Friday, November 4, 2011

The Nigerian LEGO Scam

In this morning's email was a stern-sounding ALL CAPS message from "Special Agent John Edward" of the FBI, informing me that the agency had confiscated two boxes at JFK containing "a large sum of money...from federal government of Nigeria" addressed to me. Agent Edward informed me that I needed to contact him (at a non-FBI email address) "or you will be prosecuted in the court of law for money laundering."

Oh darn. Busted again.

I'm sure you've seen these emails, too. Sometimes it's a threat of jail; other times, it's an enticing offer of millions of dollars in exchange for a couple of thousand dollars in "processing" fees. And, like me, you dump them into the spam file without thinking twice. Unfortunately, enough folks believe them and send these Nigerian scammers enough money to keep them in business.

When I saw this latest attempt to separate me from the little money I have, I started wondering what kind of people are so gullible - or, perhaps, desperate - that they're willing to believe any promise of a prize, no matter who offers it or how unlikely the chance that it's true.

Then my son came home the next day and told me that one of his classmates had asked him for a piece of his orange at lunchtime. He gave it to her, but added, "You owe me a Hogwarts LEGO set."

She said no problem. She'd buy one right away and give it to him.

And he believed her.

The next day, she told him she had the Hogwarts set. But of course she couldn't bring it to school, so she was going to have it shipped to our apartment.

And he believed her.

It's been three days since that little exchange. No LEGO set, Hogwarts or otherwise, has shown up at our doorstep.

But he still believes it will, soon.

No amount of discussion or appeal to his senses will change his mind. He is firmly convinced that since his friend promised him the toy, she's sure to deliver. Never mind that it's unlikely she has that kind of money to spend. Or that it's unlikely she has the skills to wrap a box, address it to us and get it to the post office. Or that this friend's mother would be VERY unlikely to approve of a transaction like this.

He still believes.

Nor will he consider the argument that friends should do nice things for each other - like, say, sharing a bit of fruit - without expecting anything in return. To his mind, this casual lunchroom banter constitutes an ironclad contract.

And he believes with all his heart that the agreement will be honored.

Just like the poor souls who send hundreds of their hard-earned money to foreign post office boxes and sit waiting for days for the $4 million money order they just know is coming their way from the widow of a wealthy Nigerian businessman they've never met, who just happened to choose them as a worthy recipient.

I don't know when reality will finally hit for my son, but it's sure to hit hard. And a little of his innocence and trusting nature will be lost forever as he realizes that people can't always be counted on to keep their word.

The only difference between my child and the adult scam victims is that his loss is minimal - a couple of slices of navel orange. If this deal had actually gone through, he would have come out much better off than his friend.

On second thought, maybe there's a silver lining to all this. It looks like my kid's got the making of a good banker.

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