Saturday, 29 September 2012


If I watch, without intervening, as a crime is committed, am I guilty as well? If I see my neighbour’s house being burgled and don’t call the police, am I in the wrong? If I watch a man beating up his wife and I don’t do something to stop it, should I be ashamed?

If I see, as part of my work, clear evidence of either a crime or just something very suspicious, should I do anything about it?

Let’s take an example. Let’s say that as part of my work, I discover that a colleague of mine obtained his or her position, or perhaps a promotion, based on a doctorate he obtained from a fake university. Let’s say it’s one of the many online, non-accredited, degrees-for-money establishments like the “Universities” calling themselves Rochville, Headway or Belford.

These are all just web sites that “award” you a degree for nothing more than a credit card payment. You do no coursework, sit examinations, attend no lectures or seminars, you don’t, in fact, learn anything. Except perhaps some criminal skills. Because this IS criminal. If someone obtains a financial benefit as a result of a lie then they’re a fraudster.

So if you did discover that a colleague had one of these fake qualifications what would you do? Would you keep quiet, assuming it was none of your business? Would you discuss it with the person? Would you go to your boss and explain what you’d discovered? What you call the cops?

It’s not my job to be a moral guardian and say what I think you should do in such a situation. However I do think you should do something, not nothing. I think that if you’re aware of a serious crime and you do nothing then you’re ever so slightly complicit in the crime.

Let’s think of anther example.

Imagine you work in a bank and you spot a strange pattern of payments in a customer’s account. Let’s say that the account had received many deposits, all of exactly the same amount. I don’t mean someone’s salary going in each month, I mean very large numbers of payments all for exactly P2,700, perhaps hundreds of them every month. This couldn’t be a small shop cashing the day’s takings, the amounts were all exactly the same amount. Wouldn’t you be suspicious?

Wouldn’t you also be suspicious when you looked at the account and found that it contained millions, literally millions? I think you’d be right to assume that this was an account that was being misused, particularly when you could see that money wasn’t actually ever leaving the account and there were certainly no payments to the tax collectors.

Another example. Imagine you work in one of those companies that specialise in sending money around the world. The agencies you might use if you want to send money to your kid studying abroad. Imagine that while working there you saw several people every day sending large amounts of money to far-flung parts of the world. Imagine one person explained that they were sending money to a relative she hadn’t known of until recently but who had approached her on Facebook, got to know her and then suddenly had a financial crisis requiring her help. Imagine another person came in saying he was sending P100,000 to EurExTrade, a known Ponzi scheme. Despite telling him that you couldn’t do transfers that big and taking the time to warn him that it was a scam, he made it clear that he find some other way of sending the money. Several other customers were sending money to join pyramid schemes like TVI Express and Cashflow Pro. Other customers you’ve dealt with made it clear that the money they were sending was a prelude to receiving an inheritance, a massive windfall or a fantastic new job in an exotic country, far, far away.

What would your responsibility be? Is it your duty to step in and stop these people sending money to scammers or should you just shut up and take the commission?

The sad thing is that none of these examples are hypothetical. Each of them is entirely true, told to me in the last few weeks by the people themselves. The employee who discovered their colleague bought himself a fake degree from the University of Rochville, the bank employee who knows that one of their customers is running a pyramid scheme and making herself incredibly rich and the money transfer company employee who sees victims sending their life savings to a scammer, they’re all real.

Of course there are some protections. Banks are obliged to report suspicious transactions to their central bank, in our case the Bank of Botswana who can then investigate and get the necessary authorities involved. Likewise the money transfer agencies.

But is this happening? Given the enormous scale of the frauds being committed, the number of people falling for the EurExTrade scam, the number of people still sending money to scammers and pyramid schemes how often do we hear of the authorities stepping in and exercising their powers, in fact their responsibilities, to stop this happening or to prosecute the offenders?

Not very often. In fact hardly at all.

I honestly don’t know why this is. I’ve met many of the people working in the organisations empowered and entrusted with our protection and they’re bright people. With the exception of NBFIRA and BOTA I don’t recall the last time one of these regulators publicly banned a pyramid scheme I’d ever heard of, or warned the public to stop sending their money to a Ponzi scheme or scammer.

We’ve largely been left alone I’m afraid. It’s up to you and me to warn others of the risks they face. It’s up to the media, newspapers like Mmegi in particular, to do it for them. We’ll continue to do it but it’s not the way it’s meant to be.

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