Defend Truth


The Other News Round-Up: I Think, Therefore I Scam

Marelise van der Merwe and Daily Maverick grew up together, so her past life increasingly resembles a speck in the rearview mirror. She vaguely recalls writing, editing, teaching and researching, before joining the Daily Maverick team as Production Editor. She spent a few years keeping vampire hours in order to bring you each shiny new edition (you're welcome) before venturing into the daylight to write features. She still blinks in the sunlight.

Each week, Daily Maverick brings you some of the odder happenings from across the globe and closer to home. This week: desperate times call for scammers and con artists.

Januworry, you have to admit, has treated some of us a little worse than others. I’m not making any value judgements about who deserves what. But as we consider – a little ruefully – that there may be more month than money left, or that we could have cut back a little on those eggnogs that left us with more gut than pants, at least we are not facing a 60-day disciplinary process or being hunted down by the NPA. Hashtag Just Saying. Though many of us may feel as though we’ve had our assets frozen, it’s a different matter entirely when the AFU starts going after your Trillians. (Couldn’t resist.)

As they say, it’s tough at the top, ne? Yet there are others, less high profile, that are also trying to dig themselves out of a hole. Scammers, it seems, are at an all-time post-festive high. Stands to reason, I guess: they too have school fees to pay. No time for slouching about. There’s crime to do!

Take a peek around social media and you’ll find story after story of Average Joe (and Josephine) being taken for a ride. One memorable complaint I read involved a lady who tried to sell her bakkie, only to find the scammer was assisted by an accomplice at the bank. The admittedly naïve seller alleges the accomplice, in the guise of facilitating the selling process at the branch, assured her the money had been deposited and then hot-footed it out of there with the cash. The seller, as you may have guessed, has no receipt, and the buyer has allegedly vanished into the sunset in a haze of bakkie dust.

Then there’s disgraced Media24 journalist Janice Ohlson, who was arrested at her desk on 140 counts of fraud, reportedly for issuing fraudulent work schedule documents to the Department of Correctional Services, indicating a parolee was employed by her and an accomplice.


Ja-no, money is tight. The plus side of all this is that trouble can find a person no matter what their station. Desperate people can easily fall for a false promise, or make one. And it seems if those who walk in the grey area find themselves at a loose end, there’s always room for someone with a little ingenuity and not much shame to land on their feet. Not necessarily illegally, mind you; morals, though, are a different thing. There’s a story, which may or may not be apocryphal, about a chap who took out a classified ad reading “Last chance to send your $2,” without making any promises. As the story goes, he received a great many responses, and when respondents attempted to make a case against him, it was thrown out because he didn’t promise anything. (I first read about this years ago in Reader’s Digest and it has since made its way onto the Snopes discussion board, but no conclusions drawn. Me, I’m inclined to believe it. Human stupidity goes a long way, beaten only by the capacity for hope, and that advert has great scope to attract both.)

Now, I’m guessing the Guptas are about to see a radical change in their fortunes, but being the forgiving sort, I thought we might want to give them some advice in case they find themselves out on a limb and unable to afford any legal fees. You know – when one is in a certain level of trouble, your mobility can be restricted, which is precisely the moment when you really do want Walt Disney Jr or Bill Gates to send you a personal email promising you the chance to make millions working from home. And I’d hate them to fall victim to a scam. So I poked around the internet to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Turns out there are still a great many good scams about. Sadly, many of them are a bit less legal than the Reader’s Digest story. One I particularly enjoyed was the Neiman Marcus cookie scam, where one unfortunate lady claimed to have been tricked into paying an exorbitant $250 for an allegedly exclusive cookie recipe from Neiman Marcus. (Not even a Marco Pierre White dessert, I ask you.) At any rate, the unfortunate soul was so furious she sought revenge by sending the recipe out en masse, apparently not realising the entire purpose of the scam was that it wasn’t real. So no, we don’t think the scammers felt the burn.

Another smart attempt came from the Real Estate Marketing Tools blog, which tried to convince honest spam-haters to beat the system… by becoming spammers themselves. The genius of the scam was that it suggested users send advertisements to allegedly opt-in email clients rather than – wait for it – falling for illegal marketing tactics or scams. (Slapping knee round about now.) “That way,” the scammers offered helpfully, “you will know for sure that they are opt-in, and you will be able to manage the results.” Kind of them.

One I hadn’t heard of, which admittedly won’t be particularly useful to the Gupta brothers or anyone else needing a buck this year, was described by It’s not a money-making scheme as such, but I include it as additional assurance that there are still plenty of people about who are willing to fall for just about anything. Apparently at some stage there was great fear across the globe that “a man supposedly conducting a survey may come to your door and ask to see your bottom”. This doesn’t inspire great terror in me, seeing as I’d simply decline with thanks and close the door, but it takes all kinds, as they say.

eBay presents an opportunity in sales for anyone not willing to go the strictly illegal route, but who is comfortable with fudging the definitions a bit. There’s a great future in furniture particularly, as long as one doesn’t specify the size. Say no more:

And if all else fails, there is always the trusty email scam. Times change, but the chain letter does not. Remember that email about Bill Gates paying you out to help with market research? “I thought this was a scam myself, but two weeks after receiving this e-mail and forwarding it on, Microsoft contacted me for my address and within days, I received a cheque for US$24, 800.00. If anyone can afford this Bill Gates is the man. It’s all marketing expense to him. Please forward this to as many people as possible. You are bound to get at least US$10, 000.00. Like I said before, I know the law, and this is for real …” Adorned with a photo of Halle Berry, because she makes everything come true.

As a friend of mine deadpanned at the time: “I didn’t even have to forward this e-mail and Microsoft sent me $7,000,000,000.03!!!!  Bill Gates has got so much money that he could give every person on earth seven billion US dollars and three cents and STILL have enough money to take his wife and kids for a Mackers at least twice a week. I heard that he could actually bring people back from the dead!  Or was that Star Wars Episode 3?”

All of which leads me to wonder whether we shouldn’t suggest a crowd-sourcing chain mail for the Guptas, before they entirely disappear off our radar. Heck, we’re writers. We can help, surely?

With apologies to the Nigerian Astronaut who wants to Come Home

Dear Mr Sir


I am Mr Varun Gupta, nephew of the businessman Atul Gupta and representatives of the brothers Atul, Rajesh and Ajay Gupta. My family were pioneers of radical economic transformation in post-apartheid South Africa. We were captured by wizards at Harry Pottinger School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and held captive to forces of evil. After years of persecution we jumped on the flight ZS-Oak in an attempt to escape. We aimed for Dubai but instead landed in the sands of time. Now we are stuck here, wandering the desert. We tried to walk home but we are very tired. We were robbed of our passports, traveller’s cheques and also the state we captured.

In the years since we left South Africa, money has been accumulating in a number of offshore accounts and we now have US$ 2,209,349,589,342,298,098,987,987,345 and 30 cents. We have to get rid of this money fast before we are caught with it. This can be verified by examining real and authentic bank statement attached. It is stamped by government of South Africa and also embassy of Dubai, because we miraculously have internet access in our stranded plane in the middle of the desert, and also we walked to the embassy, before walking back here and continuing to be lost without money. Except for the money we do have, of course.

It has come to our attention that you are the lucky beneficiary of the Gupta fortune. All you have to do is send $500 to the PayPal account below, and a screen shot of an email saying “voetsek” to the NPA. Then we can send you the money to keep safe.

Kindly expedite action soonest as we are behind schedule in transferring the money to you.

With kindest thanks

Varun Gupta

No, really – don’t thank us, though. Consider it our small thank you for keeping us busy for the past year. DM


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