Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Almost a very funny story

This is one of those stories that doesn't go anywhere or have any punchline ... but dang it has a good setup.

To understand this story, you need to understand two things. One is the art of scambaiting. The other is Dr. Ronald Chevalier.

For those of you who don't know, "419 Scam", so named for the legal code in Nigeria, is what you call those emails you get that offer you a share in millions of dollars that only you can help access...in exchange, you later find out, for a big fat fee or bribe money. While most of us just delete these emails, some people have fun with it. They (scambaiters) play along under their own false identity, asking the scammers to do things for their money. One story I read included a man who tricked his scammer into carving a scale Commodore 64 out of wood. One guy told his scammer, "I can't help you unless you join my church," later fooling the poor Nigerian into sending back photographs of himself doing ridiculous rituals to get initiated. But sometimes the scambaiters go too far.*

And for those of you who don't know this either, Dr. Ronald Chevalier is the name of the fictitious science fiction writer (played by Jemaine Clement) in Jared Hess' latest movie, Gentlemen Broncos. Some creative marketing is taking place in the form of Chevalier's personal website (linked above. Poke around - it's a good one); if you didn't know it was part of the movie, I don't think you'd be able to tell that it's fake.

So now that you know what we're working with, the following are highlights (original grammar intact) from an email that I received on September 8th:

Good day,

My name is Stefan Wool, I am a senior partner in the Technical Advisory Board of Natwest Bank Of London... [A client who shares your surname] died in testate and nominated no successor in title over the investments made with the bank....

I am prepared to share the money with you, that is, I will simply nominateyou as the next of kin and have them release the deposit to you. We share the proceeds 50/50....I send you this mail not without a measure of fear as to what the consequences, but I know within me that nothing ventured is nothing gained and that success and riches never come easy or on a platter of gold....Do not betray my confidence....

Kind regards, Stefan Wool

"Riches never come easy." That just slays me.

I showed this email to Andy and he got mischeviously excited. We spent dinner that night brainstorming ideas on how to prank Mr. Wool. Then it came to Andy - we could be Ronald Chevalier.

We started a new gmail account (dr.r.chevalier or something, I don't remember...and according to 419eater.com, the scammers don't pay much attention to what email address you're using either). We responded to Mr. Wool, quoting our own sci fi prose to him (I'm particularly proud of the passage we wrote to comment on the "platter of gold" part) and inviting him to purchase our books and peruse our "web sanctum." We also dropped hints of a personal, lucrative project for which we might need some assistance (the plan was to get Mr. Wool to record himself reading some of the ridiculous prose from the Ronald Chevalier website).

I have the misfortune of telling you that Mr. Wool basically ignored the good stuff and sent us stock letters about why he needed a sum wired to him immediately to help the transaction along. We exchanged a few emails, trying to buy time and attention, but he kept insisting on getting our bank account number.

We gave him a random number that had too many digits in it.

And we haven't heard from him since.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that if you'd like to contact Mr. Stefan Wool, you certainly can at stefanwool68@msn.com or stefanwool@myway.com. Maybe he has a deal cooking just for you.

*If you're interested, please search for the This American Life story about a poor scammer who got duped into spending all of his money going to Chad (a very, very dangerous place these days) and sporting "I love George Bush" signs at mosques. As far as I know, he's still stranded in Chad.

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