Over the last few years I’ve seen quite a bit of questionable e-mail come through my in-box, and most of it goes right back out to the Recycle bin. The pleas from various quarters of the globe to “give me millions in exchange for your help in parking this money in your account for a few months” type, the “I’m the ousted prime minister of a small nation and have gotten out of the country with millions but need your help to get it into the US” type, the I’ve inherited millions from my Irish uncle but need your help to get it into the US” type, and a host of other scams, including so-called “phishing” sites, e-mail that drives you to sites that look like a bank, and they ask you for your account information to “verify” your account – actually a bogus site set up to capture your banking info.
It all sucks, and plays to our greed. One business I know of got their event registration system gamed and hacked by some folks in Nigeria, who registered for events using a fake card number, and then registered for a refund, which would be paid for with a real check out of the company’s account – small change one at a time, but as a block, it adds up to some real money. That company had to go so far as to set up a special escrow account for all Nigerian registrations, that would be sequestered from the rest of the funds until all the credit cards cleared, and refunds issued only from that account.
As the economy goes through it’s ups and downs, scams like these seem to proliferate when things are just starting to get a little brighter. They seem to work best when there’s a little glimmer of hope for those who receive them. They play on our “get rich quick” mentality, one that pervades the lower income brackets, where one big score can break you into a new lifestyle very quickly, so if there’s a tiny fraction of a chance of it being legitimate and paying off, folks will take the risk.
It may seem a little Pollyanna-ish of me, but what if those Nigerians used that insight into the human psyche, their ability to manipulate emotion with words ( in a non-native language, no less) and their skill at finding lists that respond, for good rather than evil? What if those guys applied those skills to some of the languishing products or brands out there dying for a boost in sales, how effective could they be? What if they took the time used to concoct these schemes and set up the infrastructure to run them, and used it to brainstorm a way out of the housing crisis, solve the oil spill problem, or the employment problem?
America is the land of opportunity, and someone ought to provide these folks an opportunity to put their skills to good use for the good of the country in general. They of course would have to be monitored and supervised very closely, but so do half the employees I’ve ever worked with. Maybe a government marketing and scheming think tank ought to be set up, to harness the brain power currently residing in our prisons. With roughly 5% of our adult male population currently incarcerated, there’s much to be learned and shared behind those walls, and we’re wasting a resource that our nation could be using to advance our position in the world. If those folks are smart enough to figure out a way to game a system the size of the banking system, or the stock market, then problems like renewable energy, low-income housing, tax reform and national debt ought to be a piece of cake.
Write and tell me your best idea for fixing a problem you’ve recognized that would need government backing to carry out, and I’ll collect them and publish the most likely one’s here for all to see.
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