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Passport data pageGreat news! I have recently found out that someone in Canada died (that’s not great news, obvi­ously, but stay with me), and that they have no next of kin (that’s still not it), and that if I play my cards right and cooper­ate with a man who is the extern­al aud­it­or for the Office of the Super­in­tend­ent of Fin­an­cial Insti­tu­tions, I can get my mitts on US$21.5 mil­lion! (That was it — the great news.)

Sit down, now, because what I’m about to say might come as a shock: this email was not really sent from the Cana­dian OSFI. It was, in fact, not even sent from Canada! Does any­one really fall for a scam like this?

Accord­ing to fig­ures released in June, New Zeal­anders lost more than $4 mil­lion over the past 12 months to scams. Net­safe New Zea­l­and told me that it was $1.7 mil­lion in May of this year alone. There are some com­plex, long-game oper­a­tions in play that demon­strably net res­ults for the per­pet­rat­ors. How­ever, the example I give here is not one of them.

In his email, the scam­mer gives his name as Dav­id Geletey and he includes a con­tact phone num­ber. I decided to ring it, just to see what would hap­pen next.

In my day job I work as break­fast host at a loc­al radio sta­tion, so I called ‘Dav­id’ from our stu­dio and hit record, just in case he answered the phone, which I was cer­tain he would nev­er, nev­er, ever, ever, ever do. But he did.

Hello?” He sounds groggy. I ima­gine him rolling off a messed-up stretch­er bed into a pile of cigar­ette butts, grap­pling with on old wig­gly-chorded dial tele­phone and rub­bing his face.

Hi,” I say. “Is that David?”

Long pause as he blinks awake and kicks empty beer bottles to one side. “Oh yeah. Yeah, this is Dav­id.” What with the vague, slightly hun­gov­er lazi­ness in his tone, this sounds offi­cial. I can almost smell his morn­ing breath down the phone line. It’s worth not­ing here that Dav­id may well be Cana­dian but he speaks with a very strong West Afric­an accent, and the phone num­ber I’m call­ing is a Pennsylvania one.

Long story short: Dav­id and I speak on the phone four times over four morn­ings and I record every call. By the third call he seems delighted to hear from me, and why wouldn’t he? I’m fall­ing into his clev­er trap! Each time we pro­gress things a little fur­ther until he emails me a not-very-leg­al-look­ing con­tract and a pic­ture of what he says is his pass­port. At this point he tells me he will send details of a US-based law­yer who will make the money hap­pen. That law­yer will need an advance pay­ment. Ahh­h­hh… there it is.

In our fourth phone call I try this: “I don’t want to find out that this is a scam.”

Wha?? Ohh­h­hh, Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve. No, no, no, no.” Fair enough. Repeat­ing my name and the word ‘no’ over and over again has con­vinced me.

By now this has played out on the radio for nearly a week. In our fifth and final call I tell Dav­id the truth and I con­front him, ask­ing if he’ll admit the scam and tell me his real name. He doesn’t.

This par­tic­u­lar scam is known as the ‘419’ after a clause in Nigeri­an law — there’s plenty about it online if you want to look. It’s been in oper­a­tion in one form or anoth­er since the mid-1980s and the only reas­on it’s still done is this: some­times it works. More import­antly, there are oth­er scams with an even big­ger hit rate. In my week on air doing ‘Scam Watch’, a num­ber of listen­ers called to tell me about friends who’d been fooled by duplic­ate Face­book pages, long-dis­tance ‘love’ found on dat­ing web­sites, offi­cial-look­ing let­ters from com­pan­ies ask­ing you to con­firm secur­ity details, pay­ing for pack­ages that don’t exist and so on. There are hun­dreds of them.

Scam­mers are scum, but — unlike Dav­id — they’re not always dumb. Nev­er give money to someone you haven’t met, nev­er hand out a pin or pass­word, and if you have doubts, call Net­safe or the Com­merce Commission.

Steve Joll

Steve works as part of the breakfast show on wellington's The Breeze radio station. In past lives he's been a sports journalist for ONE News, a presenter on iconic children's show What Now and one heck of a forecourt attendant. He has three kids: a talkative son (Theo), aged six, and twin daughters (Margaux and Lila), aged three. He adores them and yet is counting down the days until they leave home. It seems a long way off.

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