|Friday, December 19, 2003
13:27 - Quick, find a culprit! ...No, another one!
Tim Blair links to this unintentionally hilarious Guardian column, in which Polly Toynbee freely admits to having been duped by a variant of the Nigerian spam/con game.
But it wasn't about the £200. Not long afterwards my bank received a letter with a perfect copy of my signature, giving my bank account numbers, asking for £1,000 to be transferred at once to a bank in Osaka, Japan. Luckily, the bank thought to ring me up and query it. It turned out that a host of recent scams had asked for money to be transferred to Japan and the police had alerted all banks. It took me a little while to work out how they got my signature and my bank details, but then it clicked. Sure enough, when I reported it to the police, they laughed. They knew the Sandra letters very well and the real purpose was to sting the victim's bank account. It happened again last week when my bank got another request for a £1,000 transfer to Japan and I do feel a fool. Looking back at the letters now, I can see it all. For heaven's sake, she even said both her parents had died of the ebola flesh-eating virus.
Then look where she lays the blame for it:
The NCIS claims most of the scams orginate from Nigeria or the large global Nigerian diaspora. It began small-time in the 60s and mushroomed in the 90s, with large bundles of air-mails from Nigeria; two years ago it moved on to email. Why from there? "Clever, educated people with a long history as expert traders and dealers, they don't see it as criminal but as business. And they may think westerners deserve all they get."
The line between honest and dishonest business is easily blurred. We point fingers at Nigeria, this richest and best-educated country in Africa that should be a mighty power had it not been so catastrophically misgoverned, with legendary corruption. Yet what kind of global honesty is promoted, what model of good capitalism and good government? The US is about to hold another election that will be largely bought and sold by business and oil interests. Think of the corruption that US and UK conservatives carelessly unleashed upon the former Soviet Union in the name of extreme free market ideology.
The image of capitalism now being spread about the world is cowboy stuff: little gleaned from America extols the virtue of regulation, restraint and control. We reap from the third world what we sow: if some Nigerians learned lessons in capitalism from global oil companies that helped corrupt and despoil that land, it is hardly surpising they absorbed some of the Texan oil values that now rule the White House. Alas, the querulous, navel-gazing and increasingly non-internationalist EU seems in no mood at present to offer a different and better face of capitalism to the world.
I get it. The real crooks here are thieving cowboyish oil barons... like George Bush. And the careless "capitalism" they're sifting out all over the world. Instead of the very reassuring mantra regulation, restraint and control. (Eeew.)
I've got an alternate view of what's to blame for the Nigerian scam. How about: Members of a Western society that's grown to loathe itself so much for its success, and yet who are so guiltily greedy for more, that they're willing to undertake an ostensibly "charitable" cause-- even a patently illegal or immoral one-- to try to alleviate their consciences? The people falling for these things think that through an act of charity to an unfairly put-upon Third Worlder at the mercy of Western imperialism, they're puttin' one over on the Man, and yet making a tidy sum at the same time-- yet they'd never admit it to the authorities. As Toynbee herself says, "After all, who would admit they agreed to launder Bin Laden's cash?"
It's ingenious in its design: it targets Westerners who are a) rich, b) greedy, c) dense, and d) guilt-ridden. Sounds like your typical Leftist do-gooder to me.
"Rampant capitalism" isn't the problem here-- a lack of accountability is. One can only admire the practitioners' skills in efficiently seeking out ripe targets. Sure, what they're doing isn't business-- they're just committing fraud, and in the presence of actual police efficacy and enforcement they'd be doing time right now. But the country treats this as an industry, and so these guys look at themselves as entrepreneurs. Their rationale is probably along the lines of "We're entertainers. We play our targets like instruments, and make music that sounds like cha-ching, cha-ching." If their country doesn't treat them as criminals, they won't treat themselves as criminals. Time for some good old-fashioned cultural imperialism, eh?
(This line of reasoning, incidentally, ought to appeal to people who say that the West "created" terrorism, and that the victims in the WTC were simply asking for it by being so arrogantly high up in the air. For a more ethically sound argument, how's this: The scammers are criminals, and they must be dealt with so that even the stupid need fear no scam.)
By contrast, check out commenter "Wallace" at Blair's place:
My email to the rube "Ms. Toynbee"...who by the way is so dumb as to leave her email address in html "tag" format so that every spammer in the world can reach her.
I'm in the oil business in Texas where our values include honesty, business on a hand shake basis and loyalty. Like most self absorbed European journalists, repeating jingoistic blather, it is obvious that you know nothing of what you speak. And by the way, most European journalists worth anything more than a pence have learned by now that the "cowboy" reference to anyone in the U.S. is taken as a compliment.
And at least we're not dumb enough to fall for a basic con game.
The worst tactical mistake someone can make is to imagine himself or herself so much more intelligent and moral than the opposition that the opposition isn't even worth listening to. Examination usually shows the opposite to be true.