Sunday, July 09, 2006
Uncle B.J.'s Millions
Poor old Uncle B.J. I never met him; I didn't know he existed until last week, but I'm sure going to miss him.
I learned about B.J. from an e-mail I received recently that read "Private and Urgent Message to You: Rob Lenihan" in the subject line.
It was from the desk of Barrister Ambi Peters, Esq., in Togo, telling me that his client, one B.J. Lenihan, "a national of your country," died on Oct. 31, 2003 along with his wife and two children "in a ghastly Motor accident."
Mr. Peters said that after trying to track down B.J.'s family through several embassies, he took his search to the Internet and came up empty. And that's where I come in.
"I have contacted you to assist me in repatriating the money left behind by my client before they get confiscated by the Bank where this huge deposits were lodged," the barrister wrote.
It seems Uncle B.J. has $10.5 million in the bank and Mr. Peters wants to present me as the next of kin so the proceeds can be forked over to me, and then old Ambi and I split up the dough.
"All I require is your honest and cooperation to enable us to see this deal through," my would be partner wrote, taking some liberties with the English language. "I guarantee that this will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect you from any breach of the law."
All I have to do to get the money train rolling is send Ambi my full name and address, my occupation and position (reclining?), my date of birth and my private telephone and fax numbers.
A total stranger e-mails me out of the blue, tells me about the death of another total stranger in a ghastly motor accident and wants me to palm myself as next of kin so he and I can rack in millions of dollars. Sounds legit to me.
It's like something out of cheap suspense novel, where I have to pretend I have to masquerade as a long-lost relative in order to pull some scam. I guess I should study up on old B.J., learn his likes and dislikes, so I can prove we were related.
Ambi will sit me down with a file in his lap and fire rapid fire questions at me, testing my knowledge of B.J.'s life, and if I get one thing wrong, he'll angrily slam the file on the coffee table--we've got to have one--and shout, "no, no, no!" I'm sure Ambi's a nice guy but anyone's liable to be cranky with all this money at stake.
Maybe I should use an upper crusty accent or wear an eye patch. Usually in these stories the real family member shows up in the last act to make things bad for our hero.
I see that old Uncle B.J. kicked the bucket on Halloween and I think that's appropriate. The whole thing sounds like a trick rather than a treat. I know I've got family in California, Michigan, and a few other states, but this is the first I've heard about anyone in Togo. And where the hell did he get $10.5 million?
Togo or Not To Go?
I realized I didn't know much about Togo, except that it was mentioned at the beginning of the old Second City TV show when a television comes flying out the window of a thatched hut. Other than that, I knew nothing. I decided I'd do a little research, since Togo was about to make me rich.
I started with the CIA World Factbook. The Agency may have dropped the ball on 9/11 and weapons of mass destruction, but I figured they'd have their act together on all things Togo. The Western African nation borders the Bight of Benin, between Benin and Ghana.
It is slightly smaller than West Virginia, with a population of 5,548,702.
Togo has come under fire from international organizations for human rights abuses and is plagued by political unrest, the report said.
It seems that Togo's first democratically elected president was overthrown in 1963. He was shot and killed while attempting to scale the walls of the American Embassy to seek asylum. That sounds pretty ghastly, and it wasn't an accident. More recently, I heard Togo got clobbered in the World Cup competition.
When I was a reporter in Waterbury, Conn., I did a story about Nigerian scams similar to this one. The Internet hadn't taken off yet, so the con artists were relying on snail mail to reel in their victims.
If you read this nonsense you'd never think anyone would fall for it, but at least one person, a young African-American man, actually went to Nigeria, apparently thinking he would strike it rich. He wound up being murdered, the poor bastard.
I guess these poverty-stricken places like Nigeria and Togo are breeding grounds for these con games. The criminals there figure America is the land of opportunity and that somewhere within the 50 states will sign up for deal that's too good to be true.
I got an e-mail from a Mr. Heng Sang recently offering me a shot at some big business deal in Hong Kong. There were no long lost relatives in this deal, just a promise of untold riches. Maybe I should hook up Heng Sang with Ambi Peters and let them screw each other.
Then I got an e-mail from some outfit pushing a company called Falcon Energy, which is pleased to announce that it has fully acquired the exploration licenses for five mining properties in the mineral rich region of Mongolia.
It seems Mongolia, Ghengis Kahn's hometown, has a wide variety of mineral resources and the e-mail advises me to get in on the deal now because will "WILL EXPLODE in next 2 weeks!!"
Yeah, I'll get right back to you. Meanwhile, I got another e-mail saying that records (?) show that you I've been contacted in the past regarding my guaranteed cash but I haven't responded.
"This is guaranteed cash," the e-mail says. "We know it's not like you to knowingly pass up on cash so we assume this is probably a mistake. Therefore, we encourage you to log on now and claim your guaranteed cash. Your cash is guaranteed. At no point will you be required to pay anything."
Of course I won't have to pay anything. And Togo is guaranteed to win the World Cup next year.
W.C. Fields used to say you can't cheat an honest man and he was right. People, myself most definitely included, are obsessed with getting rich quick. We see the wealthy movie stars, heavy-hitting business men, look at the godawful jobs we're forced to go to every day, and figure, hey, maybe I can bail out of this nightmare, too.
Everyone's A Winner
Years ago, when I was a reporter in Stroudsburg, Pa., the Pennsylvania lottery became some huge, people were coming from neighboring states to buy tickets. Since Stroudsburg was just over the border from Jersey, people flooded this little town of 5,000 people, all wanting to hit the big number.
The town was going crazy. The police chief told me his officers arrested two guys selling bogus lottery tickets. There were brawls as people got fed up waiting in long lines to buy tickets. One of the Stroudsburg cops told me all the officers in the department had chipped in for tickets.
"If we win," he told me, "we'll be gone and you'll find 12 badges on the desk here."
I thought everyone had gone crazy, but a year or two later, I got it into my head that I might have won the Pennsylvania lottery myself. In early December, the lottery commission said there was unclaimed prize money and warned that if the ticket holder did not step forward before January 1, he or she would forfeit their winnings.
I had purchased a lottery ticket sometime during that year and tossed into the bloated mess that was my apartment. When I read that story, my blood ran cold as I thought I might have the winning ticket and would miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's not like me to knowingly pass up on cash.
During Christmas week, when I was visiting my family in Brooklyn, I called the Lottery Commission in Harrisburg and tried to get more information. All the woman could tell me was to find that ticket.
I never did find the ticket, so I guess there's a chance I lost a fortune. But I think the odds that I had the winning numbers were about as good as my getting old B.J.'s money. I guess I'll have to keep working for a living.
I got another e-mail the other day, but this one wasn't looking for money. It came to me written entirely in caps, but I toned it down a little so it would be easier on the eyes. I did not correct the spelling, though.
"Please write me," the e-mail said. "I writting this letter with dur respect and heartful of tear since we have not known or meet our selves previously I am asking for your to helpme writte me I will give you more dateils."
I don't know where this came from or what this person wants. It sounds pretty serious, though, so I guess there's only one question to ask.
What would Uncle B.J. do?