In plenty of time for it to be the best Christmas present ever, I received an email from David Hamilton Koch this week informing me that he is making arrangements to send me $2,000,000 in donation funds.
The only David Hamilton Koch I know is the famous American tycoon and philanthropist who, as head of a conglomerate that is the second-largest privately held company in the United States, can well afford to send me the money.
And the detailed instructions about how this is going to happen are most convincing. The money will be delivered in cash in “two security proof boxes. The boxes are sealed with synthetic nylon seal and padded.”
I am told not to worry about the transaction as diplomatic agent John Collins will personally accompany the boxes to my door step.
Here, the warm fuzzy feeling of getting a lot of money for doing nothing definitely fades away, as who can believe the agent will leave Nairobi, Kenya at 9pm (what day and month is unspecified) and will be at my doorstep at 6pm. Hopefully the very next day?
This is followed by many more instructions, last but not least why I need to pay the sum of $176 before I get the money.
I have, like many people, received such scam emails before, and much of my inheritance or whatever other money I am promised seems to come out of Africa – after I pay the people who will send it to me.
These days most of us dismiss these emails with a wry shrug, but another attempt to get at my money, albeit a small sum, in the run up for Christmas was also made this week – right here in Cyprus. And this one was particularly annoying because it was supposed to be for a charity.
This time, there was no email starting with “my dear” from abroad, but a phone call to my mobile from an unknown Nicosia number. I didn’t know who was calling but the caller definitely knew something about me. Too much for my liking. “Mrs Chrysostomou?” she asked. She then explained she was calling from a children’s charity collecting money by selling items.
Would I be interested in buying a calendar and a magazine for €5 each if someone passed by when I was at home? I agreed to have a look at them.
They would call me again to see when I was at home. She already knew my address. I agreed to this as well, thinking that I could then have a look at what they were planning to sell, look at their credentials and decide.
Next, another phone call, this time from a local mobile, on a weekday, around lunchtime, not from the same person, saying he was from the same charity and asking if I was home. As I work during the day most days, I wasn’t. When would I be there? I am not in the habit of giving my timetable to unknown persons, especially as nobody was going to be home for several hours.
When I replied I wasn’t sure when I would finish work the man became much less friendly. I got another call from the same number later on while I was still out, but by then I was thoroughly fed up with the whole thing and didn’t reply.
What did I find when I got home? The two items, a calendar and a magazine, and my husband.
Someone had rang the bell and told him “Annette agreed to buy these things,” so he paid, as the guy who sold them to him “obviously knew me and had talked to me”, without checking any credentials or getting a receipt. And neither was offered.
This may be a genuine charity, certainly one is registered in the name they supplied, though it has no internet page or address on their publications, only a mobile number where you can contact them.
The ‘charity’ claims to have my number and the address from the phone book. I can only recommend people don’t list their numbers as the possibilities for hoaxes and crimes are plenty.
Pancyprian Volunteerism Coordinating Council (PSSE) chairman Stavros Olympios warned in November scammers had contacted unsuspecting members of the public and posed themselves as representing charities, often bogus ones supposedly supporting sick children.
According to officer at the PSSE Alexandra Kyriacou the situation always gets worse during the Christmas season.
“The scammers say that the donations are for charities over the phone, before then visiting the homes of their victims to collect the cash,” she explained. Sounds familiar.
The PSSE has some advice for those confronted with fundraisers. “Fundraising is allowed in open spaces by those with the relevant permission from the interior ministry,” they say, “and it is allowed at the workplace. However, door-to-door fundraising is only allowed in exceptional circumstances and must be approved by the cabinet.”
Before handing over any money, the person who is approached should check the licence of the person who asks for it. The licence has to be signed by the interior ministry and must state the period for which it is valid, the region it covers and the way in which the charity is allowed to collect the money. One should check that any emblem or badge used is the same as the one on the permit.
Residents who buy anything are advised to ask for a receipt. Anyone who suspects the transaction is illegal should report the incident to police and inform the PSSE by calling 22-514786.
I Wish I had known that a few days ago.
More info, including a list with all registered charities and their details can be found at the interior ministry’s website