No atom of risk connected to this scam

Incredible news, everyone. I am heir to a business tycoon who died in 2008 along with his family in Myanmar. His attorney-at-law now needs my help to release US$6.4 million that is trapped in an overseas bank account.

This was revealed to me in a letter sent from Spain. According to the letter there is “no atom of risk connected to this business.” The poet in me appreciates that nod of eloquence. It almost makes up for “the urgency of this claim have prone me to send you this unsolicit response.”

This is the first time I recall getting one of these letters in the post. They more often arrive as spam email from a Nigerian prince or from a Russian love interest I never knew I had.

I find it hard to believe that anyone falls for this kind of scam. The gambit seems so transparently dodgy. But then, 6 million dollars is a lot of money to risk missing out on. Sometimes a brief flash of “what if?” is enough to turn the most cynical of us into suckers.

Fortunately it is easy to throw away a scam letter or hit delete on an email. More aggravating are those phone calls we get at dinnertime: “Hello I am calling from Microsoft. There is a virus on your computer.”

They are not calling from Microsoft. They are liars who are trying to panic me into letting them prowl through my computer. It is akin to a fraudster who turns up on your doorstep and fools you into giving him a spare house key. Don’t let him in. Slam the phone in his face.

Phone scams like this infuriate me on behalf of the vulnerable people that probably do get sucked in. If in doubt, hang up. It is socially acceptable to hang up the phone on scammers.

Sometimes I play along by pretending to follow their instructions while I’m actually just washing the dishes. When I get bored I tell them I have a Mac, not a Windows computer. At that point they cut the line.

Other times I pretend I can’t hear them. “Hello? Hello? Are you there?”

Mostly I can’t be bothered and I hang up straight away.

It is more difficult to cut off genuine telemarketers. They begin by sounding like someone I should probably know, so I say hello and then it is too late – I am caught in their opening spiel. Telemarketing spiels are crafted with meticulous care to make them hard to interrupt.

I had a call recently where the telemarketer said: “You don’t need to pay anything upfront. All you have to do is answer yes to my next question and your 12-month membership will start immediately along with a free 6-month subscription to the magazine of your choice. So, Mr Currin, does that offer sound good to you?”

I’m sure there are evil social scientists in laboratories cooking up new ways to manipulate people into making snap financial decisions over the phone.

I resent their sneaky tactics, even for worthy causes. Charities do it too. “Are you aware of the plight of the blind orphans who lost all of their teddy bears in a warehouse fire?” All of the guilt in the world then gets funnelled into their killer question: “So, Mr Currin, can these children rely on your help today?”

It forces you into a corner: No, they cannot rely on my help today because I am quite obviously a horrible, selfish human being.

You find yourself justifying your family’s financial situation to a total stranger.

There is no subtle way for a charity to ask for money. If they don’t ask we won’t give. I understand that, and I believe charity is important, but my general rule is never to commit to any purchase, donation or decision over the phone. Especially at dinnertime.

First published in Bay of Plenty Times 24 July 2015. Reproduced with permission.