Making new friends via spam


By Mark Thomas 

For the fourth time in 20 minutes my mobile rang with some unknown number from Mozambique. The only reason I know this is that my mobile is smarter than me (not that hard really) and when someone calls it actually reads out their name before starting to ring. This normally has me in fits of laughter on a daily basis as Siri tries her best to read Croatia names, especially surnames. So when Siri for the fourth time said “Unknown Caller Mozambique I was intrigued. With all of my heart and soul I knew it was a bogus call. Just like those spam emails that arrive telling you that your great-uncle in India has died and left you US$2 million in his will and where should the money be sent. I knew this call was spam but curiosity got the better of me, so I answered. Before I could say anything a voice started speaking, and the voice was speaking in Croatian. Wow a Mozambican who knows Croatian can’t be many of them, I laughed to myself. The measures that this con-artists will go to is unreal. “Are you there? Can you hear me? Please help me my grandmother is sick and she needs money for treatment….” That is as far as I got before hanging up.

Now when I say Croatian it was more like a robot speaking and the language was like you’d taught a parrot to speak. Yes, I realise it was stupid to answer the phone and yes I’ll probably end up with a huge bill after the Mozambique mafia use a virus to connect my mobile to a porn website and bleed me dry but I am like a cat, and curiosity just got the better of me.

That then got my thinking. Presumably someone, somewhere in the world actually falls for these spam emails and spam phone calls. I mean if nobody ever paid these con-artists then they wouldn’t do it. It turns out millions of people pay to get the money from their great-uncle in India. Spam, or to give it the full title Self Propelled Automatic Mail, generates huge volumes of cash. The New York Times ran an article in 2015 entitled “Spammers are profiting by at least US$65 million per year.” Seems that yes there are quite a few gullible people out there.

My favourite Spam email of all time was “My name is Winnie Mandela. The wife of South African President, Nelson Mandela, and I need to transfer US$20 million out of the country because of my husband’s poor health condition.” I laughed so much I even kept the email. I received this in my inbox around six months ago and Nelson Mandela died in 2013. I felt like answering “Now that is a pretty bad health condition…death.” But held myself back. This was probably the laziest spammer of all time.

A few days passed and my mobile rang with Siri again bleating “Unknown caller.” This time it wasn’t my friend in Mozambique but the number did look a little strange. “Another spam caller” I muttered to myself, I ignored it. Three minutes later the same number rang back. Again curiosity got the better of me. I answered abruptly “hallo!” to be greeted by an unknown lady’s voice. “Good afternoon is this Mark Thomas?” I was in two minds whether to reply or just hang up. The number was hidden and this could well be a cousin of my Mozambique buddy. I kept it short “Yes.” She came back “I am calling you from the Split Police Force the technical crimes division.” Now I was listening. She continued “Have you received any calls from unknown numbers outside of Croatia recently?” Quite clearly this police officer knew about the Mozambique mafia. And I thought she was another con-artist. “Can you tell me if you sent the man any money?” she added. I didn’t even listen to the end of the robot voice but reading between the lines it seems that somebody had sent him money for his sick grandmother. Maybe his grandmother was related to Nelson Mandela.

“Like almost everyone who uses e-mail, I receive a ton of spam every day. Much of it offers to help me get out of debt or get rich quick. It would be funny if it weren't so exciting.” Guess who famously once wrote this. Bill Gates. - The Dubrovnik Times





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