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ALEX HARROLD: Scamalot

Alex Harrold
Alex Harrold - SaltWire File Photo

There are many things we have to think about today that our parents and grandparents never passed around at the water cooler at work, if they had a water cooler in the coal mine where my grandfather started out. Highly doubtful. Perhaps they waited to discuss life’s challenges around the coffee table at home like we modern folk do, assuming they had a coffee table too. Again, highly doubtful.

One of the subjects we have to spend way too much time on has to do with parasitic individuals trying to separate you from your money by way of a scam. Maybe it’s a bogus phone call from someone pretending to be from Revenue Canada, or the email from your friendly neighbourhood Nigerian Prince, asking for $50K so he can transfer the $15.5 million you won in the Nigerian lottery. Either way, it doesn’t matter if you live in downtown Toronto or Pigeon Inlet, you could be a victim.

It’s not that scamming itself is something new. Grandpa likely saw a few scams in his day. But those couldn’t be nearly as insidious as the Internet-driven, computer banking scams seen today, perpetrated by someone hidden under layers of entangled web connections and operated, possibly, across an ocean or two away by people who, apparently, are somehow victims of their upbringing. If you are engaged in a similar discussion around your coffee table, you’ve likely pondered this question: If we are all so technically advanced and electronically connected, why can’t these idiotic scammers be tracked down and eradicated? (This would be a good time to think about what eradication means to you.)

If you’ve asked yourself the question above, you should like this story. It comes from a writer named Stephen Bright who writes for an online publication called ArsTechnica. You can look for it online.

Back in 2014, a fellow in Jamaica tried scamming a guy by the name of William Webster, using the Nigerian Prince scam, which calls for Webster to put up $50K on a promise to get millions in return. Webster was 94 years old at the time, and probably an easy mark, except for two things the scammer didn’t know. Webster was the only man in American history to have held the director’s post in the FBI, during Jimmy Carter’s and Ronald Reagan’s presidencies, and the director’s post in the CIA, under Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Webster strung the scammer along for awhile, which ultimately led the scammer to begin bragging about how neither the FBI nor the CIA would be able to find him, obviously unaware of who he was dealing with.

The scammer even got to the point of threatening both Webster and his wife with death. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (if this were a movie), Webster had his friends at the FBI and the CIA out searching for the scammer. With their resources, they discovered who the scammer was and where he lived, but with him being in Jamaica and no extradition for this kind of thing, all they really could do was wait for Keniel Thomas, the scammer, to make a mistake.

Eventually, Thomas obliged. He flew to New York to see a friend in 2017 and was immediately arrested and charged with extortion and threatening the Webster’s with death. He’s currently serving a six-year prison sentence after which, he will be deported to Jamaica. See, it’s just that easy.

This story has altered our coffee table discussion on the hopelessness of someday being a victim of a scam, in that we know now that the same technology that can scare us to no end about being scammed, can also be used to track down the vermin responsible for our fear and bring him, or her, to justice: Just as soon as we have the same resources available to us as William Webster had at the FBI AND the CIA.

If about now, you’re feeling better about never being scammed, raise your hand. Really? No one?

Alex Harrold is a retired teacher and attorney, living in Westport with his wife, Eileen.

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