Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cruel to be kind

Police say the couple responded to an email from a man who said he had access to oil stock investments but needed money to get to them.

The couple, who did not question his credentials, believed the man's story because he claimed to belong to their church.

"There was every possible indicator there that this was a scam but they simply didn't want to believe it," a police spokesman said. He described the couple as "very, very gullible".

"Police had a heck of a time convincing them they were the victims of a scam. It's unbelievable. In the end police had to send them a formal letter with very strong wording telling them what was going on."
To what extent is it the responsibility of the Police to protect people who are (a) stupid and (b) greedy from themselves? After all, 419 scams have been happening since the early 1990s. People who are still being fooled really need to get out more often, although then they probably would be persuaded to play Find the Lady by card sharps, or tricked into buying a pig in a poke or magic beans.

But then, the stupid will always be with us and perhaps we do have some social responsibility to ensure that they do not pauperise themselves by simple acts of cretinism. However, must we protect them from their greed? After all, most 419 scams involve a variant on the old Spanish Prisoner story: the mark is asked for a large sum of money which will be used illegally to obtain an even larger sum; the mark's reward will be a cut of the loot. Usually, the mark is asked to provide money for bribes or other expenses that will be incurred in removing money from the state bank of an African country. So, these victims - who will now be protected by a specialist police unit - are people who are quite willing to advance money to facilitate the illegal expatriation of public money from a Third World Country, in order to enrich themselves.

Don't the Police have better things to do? Far from helping these people commit imaginary crimes, should not they be confiscating their savings before they do any more damage?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i read a great study arguing that 419s are inspired by an old French scam.

apparently the format of the emails and letters is strikingly similar to one being used by C18th charlatans - i.e. "i am a prince who was robbed, but have the only key to chest of jewels hidden in the chateau de cardboard"

so... it looks a lot like stupid is as stupid does.