Are there still some fools out there?

There are dozens of ways legitimate and illegitimate sales people try to get through to us on the telephone or by email. We’ve all had hundreds of scamming emails from widows and lawyers who need our help (and just a little of our money) to release the millions of dollars they’re eager to share with us.

Or we’ve won the lottery.

scammers

I’m often amazed, and even occasionally amused, at the sheer incompetence of some of them. Take this one, for example…

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Greetings My Name is Mr Benson Stephen

Hello How are you doing today? My Name is Mrs Maria Leslie Am from United Kingdom , where are you from? Are you a dedicated Christen/Muslim? please reply today. I will be waiting for your email My Regards, Mr Benson Stephen

Email Disclaimer Notice:   The information in this e-mail and any attachments is confidential and may be legally privileged or propriety is subject to copyright and is the property of Osoul Investment Company….

Disclaimer added by CodeTwo Exchange Rules www.codetwo.com

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What’s clever (but not very) about this one is the ‘disclaimer notice’ that’s supposed to lend an air of authenticity to the message. It supposedly legitimises the otherwise dodgy-sounding ‘Osoul Investment Company’. But not clever, I think, in any way, to be a transgender scammer and have two names.

This one is also fun, not least for being expressed in just two sentences.

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Greeting to you Dear Mr Bager, I contact you for a good purpose that will benefit me and you,I’m Mr.Denise Nwadike ZANOU a Private lawyer to Late Engr Michael Bager, a national of your country and Director of oil company here, my client and his family were involved in a car accident unfortunately lost their lives, my later client had an account valued at about 13.7Musd  thirteen Million Seven Hundred Thousand Dollars in Bank here and I want to present you to the bank as the next of kin to my late client since you have the same last name, please send your full name /email and telephone number to my email info.avocatdenise@gmail.com so that I’ll send more details to you and i ll also forward it to the bank here to release the fund of my late cline to your account as a new beneficiary since you have the same last name with him.then you and I will Share the money 50% to me and 50% to you. Am looking forward to receiving your response regards this transaction.

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Lawyers can be longwinded, but this stretches credulity a hundred words too far.

Kate Lee, below, thinks she’s being especially clever in anticipating our scepticism…

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Greetings,

I know you will be surprised to read my email. Apart from being surprise you may be skeptical to reply me because based on what is happening on the internet world, one has to be very careful because a lot of scammers are out there to scam innocent citizens and this has made it very difficult for people to believe anything that comes through the internet.

My name is Capt. Carr Kate Lee, a member of the U.S. ARMY medical team, Just deployed to Iraq Because of the ISIS Problem. View to see details ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_military_intervention_against_ISIS ).

I need a trust worthy person who will assist me in procuring these funds that will be transferred to you for both our collective benefit.

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It takes just a couple of seconds to dismiss these kinds of emails, but if you added up all the time we spend on scams and other breathtakingly stupid attempts on our prosperity it would add up to several wasted days in a lifetime.

But of course, many of the people who approach us have a perfectly legitimate aim – people selling us mailing lists, offering us inclusion in our profession’s Who’s Who or Hall of Fame, asking for an interview, offering us investment and life insurance schemes, an immediate Doctorate, etc.

Yesterday I was even asked to review my profile in Women of Distinction.

What surprises me is that they do it SO BADLY.

There are those insurance salesman whose patter is good enough to get them through the first line of defence, your switchboard or secretary, but who blow it immediately, at least with me, by beginning,

‘Good morning Mr Bager. How are you today?!’

No one, except a salesman, begins a conversation that way, and I can’t think why they’re still teaching them to deploy this kind of breezy insincerity. I don’t waste time. I’m cruel, perhaps, but to the point. I interrupt and ask them what they’re trying to sell.

‘No, no, I’m not trying to sell you anything at all. I just want to talk about an opportunity….’

Hmmmm. Down goes the phone.

Email style is another giveaway. I’m infuriated by those who write as if they know me already. And this sort of flattery doesn’t work on me either:

LLP Group has been shortlisted for IS 20 Most Valuable IT Services Companies listing

or

Hi Adam,

As a B2B sales leader in your company, I believe you will find this interesting and informative.

B2B sales leader? Me?!

And then, of course, there are the Tatianas:

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Hello, I very much want to meet a good man and I know, we’ll necessarily find each other: I need a man who has open soul.

Profiles:233261261 – http://vnlvxmenblf.zgr.name I am a sweet and smart lady with long hair and beautiful eyes.

