Friday 6 February 2009

Another scam - "The John Major Foundation"

I’m depressed. I really am. It’s not the recession that’s depressing me, in fact I think that’s a great challenge that I’m sure we can rise to. It’s not rising food prices that are troubling me although I do think that’s a worry and I think we should expect more from Government. No, before you misunderstand me I do NOT think it’s Government’s job to step in and dictate what food should cost, what farmers should grow or where it can be sold. That’s the Zimbabwean Government’s approach and that’s why our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters are starving. What Government should be doing, in my slightly humble opinion, is encouraging us to become a little bit more self-sufficient.

Why isn’t the Ministry of Agriculture distributing leaflets educating us on growing our own food? They employ agricultural specialists, surely they can give us guidance on growing veg at home? If every one of us started growing some spinach, some tomatoes, some fruit, we wouldn’t be hugely successful farmers but we WOULD save a little money, we would have some delicious food and we would contribute just a little bit towards our environment.

No, that’s not what’s depressing me.

It’s scams again. Normally I’m either amused or angered by scam artists. I get outraged and start writing about it, posting guides on our web site and doing something constructive. This time I’m depressed.

On 22nd January Mmegi reported on what seemed like a minor triumph. A Francistown-based theatre group called Ghetto Artists announced that they were flying to London courtesy of the John Major Foundation to contribute towards a conference on HIV/AIDS. You may remember that John Major was the Prime Minister of the UK and this foundation was his brainchild. Ghetto Artists are a theatre group who do lots of community activism work to help spread the message on HIV/AIDS.

So far so good, a very pleasing news story about one of our local groups doing well for themselves and being recognised for doing good work.

On the 29th January Mmegi reported on the story again but this time there had been a disappointment. They were informed by a certain Reverend Charles Wilson from the Foundation that he had:

“a privileged report that they received from British metropolitan police stating that ‘some participants who will be arriving in London are planning to carry out an act of terrorism’.”

As a result the trip had been postponed.

When I read this alarm bells began to ring in my head. I know London well, I lived there for over a decade. The Police in London don’t go around giving secret briefings to anyone, even if they are a foundation apparently run by the former Prime Minister.

So I started Googling. The John Major Foundation has a web site but curiously it didn’t work. Using a few Internet tricks I was able to dig a little further. The web site ( is registered to an address in guess where. London?

No. It’s registered to an address in Lagos, Nigeria. Are the alarm bells ringing yet?

Dig a little wider and you find that there is simply no such organisation as the John Major Foundation. This is a scam.

So I called Ghetto Artists and spoke to their co-ordinator. Understandably she was very upset to hear of the scam. Rather optimistically I asked her to confirm that she hadn’t given them any money, had she?

Too late, she had. They had already sent them P18,000 for accommodation costs.

That’s the key objective of this sort of scam. It’s the “advance fee”. It doesn’t really matter how the scam works exactly but at some point in almost all of these scams the scammer will ask you for money up front. It might be a transfer fee for a bank transaction, legal fees or in this case accommodation costs that’s what the scammer is really looking for.

Tragically this case had, as it’s victims, some good people doing good work. Of course, you might argue that they had been naive and gullible but that doesn’t make it their fault. The real crooks are the Nigerian scumbags who have ripped off a group of decent, dedicated people. That should never be forgotten.

I suggested to Ghetto Artists that they should call the Police and make a complaint. Of course there’s very little the Police can do, there’s virtually no way they’ll get the money back. However the more people that come forward to talk about being scammed the less likely someone else is to fall for it. It’s also important that the Police and any other authorities can measure the scale of the problem. We’ve all heard of people becoming victims of these scams but nobody can really say how many there are.

Maybe if they had this sort of information the authorities could start co-ordinating their actions, maybe even talking to the Nigerian High Commission about action that can be taken in Nigeria and perhaps even educating the public about these scams.

However that’s not going to happen, is it? I’m afraid we still need to rely on the media, on Mmegi, on Consumer Watchdog but more importantly on ourselves, on our own skepticism, on our own judgement.

If you’ve been scammed please consider letting us know so we can help spread the word to other people and help them avoid falling for it.

You can see more about scams and how to avoid them on our web site.

This week’s stars
  • Tepho at BBI for brilliant service and being polite, helpful and knowledgeable
  • Good at Mascom for excellent service

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