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The Ren Hoeck Affair
by Paul Levesque

In January of 1996, Renhoeck@aol.com (aka Brian Kettler) perpetrated a large-scale scam on the rec.arts.sf.starwars.collecting (rassc) and rec.toys.misc (rtm) newsgroups. Since then his name has become a legend of sorts around rassc, and rightfully so. This page offers a concise look at the events of January and February 1996. For the complete story, I would highly encourage people to look on The Renhoeck Posts page where I have assembled old posts and emails in chronological order.

Timetable of Important Events:

January, 1996:
05 The Infamous FS post.
07 Ren's first defense.
09 "Azeroth" comes forward as a reference.
10 Cyrano's background check into Azeroth. Ren replies to Cyrano's accusations.
12 Gus offers more proof concerning Azeroth's identity. Tengu asks the important questions. Ren responds to Tengu.
25 Ren posts that merchandise is in the mail.

February, 1996:
01 The shipments start to arrive.
02 Renhoeck's true identity revealed.
03 Ren answers the accusations.
04 Ren shows his true colors on an America Online collecting board .
05 Ren's final post .

July, 1996:
Update on the case .

Ren's Top Five Most Ridiculous Statements:

  1. "I DO NOT practice Mail Fraud! (Someone else posted the names and addresses you can use if someone does cheat you through the mail. I don't hhave those handy, so could someone please repost it under the heading "mail fraud" or something?)" (1/10/96)
  2. "As I've said many, many times before, everyone who orders WILL get their items, and I WILL NOT keep the money and run. That's ILLEGAL, and not something I'm stupid enough to try." (1/12/96)
  3. "After my current orders are taken care of, I'll probably auction off the leftovers. And after the many responses I got, I'm definately going to raise my prices. I'm going to keep a list of everyone I sell to as references, who you can all contact if you wish." (1/12/96)
  4. "What I did was perfectly legal, and perfectly honest in my opinion." (2/3/96)
    And the Most Ridiculous Statement of them all is.....
  5. "None of my customers ever asked me who the manufacturer was. I didn't think it was all that important. " (2/5/96)
From the beginning, Renhoeck's story was plagued with inconsistencies. These quotes demonstrate how far he was willing to stretch the truth (read "lie") before sending out the merchandise and how he tried to justify his scheme afterwards. Considering the nature of this incident, statement number five above is so ridiculous that it's almost comical.

(I say "almost" because it's easy to forget that Brian Kettler misrepresented his merchandise and stole money from no fewer than six people.)

Characteristics of the Scam

  1. If something's too good to be true, it usually is. Ren claimed to have a virtual fleet of vehicles including quite a few copies of each rare one (Sandcrawler, A-Wing, Tatooine Skiff). It would be difficult to assemble a collection of 8 loose X-wings in absolute C-10 condition, let alone a tough to find piece like the A-Wing! People were so mesmerized by the thought of $150 mint A-Wings that the impossibility Ren's claims were overlooked.
  2. Unresponsiveness to email. If someone wants to sell merchandise through the web then they should commit to answering questions regarding the items they're selling! Ren said he was so swamped with mail that he could not respond to everyone so he posted blanket statements claiming that the items were all complete and C-10. If someone can not take the time to respond directly to you when you are about to send out a check well over $200 then it's best to save that money for another time!!!
  3. Unwillingness to answer direct questions. Several people asked Ren very direct questions about the items for sale. He "untruthfully" answered a few and just failed to respond to the rest. It's amazing how fast his email problems began acting up when questions were asked that would have exposed his scam.
  4. Secretive about personal information. Some people were interested in making rather large purchases from Renhoeck so they asked for personal information. Even though these people were considering sending Ren checks in excess of $1000, he would not give out his phone number or even his real name!

Besides being characteristics of this particular scam, these point are all signs of trouble in any deal made through the Internet.

Sometimes it is difficult to walk away from a purchase once you have talked yourself into it. But, the best thing to do is analyze the situation and consider whether there is anything causing "warning flags" to appear. (If you find yourself thinking, "this is an awesome deal, but..." then the flags are there.) At this point it's best to ask more questions to satisfy those "buts".

This case also shows the value of asking specifics about the merchandise for sale when the items are not explicitly identified. Make no mistake, there was only one person out there who knew the true nature of the items that Ren listed for sale and that was Kettler himself. This scheme was carefully premeditated. The wording used in that original post was written to deliberately convince potential buyers that the toys listed were manufactured by Kenner:

Reading these descriptions and considering the prices were ballpark for Kenner toys, who would have considered that the first two items were Galoob MicroMachines and the last two Justoys BendEms? (It was only when I asked if the Luke Stormtrooper listed above came with gun and helmet that Renhoeck stopped responding to email.) Of course, Ren's comment about not thinking the manufacturer was important to mention is an outright lie considering how careful he was in listing only those toys that could have been mistaken for original Kenner releases. Had he listed items exclusive to the MicroMachine line then people would have asked immediately asked questions and any "misunderstanding" would have been avoided. But the intention of the original post was not to sell new merchandise at face value but to con people out of their money.

During the months following the "RenHoeck Affair" people were overly cautious in their dealings through the net. Especially hard hit were any newcomers with an aol account! The best that can be taken away from this incident is the knowledge of what happened and how to avoid it next time. (And there will be a next time because the net is just like society as a whole -- lots of good people but a few bad ones thrown in to keep us "good guys" on our toes.) To this day I question an individual if items are not clearly defined. If someone's an honest person then they certainly don't mind answering these questions to avoid problems after the package arrives.

The Renhoeck Posts