else feel that this “Brennen” is sending me a threatening email telling me that this group intends to continue hounding me just because I exist? I don’t care if he wasn’t the one whoJared Loughner actually pulled the trigger and called me a name; he participated in the actual harassment and threatening of my sanctity and peace of mind and if he can’t understand that then he’s just as dangerous as Jarod Loughner!
After the affairs in Tucson earlier this month should I start wondering if the next person to knock on my door is going to empty a 30-round clip of 9 mm bullets into my head? It certainly sounds like that way and any sane person would start thinking that these people are dangerous.
The people at VWVortex wanted very much for me to not write this article but after all the threats, the phone calls at 3 AM and the emails I feel I have no choice because if I don’t write this then there is no thread of my own to show what happened in case something happens to me and I’ve become very concerned that something will in fact happen to me.
I haven't slept in three nights because of the constant phone calls. Just before this article was posted, one who calls me every night from Colorado keeps sending me harassing emails doesn't even have the brains to erase his website reference from his iPhone application when he sends his email.
Yes, I'm scared; so scared that Kathy and I are sending her 18 year-old back home to California for her safety and protection. The only sure protection we have is to hope that organizations like the Human Rights Council, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Defamation League and any other formidable allies see and pick up this story and help to protect us. Otherwise, at least there is this account of what happened recorded to the internet so that we have some way for people to know what happened and what to look for.
Call this essay an “insurance policy”.
Nothing that has been included in this essay is untrue, no words have been changed or altered from the emails I’ve posted and only the reprints of my Facebook page from VWVortex have my friend’s faces blanked out to protect them and not me. None of them were involved in this and although these puerile “frat-boys” tried to drag my friends into this, they don’t deserve this harassment so I’ve taken as much care as I can to protect them in case this story goes “viral” on the internet and in the news.
If something in fact does happen to me then it’s a sure bet that one of these people is responsible and the lack of proper steps by the authorities and apathy by the owners of VWVortex is most likely responsible.
I can only hope that other LGBT agencies become involved in this and shame these people into stopping this shameful practice of allowing immature little man-children from harassing innocent people who are trying to recover their lives by honestly selling an asset that will help them stave off poverty.
This is a perfect example of why members of the LGBT, particularly in the South, can’t manage to survive a lot of the time because of prejudice and bigotry that comes at them from outside forces who use every means at their disposal and any justification to keep us smashed like a bug.
By Stephanie Donald