In the last five years, I've written at least three times about the nefarious scams based in Nigeria. I'm still receiving copies of letters that have just recently been highlighted on the TV magazine programs about variations on these get-rich-quick schemes.
This was a phone conversation between me and a caller to my home phone.
Caller (in a deep male voice with an imperious manner): Is this Harry S Gross?
C: I'm calling from the jury selection office at the federal courthouse. We sent you a summons for jury duty, and you have not reported to serve. Before we get a bench warrant to force you to come in immediately, I need to get some information so I can help the person on our summons detail.
(Could the call be a mistake? After all, I didn't get the original summons, and I never got the customary questionnaire for prospective jurors. Could it be one of my friends getting in an early April Fool's "gotcha?" Or could it be a "phishing expedition?")
H: I never got your questionnaire. I never got your summons. Why don't you send me copies? Better yet, you can fax me copies, so I can speak about these things more intelligently.
C: That's not the way we operate. Now are you going to cooperate, or should I send my notes to the judge and get that bench warrant right now?
(Here, I decided to play along, but on my own terms. I wanted to see what this was all about.)
H: I'll cooperate. What would you like me to do?
C: I need your exact address.
H: Why don't you give me the address you have and I'll confirm or correct it?
C: Look, I'm trying to do you a favor, and you're giving me all kinds of conditions. Now, give me your address!
H : Well, I guess there's no harm in that. It is (and I gave him the correct address).
C : That's what I have. Now I need your date of birth.
H: January 12, 1954. (I lied.)
( Now, I knew what was happening. This toad was looking to get enough information to steal my identity. I continued to play along. He was a phisher.)
C: I'm pleased that you're cooperating. Now, I need the last four digits of your SS number.
H: 7533 (I lied).
C: That's not what I have. (A clever ploy.)
H: What do you have?
C: (In a very strong domineering voice) Who's doing this interview? If you don't cooperate, you might just as well hang up and let me go on to other business. Now, what's it going to be?
H: The number I gave you is correct.
C: In that case, you'd better give me the whole nine digits.
C: OK. We had the 7 and 5 transposed.
(If I had not been so suspicious, this phisher would have had enough to steal my identity and do me untold harm and misery.)
H: What is your name? I need it to protect me if some further foul-up occurs.
C: I'm not allowed to give it to you. My identification number is B- 2135. I'm going to take care of this so you won't have to report for jury duty until you get a further summons. I don't know how the mail got screwed up, but we'll follow-up with a call the next time.
There are new schemes, scams, and flim-flams being invented every day. I can envision modified versions of my call naming other government agencies (IRS, etc.), banks, and stockbrokers.
We must all be constantly alert to these thieves who are much more dangerous to our financial well being than the pickpockets and holdup artists we hear about daily.
As soon as I hear from a reader about a newfangled scheme, I'll put it in this column so we can all be aware of what's going on.
When I took my first course in corporate finance, we were told to memorize a statement by Stephen Girard made more than 200 years ago. We had to reproduce it in each exam for 20 percent of the grade:
"Always treat your business antagonist as if he were a scoundrel. If he is an honest man, he will respect you. If he is a rogue, as it may happen, your utmost vigilance will hardly suffice to protect you from his infamous machinations."
Along the same lines, I always admonish listeners to "Speaking of Your Money" and the readers of this column to be very wary of phone calls. Never buy on the phone from someone you don't know. Never buy on the phone unless you initiated the call.
The same goes for e-mail. If your longtime stockbroker calls with a "must buy now" situation, tell him you'll call back. Give yourself time to weigh the merits of the offer, then call back when your emotions are a bit cooler.
Too often, a broker will try to sell you what's best for him, not you.
This holds true for anyone trying to sell something.
I hope you don't get the impression that I'm advocating the idea that no one can be trusted.
I just want to keep all of us, me included, alert to the fact that not every robber carries a gun, and some robbers are family members. There are voice and written weapons as well as guns and lead pipes.
Be cautious, not suspicious. *