The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Monday, March 17, 2014


By the Way

Reply me now, you are inheritance wilting

Is it only journalists who regularly receive sad news?  Anon keeps texting me that Dad’s had an accident, is in hospital and wants me to call.  Unfortunately he can’t get a new phone card, so can I help?

Absolutely.  I’ll pay anything for a chat as the Old Man has been dead more than a decade and there’s some unfinished business we both need to fix.

Don’t cry for me, Indonesia. Although Dadless there’s no call for tears because I have many fine friends, including Cecelia Rosaline-Lum, Stanley Prince and Tunner Waters. Then there’s Turcan Napley, Rucas Omego and Ban Luwis.

As befits folk with redoubtable names they are legal executors, investors overstocked with wealth or dethroned royals seeking hideaways to hold their gold. 

They like me so much they’re keen to share their good fortune with an orphan writer rather than a deserving child, Oxfam or even a home for stray dogs. 

All I need to do is pay the fees to release the funds. Only Western Union, thanks.

By now you’ll have logged on that these philanthropists live in Nigeria, a country I’ve never visited, and where the scammer is probably better known as Jones Goodluck Ogunfowora.

Imagine how his day evolves.  After a breakfast of egusi soup, hugging his kids and kissing his wife, he heads to the factory of fraud. He clicks on, wipes flyspots off the flatscreen and hits qwerty.

Today Jones has to knock up another hundred names that hint of wealth and substance.  These he adds to plausible letters and e-mails to millions of stolen addresses, trawling for the gullible.

If not fortunes, threats. The FBI, Microsoft, Immigration, Taxation and a queue of banks I’ve never used keep warning of a fiscal firestorm unless I update my account  password.

Then there are the competitions.  The good news is there’s no need to enter to win, or chase the results.  The organizers will track you through cyberspace to present the prize, though local taxes have to be paid first, including to the ‘UN Police Report Fund Clearance.’

What an authoritative title, clearly legal and trustworthy.  Good one, Goodluck.

His trouble is that the prey are waking up.  Anyone who’s been owed money knows it’s easier to open a zealot’s closed mind than a debtor’s wallet.

Life experience makes us doubt that strangers might be so generous.  Though maybe, just maybe, could it be possible, just this once? There are exceptions to every rule, aren’t there? Stranger things have happened. Right? 

The donor could be an eccentric with money to gift and by chance has selected my e-mail.   Hooking just one innocent might make it all worthwhile. And it’s not always the avaricious who get hauled to the surface.

Sister Enhambre Maribel Guso, a trusting nun in Flores has reportedly been relieved of Rp 820 million (US $ 68,000). She believed the people who wanted to donate to her charity first had to be paid to open accounts.

My mother-in-law, a normally cautious lady, got snared by a scheme to win kitchenware through buying cellphone top ups.  She had to call through the receipt numbers to see if she’d won.

She hadn’t, but the deceiver had by harvesting the digits needed to keep his own phone in credit.

The e-mail scammers are smarter than sunburn – except for one critical area.  They may have passed computer science with straight A grades, but they sure flunked English correspondence. 

Potential victims might be impressed by the standout logo and page layout, but no sober person has ever called me ‘Most Honored Sir’ or ‘Respected Gentleman’. 

I might have bitten had Dingo Smith written: ‘G’day mate – your e mail has won $500 K. Flick us your bank account number and password and we’ll do the rest.  Have a good one.’

How sad that people like Jones and his Indonesian counterpart Djoni Gagal, so creative and technically smart, labor on the dark side.  Like drone pilots they never see close up the damage they can inflict.

If they applied their significant skills to good works how much happier we’d all be – even without a windfall million dollars in our accounts.   

(First published in The Jakarta Post 16 March 2014)

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