Sunday, 29 April 2012

Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) Scam from 01274

Last week on 25 April I found a rather unusual voicemail message on my answerphone service. Not one of the many silent calls that plague us all so much nowadays. It was plain that this one was from a would be scammer. How do I know this? Because he failed to hang up on me properly, and moved onto his next call, oblivious to the fact that he was broadcasting both sides of it to my number. After the initial ring tone and some opening mumbles, Victim and Scammer continue their dialogue, transcribed below as best as I could follow it: -

V: Hello?

S: Hello, my name is Jason Wayne, based in our PPI claims department. I’ve called to let you know that we’re going to be refunding your money back to you now.

V: For?

S: OK. You know about your payment protection insurance?

V: I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.

S: We’ve had 27 million customers from the UK, ever since we’ve heard from the Ministry of Justice, we’re needing to get the money back to all these cheated people.

V: I don’t remember taking anything out.

S: Are you sure, madam, ‘cause you see, you know about this PPI and everything, do you know how much you’re getting back? You’re getting roughly £2,000 back, your loan was £5,000, you never used the PPI, therefore you’re fully eligible for your refund, OK?

V: (Hesitant semi-approval, semi-understanding.)

S: I’ll put you on hold and transfer the call to one of my supervisors.

V: OK.

Unfortunately, with the victim hanging on and evidently nursing a crying baby in the background, my message time limit ran out and I heard no more. My incoming calls displayer revealed the call to have been from 01274. This is the area code for Bradford. It tallied with the fact that S’ accent combined the tones of Yorkshire with those of the Asian subcontinent.

I typed the full number into Google. The second entry on the first page confirmed “7 people think it’s a scam number”. The third: “Another PPI Insurance pestering call.” The fourth: “if you answer, you go straight onto hold with a recorded message…” The overall impression was that S’ goal was to harvest credit card details from gullible victims who thought that there was an accidental windfall coming their way.

Scam communication is a pestilence. It is also something that has fascinated me for some time, above all the sub-genre of turning the tables back on the perpetrators via scambaiting. Indeed, going one step further, it has partly inspired the plot for my legal and political suspense follow up to Hatred Ridicule & Contempt, currently a work in progress where a plot to defraud a firm of solicitors runs in parallel with the 2010 general election and the dark arts of candidate selection.

Oh yes, that phone number. Would you like me to publish it in full? Just ask.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Nadine Dorries MP: burning her boats in style

What are we to make of the manner in which Nadine Dorries MP chose to express her low opinion of the Prime Minister and Chancellor? “Two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others - and that is their real crime.” Words that many a Labour backbencher may have thought were just too strong to use about their two most prominent opponents on the Government side. But Nadine Dorries is a member of the Conservatives, the same party as David Cameron and George Osborne.

Clearly she feels she has nothing to lose. No hope of holding office, a seat under threat from the Boundary Commission and increasingly slim chances of finding another, and a presumed sense of lingering resentment at the PM’s “frustrated” slap down of her many weeks previously. And no doubt a touch of joy at the publicity, especially with UKIP on the prowl for possible defectors. She might be too eccentric for her own good. But you’ve got to admire her for it.

Did I ever entertain the idea that Alex Harris, the solicitor fighting the battles at the heart of Hatred Ridicule & Contempt, might refer to his firm’s managing partner and marketing partner in similar terms? Perhaps briefly, even though there is a world of difference between playing the man rather than the ball. But if I had ever wanted an MP character for the book, I am sure that Nadine would have fitted the bill rather than the legions of lobby fodder elsewhere on the Commons benches.

PS: for anyone interested in a print version of Hatred Ridicule & Contempt, Lulu are running a 12% discount offer until 27th April. Code EARTHUK. Click here.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Musical Eccentricities 3

Time for another set of musical eccentricities, this time with a rather loose spiritual theme.

John Kongos – Tokoloshe Man: Not long back from South Africa, so why not recall a long forgotten Johannesburg guitarist from the early 70s whose 'hairy tidal wave' appearance may have been a shock to viewers of Top Of The Pops. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the song is all about how to avoid the attention of a mischievous, evil and well endowed dwarf spirit (“make your bed up high, pray into the sky”). Infectious tribal beat and guitar riffs too. Curious that he was only ever a two hit wonder, along with “He’s Gonna Step On You Again”.

Gillan – No Laughing In Heaven: Enjoyable comic stomp from the former lead singer of Deep Purple, covering the perils of trying to lead too good a life in the hope of favours in the afterlife. Underlying message, be very careful about what you wish for. Classic section from the ‘heavy rap’ verses: “I gave money to the poor/Until I was poor/But at least I ensured/That I would go up there/Instead of down below/To the inferno/Where the evil flames of desire/Burn higher, and higher, and higher…”

Saxon – Suzie Hold On: At first sight, just a slow rock standard, not quite a ballad. But look more closely at the lyrics and you’ll find it’s all about a dying cancer victim. Probably one of the saddest songs that any band from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal ever wrote. Quite a contrast to ‘Wheels of Steel’ and ‘747/Strangers In the Night’, but no less effective.

Judas Priest – Beyond The Realms Of Death: An actual rock ballad this time, about a depressed person who decides to leave this life at a time of his own choosing as friends look on. The last verse line “Is knowledge worth this bitter cost?” once made me think it was all about the arguable futility in preserving helpless victims on life support machines when they would have no quality of life ever again. Tricky issues.

Scorpions – Wind of Change: Now for something more uplifting – a commemoration of the spirit of the Russian people as they took their tentative steps towards freedom after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism, inspired by the group’s Moscow concert on the tour that preceded the release of the Crazy World album. Would the Russians ever want a return to the old days when the Cold War was a reality, when their living standards would be not far off those of the modern day North Koreans, and when they’d have no Western rock music easily available? Thought not.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Stop Rhino Poaching - With Fingernails?

One sad moment from an otherwise outstanding safari in South Africa was to hear about the ongoing threat to the black rhino from poaching. An issue that was graphically illustrated via a poster in the Bayethe lodge in the Shamwari reserve, showing the carcasses of two well known rhino that had been butchered for their horns in the reserve as recently as last November. The absurd superstition – let’s not mince words here – in certain parts of the world that consumption of rhino horn improves health continues to endanger this great animal.

What is rhino horn, anyway? It’s keratin. The same substance that animals’ hooves are made from. And indeed human fingernails and toenails. We can only wonder what possessed the misguided fool who first looked upon the unique attribute of a rhino in the dim and distant past, oblivious to the hooves on the thousands of antelopes sharing the wild plains, and thought that if he killed the rhino, cut the horn off, ground it up and consumed the end product, he would end up strong and healthy. As for the malevolent intermediaries who encouraged the superstition to profit from it while the black rhino became ever more endangered...

OK, so here’s a couple of solutions. First, how about collecting a few tons of fingernail and toenail clippings, moulding them into the form of rhino horn via whatever ingenious process of glueing, dyeing and heat treatment might be devised, and selling them to the traffickers? All with a view to blowing the whistle a few months down the line when the consumers will have unwittingly ingested a substance that they would otherwise have clipped off themselves and discarded after wrinkling their noses at its characteristic odour. Surely that would crash the market and show up the superstition for exactly what it was.

As for the poachers, handlers, traffickers and other associated members of the process, I can do no more than recall a conversation with an experienced South African tourist guide in Knysna shortly after the safari came to an end. My suggestion that anyone caught red handed in connection with rhino poaching ought perhaps to be spared trial and conviction, and simply turned loose in the remote bush without food or water, produced an immediate response: “Kneecap them first.”