Saturday, 19 January 2013

A recent plague of scam telephone calls: "How are you today?"

Ring! Ring!

“Hello, Mr. Grønmark.” (Impenetrable Asian accent, dreadful line, deafening background racket suggesting the call is being made from the busiest open-air market in Calcutta.) “I am calling from Incomprehensible Gobbleydook. How are you today?”

“What do you want?”

“Mr. Grønmark, your car has been involved in a minor accident during the last three years.”

“What accident?”

“Has your car been involved in a minor accident during the last three years, Mr. Grønmark?”

“I repeat – what accident has my car been involved in during the last three years?”

“Somebody drove into the back of your car.”

“What was their name.”

“His name? They drove off.”

“When did this happen?”

“During the last three years, Mr. Grønmark.”

“On which day, exactly?”

“During the last three years, Mr…”

(I hang up)

Ring! Ring!

“Mr. Grønmark, I am phoning from Incomprehensible Gobbleydook. I apologise. My colleague was transferring your call to me. You car has been involved in a minor accident during the last three…”

“Look, I don’t know which particular scam you’re operating, but you’re starting to annoy me. Piss off and don’t ever call my number again.”

They’ll be back.

So far this year we’ve received at least 25 similar calls:

Three recorded messages telling me as I’ve reached sixty I have to phone in and claim my £1000 bonus (for what?). 

Five live calls (see above) telling us about our imaginary car accident.

Several live calls telling us we have unsecured loans (we haven’t).

Lots of live calls telling us we are paying too much for our gas and electricity (true, but so is everyone else).

Many recorded messages telling us we are paying too much for our gas and electricity. 

There were others, but we’ve either forgotten their content or we hung up the moment we realised it was yet another scam.

The main difference between the calls is that all the live ones are from Asians and all the recorded ones are usually from well-spoken English women.

My wife brought this up at a meeting she attended earlier this evening and apparently this is now happening to everyone all the time.

Oddly, live calls like the one transcribed above are slightly less irritating than the recorded ones, because they offer opportunities for bamboozlement and/or shouting.

This all reminds me of the traditional Nigerian (or "401") Scam. Remember those letters, faxes or emails from various African locations asking the recipient to help a lawyer, banker or member of a royal family to get money out of their country? Their multi-million dollar fortune is tied up by bureaucracy. If the email/letter/fax recipient helps them to get these funds released  (usually by allowing the riches to be transferred to his or her bank account) they'll be rewarded with a generous slice of the pie. After the hapless patsy takes the bait and offers to help, he will be asked to wire some cash in order to effect the release of the funds – just a couple of thousand pounds, nothing major - or the scammers will plunder his bank account, the details of which he will have supplied in order to effect the transfer.

In extreme cases, the patsy will end up being asked to travel to Nigeria or Kenya, where they will be kidnapped and ransomed (or killed).

The world of 401 scams was exhaustively explored in one of the funniest books I have ever read – Mike Berry’s Greetings in Jesus Name!: The Scambaiter Letters, published in 2006. Using a number of pseudonyms, Berry became a scambaiter in his spare time, stringing along a host of scammers under the guise of multiple pseudonyms. Posing as a variety of potential mugs - Klench Mychiques, Derek Trotter, Inspector Morse, Gillian Anderson, Father Bungdit Upp, Arthur Dent and Shiver Metimbers (Berry's humour isn't excessively subtle) - he got conmen to waste vast amounts of time and, in some cases, money in the belief that they were on the verge of getting their hands on tens of thousands of dollars.

In the course of his scambaiting activities, Berry got his victims to – among other things – fly to Glasgow for a meeting that never happened (although the author was on hand to snap photos of the criminals waiting for him), hand-copy complete Harry Potter novels (for a supposed scientific calligraphy experiment), fall in love with and propose to Gillian Anderson, and send him photos of themselves displaying a variety of humiliating hand-written signs or doing stupid things like stuffing a fish in their ear.

I’ve just found Mike Berry’s 419 Eater website here. Delighted to see he’s carrying on the good work. (All of ther above photos are taken from the website: I have no idea whether the people pictured are scammers or as honest as the day is long. Allegedly.)

The thing that puzzles me about the scammers featured in Berry’s book and the ones currently inundating us with phone calls is why they don’t simply employ all that ingenuity and energy to make money out of some honest enterprise.

1 comment:

  1. A lot of energy,but not too much ingenuity.These "401" scams have been evolving for years helped by the West's generous student grants.
    In Asia they are less remote;in the early 90's the South China Morning Post finally made the blindingly obvious connection between the sudden high HIV rates amongst Pilippine women in HongKong,and the arrests all over Asia of drug mules from that country.The headline read "Nigerian lotharios target Philippine maids."
    Fast forward to 2013 and the 'black money scam'involving an actual physical and very intimidating presence in order to parlay thousands of dollars allegedly stolen from well meaning Western governments' Aid to Africa and stamped 'Save The Chidren,'or'IMF'or whatever(hence 'black money')is alive and well.
    Keep them talking-that way you may save some poor sap rom being fleeced.