My friends tell me that I am a very beautiful girl. I want acquainted with a real man who becomes a beloved husband for me.

He should be romantic, affectionate and |tender|gentle[/string], and of course responsible. If I’m interested, write me Bye, Tatiana.

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Am I right in thinking that the adjective substitution algorithm hasn’t quite worked `correctly on |tender|gentle[/string].

I leave Tatiana to you, if you’re interested!

Fraud and Conscience – ‘It’s OK if Everyone Else is Doing It’

I’ve just read an account by Tyler Hamilton of his career as a drug-boosted (and eventually drug-busted) world-class professional cyclist  – The Secret Race – Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France. His confessions, and others’, provided the evidence that nailed the world’s most famous doper – Lance Armstrong, seven times winner of the Tour de France and seven times loser (all seven titles were eventually stripped form him).

So prevalent was drug use, so essential if you were to stay amongst the world’s most successful riders, and so much part of what it meant to ‘belong’ to the heroic, winning fraternity, that to those in the game it seemed entirely justified. And so strongly was this felt that riders could lie for nearly a decade, with complete equanimity or outraged aggression, to the media, to the sport’s governing bodies, to their friends and family, and even when undergoing lie-detector tests.

‘Everyone is doing it,’ they said to themselves, ‘so it’s ok. It’s a level playing field.’

Indeed, large swathes of the public thought so too. When I was in the USA three years ago and Lance Armstrong had just admitted doping on prime-time TV, there were many Americans I met who thought he was being unfairly treated ‘because, after all, they were all doing it.’

But it was no level playing field. The best drugs were available only to those with money, guile and influence. It was a risk to the riders’ health, and clearly against the rules. It was cheating, pure and simple.

devil

When I get phishing emails telling me I’ve won an obscure lottery in Lesotho, when I hear about the cruel deceptions practised on vulnerable people (the elderly, in particular, are viciously singled out by telephone scammers) I try to understand the mentality of scammers, fraudsters and cheats. How does it feel like to them, how does it look like to them, as they rip people off, humiliating and impoverishing vulnerable people? How do burglars feel when they empty or trash an apartment?

Surely, all of these unusual creatures must have a special way, as dozens of top cyclists and other sportsmen and women have, of justifying it all to themselves. Or am I too generous in supposing they think and feel at all?

‘These people have plenty, and I have nothing. They won’t miss what we steal from them.’

‘I have to feed my family.’

‘If I didn’t do it, someone else would.’

‘If I don’t do it they’ll hurt me or my family.’

We’ve all come across similar justifications in more mundane areas of life and business.

‘Everyone cheats when they claim their expenses.’ (Even the UK’s MPs fell foul of this self-serving justification.)

‘You’ve got to bribe if you want to win a public tender. Everyone knows that.’

‘No one pays all the tax they should. I’d be a fool if I were the only one.’

‘If I didn’t take cash and were to issue an invoice instead, I’d be paying much more tax, I wouldn’t be able to compete and I’d soon be out of business. I have a responsibility to my employees.’

How do people get started with fraud or other kinds of crime? How do they manage their consciences? How do they come to believe they’re justified in what they do? How do they acquire the necessary moral agility?

Well, none of us is an angel. It probably starts with just a penny here or there that no one notices or cares about, and then it grows. Finally, for a few, it’s out of control.

But, as Tyler Hamilton explains, the worst situation is one where there’s peer pressure to join in. It became a rite of passage in the world of top-class cycle racing to accept the testosterone, the EPO and all the other stuff. You were ‘in’. You were good enough to win. It’s probably peer pressure rather than greed that gets most people started on a life of deception and crime.

To this day I remember stealing sweets from a shop in a small town in Germany. I was about ten, and I was ‘made’ to do it by a rather delinquent friend. I regretted it even then, which is probably why I remember it now. I wish I had been more priggish and goody-goody (well, that period, together with excessive church-going came later!).

Serious wrong-doing often starts with small misdemeanours and the encouragement of others. The academic, novelist and religious writer C S Lewis puts it well in his Screwtape Letters – Letters from a Senior to a Junior Devil:

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…”

There’s a stark difference between those who are mildly sinful and those who are steeped in crime, but to those who travel the path from one to other it must seem like a gentle, if slippery, slope. I can only suppose that if they are human and possess the same mental landscape as the rest of us, they feel the same to themselves at the end of it as at the start, hardly having noticed the subtle and gradual erosion of their conscience.