Thursday, December 28, 2017

Conversation with a crook

The Fortune-Teller by Georges de La Tour (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     Anyone who asks you how you are on Facebook is a crook trying to perpetrate a scam.
   Or such is my experience. 
   Occasionally I will accept somebody's offer of friendship only to have them immediately ask me how I am. 
     Real people don't do that.
     I sometimes reply, "How is life in the Philippines?" which usually shocks them into silence—I've noticed that a lot of these come-ons seem to originate from the Philippines.
    Why bother? Some innate hunger to reach out, to communicate. A desire to let it be known that I'm not being fooled.
    Lately, since they never reply, I just ignore them, and block the person I just friended. 
     Although on rare occasions, sometimes I play along and see what happens
     Like this message. It began benignly enough.

     But soon it took a curious turn.
      I suppose I was interested in whether this might possibly be a sincere person themselves taken in by a fairly notorious scam—the famous rich person giving away money ploy—or, far more likely, some kind of fraud who'd capitalize on my greed to try to extract "earnest money" from me. The type of swindle that was old at the time of "Paper Moon."
    Mention of Zuckerberg sent me immediately to a post on Snopes, the useful debunking site, where they categorized it as a "something-for-nothing" hoax in a post from the end of 2015.
      An appealing, easy-to-believe idea, that a man as rich as the founder of Facebook might give money to random strangers.

         Online scams extract an estimated $13 billion a year from the credulous. I used to marvel at the obvious falsity of those "Dear Beloved, I am a Nigerian prince..." emails, until I read that they are intentionally crude, to cull out the savvy. Makes sense. Why should a busy swindler waste his time leading somebody along, only to have them grow suspicious halfway through the scam? Better to show your hand early and cull those who notice: although I believe the "50,000.00 USD" from James Bradshaw, rather than being an intentional lapse, was just someone who lacked the command of English idiom.
     For some reason, maybe it being late, I felt a puckish whimsy, and decided to lead the conversation into an unexpected direction.
     He plodded forward, oblivious to the meat of my reply. 
     Under most circumstances I would have a difficult time lying to somebody, even a faceless scammer. But this time I got in the spirit of the thing.
     We think of the Internet as such a wonder, and it is. But I can't help but thinking, between the Russians stealing the 2016 presidential election, and uncounted people, many elderly or simple, separated from uncounted billions of dollars by this kind of fraud, whether we will not someday decide that the Internet was a steep price to pay for quick delivery of gym shoes and books. On some days Facebook seems, not a social medium at all, but just another way to be lonely.
     We mustn't blame the Internet of course. It's just a tool. And fraud is nothing new. If you haven't looked closely at the painting above, "The Fortune-Teller" by Georges de la Tour, do so. Notice the young woman at left, picking the dandy's pocket, and the one at right cutting his religious medal. A common theme in art when this was made, around 1630. Unless it wasn't—some believe the painting, which came to light in 1960, was a forgery from the 1920s which, given the theme, is just too delightful.

    Nothing changes. "People are the worst" my older son says, a truism for the ages. They will line up to rob you, or worse. One of the memes that made most impact on me in the past few months was that the United States is learning now what Germany learned in the 1930s—that one third of the country would kill the other third while the final third watches. I'd like to insist that isn't true, but it is, here, there and everywhere people live.
     A few turns of fate and your or I might be robbing the credulous via the Internet too; I'm sure there are more than a few GOPs in my spam filter who believe I already am, peddling liberal lies for those too ... well, whatever we're supposed to be ... too something to embrace the glorious truth that is Donald Trump. 

      About this point I gave up, blocked James Bradshaw or, rather, whoever was masquerading as James Bradshaw, and went to bed. I'm sure whoever was on the other end never gave it a second though, merely shrugged, baited his hook and moved on to the next of Facebook's 2 billion users. There's always another sucker around the corner, eager to believe, just waiting to be fleeced.


  1. We do love con artists. As long as we're in the watching third.


    1. We especially love dopey con artists. This guy didn't even blink when Neil upped the fifty thousand dollars and no cents to one million dollars. "Bradshaw" is straight out of an Elmore Leonard book.

    2. Sorry -- not one million, fifty million.

  2. Certainly be cautious, Americans are beset by the machinations of ill bred foreigners. We have money because we work hard, saving and investing our earnings. Lazy people don't want to do honest work, they just sit back and perpetrate scams. The IRS has a history of instilling fear in the populace, and scammers take advantage of this fear. Don't hold your breath waiting Trump or Jeff Sessions to implement a solution to this problem. And don't give up hope, there are anarchist who work behind the scenes to shut down these bad apples, as this 10 minute video demonstrates.

  3. The worst scam attempt I ever personally received was a phishing email from someone purporting to be Citibank or some such institution...only he put his own name, in Russian, in the "From" line.

  4. Scammers and fraudsters, and valuing my privacy and online security, is why I have never bothered with Facebook and never will. E-mail scammers get very obscene one-sentence replies. There are always new ones tomorrow, but it makes me feel better, and at my age, that's what counts the most. The most annoying are the endless phone scammers from overseas, mostly Asian in origin. I keep an Acme Thunderer (the world's best whistle, made in the UK and used in the NFL) next to my phone. If their eardrums are damaged, they will soon be fired and starve to death on the streets of Manila. I figure it's what they deserve.

  5. I had a scary moment once when my 13-year-old daughter replied to a phishing scam and told me they needed my credit card in order to fix her computer. That was shut down, lecture delivered, lesson learned, but it seemed like a close call. Lucky she didn't have access to any type of card, because she was falling for it.

    1. It's terrible when you have to teach your kids to distrust the world. Not a new thing of course. The injunctions from my parents were, I think, limited to, "Don't take candy from strangers." Which I've probably heeded more or less. Whereas I've pretty much ignored the injunction from Guys & Dolls about not betting against a stranger that says he can take a brand new deck of cards and make a rabbit leap out it. Still get taken in by variations on that theme, mostly because of my reluctance to call a stranger a liar.


    2. Parents have always warned kids about taking candy or getting into a stranger's car, and justifiably so. Just as I began first grade, the son of a multi-millionaire Cadillac dealer (who, like me, was six, and had an frighteningly similar last name) was kidnapped and murdered in Kansas City. Horrified Chicago public school administrators sent every pupil home with a booklet called "This is For You", warning children and parents about "Stranger Danger." In light of what had just happened, this scared the bejesus out of me even more. The killers were caught, tried, convicted, and executed less than ninety days after their crime. No lingering on Death Row for 15 or 20 years. Folks didn't mess around in 1953.

  6. Late to the party, but did you see that the actual Nigerian "Prince" was caught the other day? Turns out he is a white guy from Slidell, Louisiana. Sorry, no link but you can Google.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.