Friday 25 July 2008

Don’t believe anything

It’s been a very lucky month so far.

First of all I learned that someone in Nigeria had died and all I had to do was respond to the unsolicited email from his poor unfortunate widow, son, daughter or pet cat (I can’t remember which) and I would get a share of the dead relative’s immense fortune that had, inexplicably, got itself stuck in a bank account somewhere.

Quite how this unfortunate person had found my details wasn’t made clear but who could fail to be moved this sad story of woe? Who could fail then to offer their personal banking details or to send over the “advance fee” that all of these messages eventually require from their naïve, unsuspecting and hopelessly gullible victims?

Then there was the later email I got from a representative of the World Bank. Well actually he claimed to represent the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Lottery Organisation and the World International Debt Reconciliation Committee. He probably also represented the United Nations, the League of Nations and The Holy Goat for all I know.

His message was cryptic but promising. Apparently they had “uncovered an outstanding unpaid/unclaimed sum of money in your name and a mandate has been given to our commitee, World Debt Reconciliation Committee, to contact you for the payment of your funds”. He told me that as soon as made contact with him my “Inheritance and Lottery Winning prize fund will be paid without any hitch”. What could be more exciting?

However it did strike me as slightly curious that despite representing almost every international organisation in the world apart from the Boy Scouts he was emailing me from a Hong Kong Yahoo address. Still, maybe that’s rising prices for you.

I made contact with this very important international representative and he asked me whether I would like the money delivered to my doorstep or whether I want to go to Spain to collect it from him personally. I’ve selected the doorstep option. I’ll let you know if, by any chance, a suitcase full of cash arrives. Somehow I suspect it won’t but maybe I’m just sceptical and not, as he hopes, gullible, naïve and idiotic.

The next incident like this happened just a few days ago when someone called us at Consumer Watchdog to ask our advice after he received an exciting text message on his phone. The message was very simple. Our caller had won a Toyota Landcruiser. All he had to do was call a number that turned out to be in Tanzania and the car would be his. Our rather smart caller was sceptical. So were we. When we looked closely, the message had come from a Kenyan number so why would we need to call a Tanzanian one?

More importantly there was a bigger point. A sad one. A truly tragic realisation that, sooner or later, we all have to accept.

Nobody is ever going to give you a free Landcruiser. It’s simply not going to happen, not ever. It never has happened and it never will happen. So give up hoping now.

The lesson from all of these messages is that miracles really don’t happen. You’ll never actually get millions from anonymous Nigerians. Nobody is going to send you a lottery payout for a lottery you didn’t enter. International organisations don’t just go round giving total strangers suitcases full of cash. They really don’t.

Then there was the last email I got that almost falls into the same category. This was the loathsome one, the one that really made me angry. All the others had either made me laugh or had depressed me when I was reminded of the incredible gullibility that abounds.

This was an old-fashioned chain email from South Africa. It began with the scary suggestion that “The Government is planning to close the child protection unit and this is a petition against it”. It then proceeded to give details of revolting cases of child murder, rape and abuse. The email had pictures attached that claimed to show the dismembered body of a baby although I’ve no idea what relevance this had to the child protection unit. I’ll be honest, I didn’t open the pictures because I have a perfectly clear idea of what horror looks like and I don’t need to be reminded.

The email is a lie. A complete and utter lie. The South African Government has absolutely no plans to close any child protection service. A quick Google search found a statement from the South African Police Service begging people to stop circulating these awful pictures and the lying email because it’s taking up their time when they should be out there catching criminals.

I couldn’t help but observe something about this and other hysterical South African emails I’ve received in the past. I don’t think any black people were on the circulation list. Every surname I could read was what you might call a “traditionally white” surname. Of course this is a very crude assumption but you probably get my point. There’s a nasty hint of racism in this type of email. There’s a hint of that feeling that is still apparent in what I hope is a small section of our South African cousins that the “black” government are doing nasty and wicked things like failing to protect children, unlike in the “Good Old Days”.

Like all unsolicited contacts from strangers we consumers have to remain sceptical. Nothing is for free, nobody is going to give you a fortune unless you’ve earned it and just because something appears in an email, don’t assume it’s true because very often it’s just a damnable lie.

This week’s stars!

  • Thandie Maitlhoko from Mascom at Riverwalk for being friendly and for going the extra mile.
  • Mrs V Botlhale from Department of Taxes for being understanding, jolly and helpful.
  • Eric also from Taxes for being helpful, chatty and friendly. Our reader asks “What is it about this Department that makes them so good”? We’re going to find out!

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