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Post-Madoff: The Final Insult

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Earlier today, probably like most of you, I received the following email:

From: Dr.George Konan [mailto:george_konnan9@yahoo.co.jp]
Sent: Monday, April 20, 2009 12:58 PM

To:

Subject: My Dear

新しいメールアドレスをお知らせします
新しいメールアドレス: george_konnan9@yahoo.co.jp

My Dear ,
I am Dr.George Konan in Ivory Coast.I need your
honest assistance to transfer Usd $17.7 Million Dollars from here. Please
reply with your direct phone number and full name if interested. I await your
quick reply.

- Dr.George Konan

Well, usually I don't respond to such entreaties, but as we have collectively weathered the Bernie Madoff fraud, the debauchery at AIG, the insolvency of Fannie Mae, Mac, and Moe, and other recent financial chicanery, I found the overall approach of this latest financial offer more troubling than usual.

Here is my earnest reply:

Dear Dr. George Konan, or whatever your name might be;

The above is the most decidedly inept example of con-artistry I've ever seen. Frankly, I'm outraged.

The long-running and rather passé Nigerian fund transfer scam usually involves someone in the "Nigerian Oil Ministry" or the "Ministry of Finance." Such appeals are traditionally sent in the names of "Abacha", "Mobutu", or "Obasanjo." These are mildly recognizable names we vaguely associate with turbulent African history fragrant with the fine whiff of corruption.

Usually, such entreaties are authored by fellows claiming interesting backgrounds: "Deputy Minister for Oil Field Accounting" , for example, or "Personal Financial Advisor" to the mistress of a deposed dictator.

You, on the other hand, don't even spell your fictitious name correctly: either you are "Dr. George Kona" or "Dr. George Konan" ... variously typed as "Konnan" with two "N's" or "Konan" with one.

Most con men and women work hard to create a decent fiction . The better ones express great passion and thought about why they uniquely need my help moving these millions of hidden dollars from one place to another.

At least they have, in the past, shown some common courtesy to expend a modicum of effort to make the scam sound plausible.

"My Dear ...," you didn't even bother putting the name of your intended victim in the email. That's both lazy and quite rude. If you, sir, were truly from the Ivory Coast, you have besmirched the good name of your more established Pan-African con-artisans.

But you go over the line with your return address: Almost everybody knows email from "georgekona@yahoo.co.jp" indicates this scam originates in Japan and not on the African Continent. If that doesn't tip us off, the header written in Japanese kanji should!

Americans seem remarkably tolerant when someone attempts to con us. But during these swindles, at least attempt to make the pitch entertaining. In the U.S., we have just seen several trillion dollars disappear in the stock and real estate markets. We further learn we'll spend trillions more bailing out the dishonest bankers, brokers, and lenders who got us here. But this disappearing-act took thousands of smart financiers years to invent myriads of crafty leveraging techniques. It takes a lot of hokum to simulate value where there is none.

Many of us still enjoy late night "infomercials" that continue, even now, to offer astounding returns in real estate, or by purchasing "precious" commodities, or even ordinary coins repackaged so they magically become "valuable collectables." At least we derive some modest entertainment watching these human-fishing shows: bait the lure, cast it endlessly, and hook sleepless suckers who still have a few bucks left. And you can't beat the fun production values that go into these "fraudcasts."

That Bernie Madoff swindled billions from charities and schools he pretended to devote his life to showed an audacious presentation that astonished even the most jaded audience. But, frankly, after Madoff and his more quasi-comatose money managers (like Ezra Merkin), you would think the next wave of frauds would be more ornately conceived.

Dr. Konan-or-whom-ever-you-are, your entire lackadaisical approach to financial malfeasance insults even a sucker's intelligence: "I've got $17 million to move, call me!" Have we learned nothing in the past few months?

On the other hand, perhaps you understand us better than anyone. Like ravenous fish, we still snap at every shiny financial lure, no matter how absurdly fraudulent it appears. But after the many frauds and scams we've suffered through, would it really trouble you just to pretend we're not as dumb as we seem?

Awaiting your reply and bank transfer number, I remain, sincerely yours,

Dr. Dan
Former Minister of Natural Resources
Federal Republic of Nigeria