Monsters on the Line

Monsters on the Line

Victimization is an intensely personal thing.

Those who feel collectively victimized often arouse the ire and subsequent dismissiveness of those who fall outside of the collective.  At a fundamental level, we realize that we are all individuals, and thus, individually, we have the capacity to feel victimized.

There are those who have been victimized because of their status… this is absolutely true.  Virtually every minority on the planet has been subjected to collective victimization at one point or another.  Even members of the established elite are, at times, victimized by their status (the “rich,” the “privileged” and members of law enforcement, for example, have been targeted for their egregious crime of “existing” in our society).

Still, the politics of victimization must take on a very personal aspect before the aggrieved can truly claim aggrieved status.  The collectivists dismiss this notion, finding more political value in the whole being persecuted, than the individual.  It flows, then, that when the individual is victimized, the whole group becomes the plaintiff.

There is, frankly, some truth to this.

When the monsters on 9/11 sent planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, all of us as Americans were victims of that atrocity.  It mattered little if we watched those horrific events from another coast.

The same can often be said of petty crime as well.

This last week a client came to me and sheepishly told me he had been the victim of a kidnapping hoax.

The “Nigerian Scam” plays on the victim’s sympathy toward another person in distress.

This scam is designed to scare the crap out of the victim.

(If you have arrived here from our newsletter, continue reading here…)

Our client was contacted on his cell phone one morning.  The call appeared to originate in Mexico, and the individual on the other end spoke in English with a heavy Latino accent.  The first words out of his mouth were, “Charles (the client’s actual name), shut up and listen!  We have your daughter, Veronica (the real name of the client’s 38-year-old daughter).  If you want to see her alive again, you are going to do exactly as I say.  Here is your daughter, amigo.”  At this point the caller evidently held the phone up to a hysterical woman, with a typical Southern California accent.  She was sobbing heavily and stated, “Daddy, help me!  They threw me in a van while I was jogging!”  The phone then went back to the “kidnapper.”

“If you want to see her alive, you are going to go to the bank and get us some money.”

The call was on speaker phone, so the client’s wife could also hear.  She was obviously as distressed as her husband.  The husband mouthed, “Call 911,” to the wife, then complying with the kidnapper’s demands kept the kidnapper on the phone as he raced out the door and headed to the bank.

Due to the wife’s 911 call, police were already present at the bank when the client arrived.  The police approached the client and, with the “kidnapper” still on speaker phone, let the client know that this was a hoax.  The police had already made contact with the daughter at her work, and she was just fine.

Instantly, the kidnapper disconnected the line.

The client felt foolish.

The law enforcement personnel did an outstanding job of comforting him.  They let him know that his actions were entirely reasonable based on the extremity of the circumstances.  He did nothing wrong.  In fact, having his wife call 911 was literally the “right thing” to do.

Fortunately, she was around at the time of the call.  Had she not been, and had the police not been notified, he was completely prepared to take all of his money out of his account and wait for further instructions.

What troubled me, though, was something that the detective told the client:

“This is the eighth time we have seen this happen.”

This sick act is an established crime.

I contacted my friends in law enforcement, and sure enough the number is closer to 12.  Worse, there is very little they can do.  The calls actually originate from overseas, and other than informing the public (one of the reasons for this blog entry), their ability to combat this problem is limited.

One of the things that was explained to me is that this type of crime usually comes subsequent to some sort of data breach.  Either company emails are hacked, or databases become compromised.  Typically, elderly individuals in zip codes where there is a relatively high net worth are targeted… (though this type of crime can happen to anyone).  Details about the victim’s loved ones are data mined, so the call takes on an aura of authenticity.

Criminals have learned a lot about social engineering.

People have very specific behavioral traits; they are identifiable, and, thus, subject to exploitation.  The intimacy of the call is critical.  Enough detailed information, like the victim’s name, and the name of their loved one, creates an aura of authenticity.  Add to that the sense of urgency that is conveyed, “This needs to be done right now, or you will never see your daughter again!”

We might like to gamble in Vegas… but in a situation like this, with even the chance that the caller might be telling the truth, we are literally shocked into compliance.

There is also a structure to the deal.

A contractual obligation.

If you do X, we will do Y.

While we may not trust a criminal, we feel we have very little bargaining power available to us, and we march forward with our eyes focused on the goal, not even considering that there might be an alternative… like having the wife call the daughter herself.

The thought of doing so did not even occur to our client or his wife until the the event was completely over.

There are bad people out there, people who would use the most monstrous of hoaxes to pry a few dollars from a vulnerable segment of our society.  While the “Nigerian Princes” might rely on a person’s generosity (or greed)… these scoundrels prey upon our deepest fear:  something bad might happen to our loved ones.

Be aware that evil exists in the world…. and stay vigilant.

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