By Dr. Terry Lacey – Jakarta
One of the marvelous features of the internet age is the ability of people from all over the world to write to me even though I don’t know them, especially in this festive season.
In a world where we hear too often of strife between different religions, races and nations I am impressed that so many people are writing to me, from so many countries, to ask if they can put large sums of money in my bank account.
They seem united across the boundaries of faith, race, nation and politics in their determination to lead me to rapid and substantial enrichment. They only ask that I send them the personal details they need to set me up as the claimant for millions of unclaimed U.S. dollars lying dormant, and tragically unattended, mostly in Burkina Fasso, West Africa, which must have enormous liquidity.
The owners of these funds are unfortunately deceased, wiped out with their entire families in well documented disasters, leaving large amounts of disposable cash which are waiting almost at the drop of a pin, or the filling in of a little form, to be liberated. To avoid being selfish, funds could partly go to children´s homes, hospices, or the unemployed.
Tragically many of these busy bankers, or their wives, relatives and look-alikes are either terminally ill or devastatingly damaged by dreadful events in far off lands. I wonder how these suffering cyber saints are able to spend any of their busy time thinking of me and my neglected material needs.
Surprisingly many of these dedicated Internet philanthropists, seem to have the same job in the same bank in Ougadougou, the capital of Burkina Fasso, which must have an amazing minute-by-minute rapid staff turnover, perhaps due to excessive heat (working with hot money?), heavy workload, or otherwise poor working conditions.
My amazing potential good fortune, as yet sadly unrealized, depends upon the unstinting efforts of correspondents such as Sani Mustapha who says he is the Head of the File Department in the Bank of Africa in Ougadougou. He says the proposed liberation of funds by me pretending to be related to someone else (unspecified) should be hitch free and that I should not entertain an atom of fear about it.
Sani explains he was divinely directed to contact me after much prayer and fasting. If I could just stand in as a relative of the deceased and send him all my data, then he would only need 60 percent of the $18.5 million dollars for himself “and a women colleague”. In the midst of all this complexity, he still has time to think of assisting a member of the gentler gender.
Strangely Mr Ibrahim Ama, writing from an e mail address in France, has the same job and exactly the same idea, along with Dr Adad Amad, who more specifically wants me to be the relative of a deceased Lebanese person. My French would be up to it, but my Arabic a bit rusty. I don’t look very Lebanese. More Irish. I could claim to be a distant Lebanese-Irish cousin , I suppose.
Samanya Dominic Dim Deng from the Sudan wrote to me with a similar story. Her father, a Chin ease general (could be Chinese?) had died, leaving a family row and a bank deposit in Ougadougou. But it all has to be hush hush, because she is being pursued by her weaked uncle — sounds wicked!
I also heard recently from a Russian, Mr Nickolay Sintsov, who wrote to let me know that he had $40.4 million dollars and needed someone to help him look after it, and was hiding out in Ougadougou in Burkina Faso “because it was a remote country".
But not remote enough. I used to Iive in Lome, Togo, West Africa and have already visited Ougadougou. Even more strangely, when I married my wife in Jakarta Indonesia we did not have our honeymoon in Bali like most normal people, but we flew to an upcoming honeymoon destination – Ougadougou.
At first my wife thought that we were in the middle of nowhere. But then we went in the little Lebanese supermarket opposite our apartment and there on the shelf were Indomie instant noodles from Indonesia. Nowhere is nowhere any more. The world has been traversed by the same noodles.
There are three possible explanations for the enormous volume and diversity of this cyber community of aspiring, potential and actual criminals dedicated to emptying our bank accounts.
The first is that these are spontaneous networks of enterprising individuals representing small, medium and micro-enterprises, scattered across the internet cafes of the world, who are merely trying to make ends meet in an innovative manner, by only taking money from people daft enough to give it to them.
The second and more likely is that this sequenced dissemination and processing of high volume E mails, followed by standard or semi-standard dialogues leading to the acquisition of enough hard information from the victims to facilitate the fraudulent emptying of their bank accounts is actually run by organized crime using sometimes advanced computer techniques. The law of probabilities means that every now and then they land a fish, enough to keep them fishing.
The third and on the face of it least likely, but quite fascinating explanation is that these E Mails all come from one source, and all the money generated proceeds back to one destination. How could that be?
There is a rumor in cyber space that the origin of nearly all these front-up scams is actually Vera Bringmitzel. Not a bespectacled prodigiously busy retired post-mistress and dedicated computer hacker from North London, with a high capacity laptop, handbag full of USB memory chips and time to kill. But a computer program, the epitome of artificial intelligence, applied to the noble art of robbing banks.
Vera (Virus for the Electronic Recuperation of Assets) was apparently created at the end of the Cold War as a secret weapon to empty the bank accounts of North Korean senior bank, state and military officials in an attempt to bring down Kim Il Sung by laudable non military means. However for various reasons (linguistic, cultural and infrastructural) Vera did not work very well in North Korea.
It was realized that North Korea would first have to become more developed and capitalist for Vera to really take off there. So she failed in the country she was aimed at. But to the surprise of her creators, once they lost her and she was liberated into cyberspace, she worked pretty well everywhere else.
But for an accident of fate Vera would have stayed in the safe with the agency that created her.
However, according to the rumors, the chip containing Vera, whose surname is Bringmitzel because she always brings a little something back, was accidentally mislaid during a protracted golfing lunch somewhere in Virginia, and then fell into the hands of a part-time steak house waitress who was also a survivalist non-smoking vegetarian computer enthusiast, called Nancy.
Nancy (an alias of course) was not averse to making use of her good fortune in acquiring Vera for her personal enrichment, so as to support a variety of alternative agendas and her best friends, whilst also making a contribution to the destruction of capitalism. With great common sense she also kept up her job, despite a vast increase in her income, so as to avoid suspicions.
The result is that Vera, who is capable of intelligent thought, adaptation and electronic reproduction is on a global rampage to identify more victims and find out enough from her clients so that she can empty more and more bank accounts at an exponentially increasing pace. She has done particularly well in the USA but also in the UK, Iceland and Equador, and not badly in Hungary, South Korea and Japan.
So there is the possibility that the global banking crisis has actually been caused, not only by imprudent bank lending and toxic mortgages but also by the super-charged electronic ravages of Vera Bringmitzel.
Of course it is too fantastic to believe that Vera Bringmitzel is sending all of these criminally purposive E Mails and that she might just be a clever piece of artificial intelligence software brilliantly designed around the weaknesses of the human race. Who could possibly believe that so many people would place so much trust, and take such huge risks with their bank accounts and money, by trusting messages about complex financial deals from far away banks and far away people, promising them huge and almost instant profits, for almost no effort, without knowing what they were getting into ?
Could Vera Bringmitzel possibly be true? Could she be burrowing into your bank account right now?
-Dr. Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta, Indonesia, on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking.(email@example.com)