Monday, December 2, 2013

Origin-al Christmas

Friends and family,
You may get some strange gifts from the Funnells this Christmas, but it is for a good reason. In order to explain, imagine Sarah and I in a Meijer toy aisle, looking at an eye-catching board game. While Sarah appreciated the cute design on the box,  I flipped it over and searched for what I knew would be there: “Made in China”. As cute as the game was, I was not pleased with it because I knew the smiling face of whoever will receive that game this year is made possible by a blank, lifeless face somewhere in Guangzhou operating a printing press or assembling the pieces. I’m not comfortable giving gifts that reinforce a way of doing things where one Has because another Has Not. Sarah and I left that Meijer (without toys) having decided not to give any gifts this year that we weren't sure were produced way I’d be comfortable watching. Surely, endless rows of tables surrounded by Chinese (Indonesian, Bangladeshi, Vietnamese…) men and women without opportunities to improve their situation, making far too little, and under a political regime that denies their right to hear the truth of Jesus would not be comfortable for me to watch. Sarah and I have chosen not to support that this year.

We’re not posting this because we want to be smug, but because of Romans 12:9- “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” I’d argue that love which pleases one while contributing to the suffering of another is not the most genuine. Isn’t the abuse of workers to produce luxury items for the wealthy evil, which we should abhor? We want our love to be the most genuine we can, so we are choosing only to give gifts we know and approve the origin of. Plastic toys from China, where preaching the true gospel is illegal: No. Wooden toys made by Ned: Yes! Kitchen tools from Vietnam, where the average factory worker makes $150 per month: No. Maple syrup from the local farmer’s market: Yes! A golden necklace, made with gold mined by Malian children using poisonous mercury: No. A cross necklace made by rescued Thai sex workers that supports their families: Yes! Cute and inexpensive garments sewn in Jordan, where immigrant seamstresses are regularly raped by their bosses: No. Gently-used clothes from a thrift store that don’t create demand in those factories: Yes! An electronic gadget made by factory workers in China whose dormitories are surrounded by nets to discourage suicide: No. A honorary gift from the World Vision catalog which benefits someone with great need: Yes!

This year, we will choose what is genuinely loving, not what is convenient. We’re not ashamed to post this although we know that it will make some uncomfortable- we know that the danger, pain, and abuse that others suffer when we choose to support their oppressors is more important. Let your love be genuine- not only for the recipients of your gifts as well as the people who made the gift. Will you consider making some, or all of your Christmas this year Origin-al? Consider the origin of your gift and whether it is fit for the holiday that bears Christ’s name. You may worry that if you make only this one change, you could be called a hypocrite- but how much more if you have heard the truth and do not change at all? Choose love, not comfort. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Dances with the Nigerian Scammer

A few years ago, I was living in Marshalltown, Iowa, while working an internship with a company there. I was driving a Mitsubishi Montero at the time, and it was a good enough car for me. Unfortunately, I made a wonky left turn that spring and got nailed in a rear quarter by a speedy lady in a Blazer. Sorry, speeding lady! I hope Geico took care of you!

Having my car wrecked pretty intensely ruined my motoring prospects for a while. Fortunately, my roommate worked at the same company, so we just made our occasional carpooling arrangement full-time until I got some wheels under me again. I determined that I could stick my poor Montero on Craigslist and hope for a little bit of money, and replace it with something cheap. So, on Craigslist it went: the land of grammar abominations, sketchy used mattresses, and tiny, dark pictures of rusty cars. Prime location for my banged-up Montero!

I was hoping it would find a new owner soon in Marshalltown, but it was not to be. It did eventually find a new owner, in Texas, after some shady-but-functional repair work on my part. It got me back to college, despite VERY questionable brakes near the end of the non-air-conditioned August drive, during which it also nearly cut off my foot when it fell off of a borrowed jack during an freeway-side tire change.

I was younger then. I was more daring, and more stupid.

This tells you nothing, however, about the native of Nigeria who lusted after my heap-of-junk Montero! Was it the rollover-prone soccer-mom-mobile that he was after? Or... was it my checking account?

As you shall see, it turned out to be the latter. The poor Nigerian scammer, though, did not get his wish. It all started out with a simple inquiry:

As you can see, the English grammar requirements to be a scammer are not high. I was about 98% sure this was a scammer: the composition is poor, the specific item itself is not mentioned by name (allow mass copy/pasted messages), and the language is not natural. There was little risk in sending a brief response without personal info, though, so I gave him the same link to photos I had in my ad. If he replied the next email would give him away.

 ...and surely enough, it did! Obvious, classic scam material. Protip: If someone wants to send you a check, they're a scammer. Protip: If someone wants to send you a check without ever seeing the vehicle or getting any details whatsoever, they're a scammer. Protip: If someone wants to send you a check without ever seeing the vehicle or getting any details whatsoever and they have unnatural composition, they are a scammer. Since the gig was up for Mr. Moore of Nigeria, I decided to try and have some fun with him. I thought that he probably would notice that I was not in fact Mr. Obama, residing at the White House's address, but this fact seemed to slip by him.

