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Published: April 13th 2023
Several times in my life I have been on the receiving end of a scam or an attempted scam. A couple of these scams – where women have taken advantage of me - are too painful and personal for me to talk about. However, I have no qualms about sharing what happened in Mombasa, circa 1992, and what happened twice on the internet very recently.
I was a teacher at the International School of Tanganyika in Dar es Salaam between 1991 and 1995. East Africa was my playground, and I made frequent trips to Kenya. Once, by myself in Mombasa, I was sitting in an open-air restaurant when a young African man sat down opposite me and poured out his tale of woe. He was a refugee from war-torn Somalia or Sudan (I forget which) and needed money to reach Dar es Salaam, where the Anglican Cathedral was going to arrange a safe passage to Europe. He spoke English superbly well. At one point he asked me to look at and feel his knees. They were emaciated – because, he said, he had walked so far. I was in a dilemma: was he an eloquent con-artist or should I believe his story and give him money? My natural generosity defeated my misgivings; here was chance to do some good in the world, to help a poor creature in dire straits, so I gave him either $100 or $200, which I could well afford. Shortly afterwards, while enjoying a beer on the terrace of the Castle Hotel, overlooking the main street, a group of young African men passed by, laughing and joking and looking in my direction. The young man I had been generous to was among them. We made eye contact, but no words were exchanged. Obviously, he had scammed me.
Now let me relate two instances of attempted internet scams.
Last year, 2022, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, I received an email from an unknown person demanding money. If I did not pay him, he would send everyone in my Yahoo address book a video of me masturbating in front of online pornography. He said he had hacked into my laptop camera to film me doing this. To prove it, he quoted one of my passwords. It was indeed one of several passwords that I use but not an important one. Even though I never view online pornography, I was rattled. The thought of someone spying on me via my internal webcam was unsettling. I’d heard about cyber blackmail, but this was the first time I’d experienced it. What to do? Should I report him? I decided to do nothing, to completely ignore the threat. My blackmailer had probably sent the same message to numerous men, and perhaps one of them, terrified of exposure, would pay up. After a suspenseful and agonizing wait, I never heard from the blackmailer again.
And now we come to what happened yesterday, April 12th
I received a Facebook message from Bill Smith, a former teaching colleague in Tanzania. This was the first time he had messaged me. We are Facebook friends, and Bill occasionally indicates, with a thumbs-up emoticon, his appreciation of the bird photos I post each day. Bill asked me how I was doing but ended his message with a question: had I heard about his good fortune? No, I hadn’t. Bill then explained that he had been gifted $100,000 by a Federal Government program in the US. He urged me to follow suit. All I had to do, he said, was send a text message to a Facebook site and then answer some questions. If my answers were honest, I would be in line for a cash bonanza. Too good to be true, I thought, but this was Bill Smith speaking – a solid citizen whom I remembered well from our time together in Dar es Salaam.
I took his advice and texted Attorney Linda Brown, the agent in charge of distributing funds, on FB. The organization she represented “SUPPORTS AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES THAT BENEFIT LOW- AND MODERATE-INCOME CITIZENS. IN FACT, RIGHT NOW, PEOPLE ARE BEING APPROVED FOR LARGE SUMS OF MONEY TO START A BUSINESS, PAY FOR THEIR EDUCATION, MEDICAL BILLS, AND EVEN TO BUY A HOUSE.
” She asked me a series of text-message questions - name, age, address – and requested a photo of my passport. While this was going on, I was texting Bill, asking him if this was the same process he had gone through. One of his replies was: “I pray they will accept you
.” The thought that this might be a scam had crossed my mind, but the information had come from good old salt-of-the-earth Bill Smith.
The culmination of our question-and-answer session was a message telling me my application to receive money had been approved. Did I want cash or a cheque? Cash, please. Now all I had to do was to send some money – an ‘authorized delivery fee’ – and a large sum would reach me within 24 hours. Exactly how I never did find out. If I sent $1500, I would be gifted $50,000. If I sent $3000, I would receive $100,000. And so on - up to sending $100,000 in order to receive $30 million. Now I began to smell a rat. However, what about Bill Smith? He had vouched for the authenticity of the scheme, hadn’t he?
When I need sage advice, I often consult Gavin Machell, a worldly-wise man whom I have nicknamed ‘Mycroft’. I told him my story, and he instantly put his finger on what had happened. Someone had hacked into Bill Smith’s FB account and was using his name and photograph to scam gullible fools like myself. I had stopped short of handing over money, but I fear some poor souls, even more gullible than me, have been conned out of thousands of dollars.
I now checked my FB friends page and noticed there were two photos of Bill Smith. I clicked on what looked like the real Bill Smith and read a message from him: Some A#$hole has made a duplicate of me and is contacting people on my friends list. If you are a friend of mine, do not accept unless you are really lonely. You might want to check your Facebook privacy settings and lock down your friends list so nobody can do the same to you. I changed mine to "Only Me".
I have taken his advice. And I have deleted the other ‘Bill Smith’.
Reflecting on the dialogue between me and the false Bill Smith, I should have spotted something. When I asked him about JJ, our dear mutual friend in Dar, he was silent. A dead give-away that he had no idea who JJ was.
How naïve of me not to have realized the real Bill Smith had been hacked and his identity stolen. I am naive when it comes to computers and even more so when scheming women spin me lies. But that’s another story, which I am too embarrassed to make public.
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