I nearly didn’t see the email. It actually arrived a few weeks ago but Auntie Gmail tried to hide it from me. When Dr. Sylvia Denn got in touch to tell me that “United Nation Lottery And Microsoft Cooperation Management Worldwide Are Pleased To Inform You That You Are A Winner Of Our Annual MS-Word Lotto Lottery Conducted In Africa Being The Host Of The Event For This Present Year Mega Jackpot Lotto Winning Programs” it looked like all my problems were solved.
In the past I had been very critical of the United Nations. It seemed to me to be an organisation beset by inefficiencies and with an uneven record in international conflict resolution; but that was before I knew they ran MS-Word Lotto Lotteries. Ten million dollars was not to be sniffed at and all I had to do was contact Dr. Kafisu Ahmed to confirm how I would claim my winnings.
In case I was worried about fraud, Dr Sylvia was most reassuring: “As Part of our Security Protocol you are To Quote This Security Code 15513-2MSW To Your Claiming/Payment Agent. This is to Prevent Scam.” What fraudster has a security protocol? Put that in your scepti-pipe and smoke it!
If I hadn’t checked my spam folder I would also have missed out on the offer from Dr. Min Yang of Hong Kong who had 24.5 million dollars worth of confidential business for me to consider and just required my “data details”.
Before I send them any sort-codes, I have to wonder; why is it always doctors involved in these international money transfers, particularly the relatives of recently deceased unfairly deposed dictators. I think a post-mortem may reveal some uncomfortable questions for you Dr. Samuel Dlovu with your $12 million in “2 Boxes at Belgium airport”.
Okay. Maybe it is fraud. It’s what’s known as phishing; because the scamps are leaving bait dangling in the e-water hoping someone is gullible – or gillable – enough to bite. The unsuspecting punter is usually asked to send on bank details and before you know it: Bob Mobutu’s your rich deceased uncle and your account is cleaned out. Phishing is spelt with a “ph” because this is the Internet and… well …um… Ah that’s the why.
Even for the savvy, phishing is not a pleasant experience. The knowledge that a large faceless organisation is auto-generating personalised emails just to try and trick you out of your money is a depressing glimpse into the general meanness of the world. Like when your bank tries to get you off a tracker mortgage by offering you a bun.
If I’m going to be ripped off, I’d rather the personal approach adopted by Rajeev when he called me a few weeks ago.
“Hello is that Mr O’Regan. Director of colmoregan.com?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“My name is Rajeev and I am calling from Microsoft Systems Technical Support”
Microsoft Systems Technical Support? That made me sit up and take notice. They don’t get involved in trivial matters. This must be a serious technical issue. What, I wondered, could be the problem?
The problem, according to Rajeev, was that Microsoft had detected a “serious error” with my computer. I put Rajeev on hold (actually I said I’d put him on hold. In fact I sang The Fields of Athenry down the phone to him) while I googled “Microsoft Systems Telephone Scam”. One hundred thousand results, said Google.
After instructing Mary to “raise our child with dignity” I tried to chat to Rajeev for a while.
“What part of India are you in Rajeev?”
“Bangalore… now Mr. O’Regan can I ask you to run the following commands on your…”
“Oh Bangalore, I have a few friends out there. Do you know Prabu Singh? Tall fella, mad into Cricket?”
Rajeev was having none of this. His reply was perfunctory.
“I’m afraid not Mr O’Regan. Bangalore is a big city. Now if you could could locate the Windows Key on your computer and run this command”
I pretended to do what Rajeev asked me. “It’s giving me a weird message when I do that Rajeev” I’ll call it out. It says P-I-S-S-O-F-F.” Wasn’t I being hilarious?
“Can you run the same thing on your computer Rajeev and see what message it returns?”
Tee Hee. What a card I am. Putting one over on the scammer.
“Yes I’ve done that now” says Rajeev in an expressionless voice. “What message do you get?” I said, barely containing my smugness. “It says Go F**K Yourself Mr O’Regan” said Rajeev and he hung up.
I was still for a while. The phone was still at my ear. I felt hollow. Here was this young man, trying to make a dishonest buck. This wasn’t some faceless computer program offering to enlarge my pen-one-ess. This was a real human being with hopes and aspirations – aspiring mainly to get my credit card details – but aspirations nonetheless. This was a man who went home from work and, when his partner asked him how his day went, slumped into a chair, giving out about some smartarse from Ireland. “Doesn’t he realise we all have a job to do?” he sighed.
And it’s a job that countless numbers of people have done. There has been a scamming industry since the day the serpent said to Eve: “Our research has shown you to be one of the key decision makers in your area and we are excited to offer you an unrivalled opportunity in the forbidden knowledge, guilt and shame acquisition space.”
The world is still divided into two groups. Those in the know, who make false promises and those who believe them. Those who say “A lot done, A lot more to do” and those who voted for them again.
One hopes that we have not become too cynical though. It would be a terrible shame if the general public was so jaded and wary that no-one would ever take an opportunity at face value any more. Especially now since I have recently been made the sole administrator of a number of Libyan offshore funds. Now if you could just send me your details…