Well, how about that! With a legitimate UPS tracking number, I'd have thought that this guy was a first-class scammer- except that he thought he was scamming B. H. Obama and remained clueless. I puzzled over the UPS tracking number for a while. It did in fact register a parcel on the UPS website, and one delivered to Ames, Iowa, which is pretty close to Marshalltown. How did he get that number? Did he actually send something to Ames in order to get it? Did he enter numbers on the UPS site randomly until he got something close to my location? Surely that'd take forever. I have no clue.

Let me briefly explain how his scam works: he pretends to send you a check for the purchase price of your item plus an additional amount that he needs you to forward on to a shipper. He never sends you a check (or sends you a fake one), but tells you that you need to send the shipper's payment immediately, and pressures you to do so. The victim, believing they're getting a great deal, sends the shipper's payment, which really ends up on Mr. Scammer's doorstep. You sent him real money, but his check never arrives, or is fake. He then disappears with your money and sips piƱa coladas in the hot West African sun.

I had thought he'd be tipped off after the second message, but apparently, he was so excited over the prospect of having an American wire him money, he forgot to have any sense. I was picturing a guy in an internet cafe in Abuja wetting his pants with excitement over the stupid American who fell for his scam. What luck! Time to make this interesting: now that I have him on the hook, he's in for the long haul.

Let's see if we can get this loser to fill out a form for me! He, of course, has no interest in doing anything of the sort. He just wants my money. This doesn't fit into his plan. There's a subtle nuance to this form, and I was incredibly lucky to find it. Here's why: I'm calling this guy Nigerian because nearly 100% of these scams original from Nigeria. They're called 419 scams, because it's section 419 of the Nigerian penal code that forbids them. This guy, surely, must have known the number 419, because it was his work. I'm imagining him sitting at his computer when he gets this: first, incredulous that this stupid American wants him to fill out of form- then, panic and fear at the sight of the number 419. Has he been found out? Are government agents coming to collect him even now? (No, they're not: Nigeria doesn't care that it's the scam capital of the world)  The form I found is US government for for requesting shipping, and happens to be form number... 419!

What's a poor scammer to do? Stick to the plan. Get the dumb American to send the money. That's the modus operandi, and he's sticking to it. Not going to happen, Mr. Scammer!

Now he's really incredulous: I won't send the money until I get the form, and I sound serious! Darn it all! What to do? Ah.... but of course. Promise that the non-existant all-lowercase shipper from Denver is going to bring the form! Brilliant! Mmmm... not going to happen, scam-man. How has he not caught onto the obvious yet? Did the earlier hope for a Western Union transfer rob him of all lucid thought?

Yes! Yes it did! That, my friends, is a scanned image of a US military request for shipping form, poorly filled out in pencil by a Nigerian scammer, and sent back to me in hopes that I would wire him some money. Take a look: 

(Click for full size)

Ahh... WOW. Writing in the column headers. "The number of item to be moved is"t one." And is it coming from Washington DC or Marshalltown? Is there a "Denver City", Colorado? "I count on on you and believe that, you will release the item to my prepaid mover when he gets to you." "Arriving Ariving contact contact on arriving"

Brilliant. I cannot express to you the degree of mirth that I experienced when I convinced a nigerian man who was trying to scam me to send me a form. The poor guy had to find a place to print out my form (costing him money), fill it out, and find a way to scan it. He must have been desperate, or completely oblivious. Wow.

Since he had gone so far, I had to congratulate him, but hope for a little more:

STOP PLAYING ME A GAME! Boy, I thought that dangling the promise of more money would get him coming my way, but the man had a plan, and he was sticking to it. It looks like belligerence was the next improvised step on our detour from his script. He dances out his UPS tracking number again (truly, it's a good trick), but I have some bad news for him:

I've got to play sympathetic- surely the man would be worried if his non-existent check had not been properly delivered to B. H. Obama at the White House! The best course of action would be to stop payment on that one and send me a new one- and of course, I'll get ready to send the 'shipper' a boatload of money! Better make it out for eleven grand, a cool ten thousand more than our original deal. He doesn't seem to notice that, though: the amount is of no concern to a man who's not really sending you checks!

I'm sad to say it my friends, but at this point, poor "David Moore" lost hope. Not even the promise of the very shiny Montero could get a response from him. Perhaps adopting strange parting statements tipped him off, or perhaps he returned to his senses. It was too much to hope for, I guess. One last email, months later, went unanswered:

Once burned, twice shy, I guess. No promise of fat American dollars could lure this guy out of his cave.

So there you have it: The story of how I trolled a Nigerian scammer.