The world of the international scammer
I am dead curious about the world of the scammer. I don't mean how they do it (though I have often wanted to know what exactly would happen if I actually replied to the email saying yes, I did believe that I might be distantly related to the man who has died leaving a fortune of $1 million, or if I agreed to let them use my bank account as a simple way to get that €2 million out of Uzbekistan).
I really mean what is the social life of the scammer like? How do their offices look? Would you recognise it if you walked it?
That's to say, are all those emails sent out from the upstairs bedroom in Mum's place (in the back streets of one of the saddest cities on the planet) with nothing more than a revamped Acorn "computer"? Or do these guys operate from offices, with pot-plants and room dividers -- the only difference between them and some parts of big business being that their enterprises are officially illegal.
Even more intriguing is the question of how many of the "participants" in the scam know exactly what is going on, or what kind of money is being made?
Some time ago, I got one of those handwritten letters asking me to pay the remaining school fees of the writer, who claimed to be training to be a midwife somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, but after the death of Mum and Dad, as well as the ox and the goat, was now faced with having to give up her course.
It didn't take much palaeographical training to see that the figures of money required had been written in by a different hand. So, even if the copyist was not entirely innocent, s/he certainly did not know what the 'ask' was.
The other day, the husband came across something similar on the phone. We have been plagued for weeks in Cambridge by the "I know there is something wrong with your computer, which we can fix.... I'm calling from technical support in Sumatra".
We have tried most techniques to get rid of these people .. laughing, hanging up, leading them on . . . but still they keep on coming. Last week the husband said to the woman after about 3 minutes: "Could you tell me your name, because I should tell you that I am recording this conversation for the police."
What happened then was interesting. The woman he was talking to had got as far as saying "Susannah...", when there was a male voice audible in the background, saying "Hang up straightaway".
We concluded that "Susannah" might well have been innocent; and indeed may well have thought that she WAS working for a company that sorted out people's viruses long distance. She may well have been told that people tend to be resistant, but that is because they are unwilling to accept thatthere is something wrong.
I wonder where in the world "Susannah" was (was it really Sumatra?). And was she in a pot-plant office?
Alternatively, was she being coerced into this in a seedy attic by that guy standing behind her (and no doubt behind a group of her co-workers) who told her to hang up? She certainly wasnt the one who was going to be taking the money home, that's for sure.