Joseph Bloggs

Online home of Joseph Talbot: Little Briton

Main menu

Confronting Scammers

6 April 2007 - 3:26pm -- Joseph

Over the last couple of weeks I've gradually become aware that a few of HINT's internet cafe customers seem to be engaging in email scams. I'd noticed that a couple of guys were looking at small ads sites in Europe and the States, which seemed a little irregular. I kept an eye out (because I was concerned and because attitudes to privacy are quite different here...) and it became clear that they were indeed running scams.

The scam centered on private sales of pets, one guy dealing with exotic birds, the other concentrating on dogs. They both had email addresses with female identities, and were sending multiple emails about non-existent pets. I spoke to Genesis about this, and we both agreed that we needed to act, both to protect HINT from becoming associated with such activities and also out of a moral imperative.

We locked one guy out of his machine while he was working and called him into Genesis' office. We explained that we monitor internet activity in our centre to prevent inappropriate use of the Internet, and explained what we suspected him of doing. I expected him to deny what he was up to, but to my surprise he didn't. He looked rather ashamed and explained that he didn't like what he was doing, but he didn't have a job or any means of income and that friends had explained the scam to him and encouraged him to give it a go. We told him that he must stop doing what he was doing, as it was stealing. He agreed and said that he would stop. How genuine this promise was, I have no idea. He gave me the username and password of the email he was using, and I changed the password to it. We offered to help him get a job by providing them with IT training, which he seemed interested in pursuing.

Later that day we repeated the process with a second guy. This one responded more as I would have expected: an initial half-hearted denial which I strongly rebutted, followed by a guilty silence, lack of eye contact while picking at his fingernails. This encounter involved a lot more long awkward pauses where we waited for a responses that weren't forthcoming. He wasn't being defiant, there was obvious just nothing that he could think of saying. We made the same pleas to desist, and the same offer of training, which we told him to think about, he thanked us sheepishly and left. Unfortunately I forgot to get this guy's email addresses off of him to deactivate them, an unfortunate oversight on my part.

What else could I do? We offered to help them get jobs by providing them with IT training, which the first guy seemed interested in, and assured them that such activity would not be tolerated in our office. We could have banned them, but there are other internet cafes in Buea they could use. Going to the police really wouldn't have been a viable option, trust me...

It was quite a strange situation I found myself in. Whilst I was keeping an eye on these guys, and it was obvious that they were running scams to part innocent and dimwitted AOL users from their hard currency, I felt anger and contempt towards these people. How dare these people come in here and use of machines to commit fraud! How can they set out to steal deliberately deceive people and steal from them? How can they be so bad at typing? Don't they know how to copy and paste? However, once we had confronted them, I mostly felt sorry for them. Obviously the sob story of their circumstance could equally apply to many other local people, most of whom work hard and do what they can to earn what they can. Perhaps their promises to stop scamming were genuine, perhaps not, but their look of shame was real enough. They were obviously shocked to be confronted directly and in person about what they were doing. The degree of separation which the Internet provides was ripped away from them, and suddenly they were sitting shame-faced in an office being scolded like naughty schoolchildren. In truth that's all we could really do; tell them off and say 'not on our patch'. Nevertheless, I think the confrontation and the knowledge that their activities are not as hidden as they thought may make them think twice about continuing to be a scammer. At least, that's what I hope...


I think that was the best approach to take. Let's hope they have learned from the experience.

Perhaps this will lead to hoards of inept scammers hoping to be offered free training. :-)

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.