A reader named Doug sent me an email this morning asking for help.
It seems that he is in England trying to help his dad who needs urgent eye surgery at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital.
I replied asking how I might help. After all I have been out of South Africa for almost 10 years and I do not look so good either.
He replied asking for a R30,000 loan to be repaid as soon as he returned home. Of course I could not contact him because he had not had the foresight to set up mobile roaming before leaving home.
I asked for banking details.
A few moments later another email gave me details of an account in SA in the name of his good friend who would ensure the funds reached Doug in the UK.
This is email marketing at its best, from a technical perspective, at least. Good writing, a tug at the heart, and very fast responses.
I tried phoning Doug on the landline listed in his email signature. Only to find a rather grumpy fella who assured me that he had told me, twice already, that no Doug lived there. It seems all of Doug’s contacts had also seen his urgent request for money.
I tried the mobile phone listed in the email. An even grumpier granny told me that she didn’t even have an email address before slamming the phone down. Or, as hard as one can slam down a mobile phone. It doesn’t quite have the solid heft of Bakelite, does it?
I sifted through eight years of Gmail to trace another number for the man. I traced him to Knysna. He wasn’t in his office but they gave me his mobile number which he did not answer.
I thought the bank might want to know about this skulduggery on their digital doorstep, as it were, and I phoned their Head Office. At least, I would have if they’d answered the phone.
I tried another number, the card hotline, because it was the only other number they listed on their website that could be reached from overseas. The melodious voice was happy to help me stop a card from any of the major banks, as long as I pressed the right buttons, but could not link me to a real person who might help forestall the rush of money destined for Doug and his fathers eyes.
Again I tried the bank Head Office number, which was answered while I was patting myself on the back for answering some emails in the time they took to answer the phone.
They had me call a fine young man with whom I had a long chat about this issue.
I told him that his bank might want to forestall this fraud. It turns out that it’s not really a fraud, but rather a hustle. Nor was it the banks problem. After all, if a person puts money into a bank account without using any of the banks own systems, or involving any of the bank’s employees, then it is almost as legitimate as a real transaction. And, this farsighted fellow assured me, real banking fraud was being eliminated even as we spoke. His bank had a team of techie gurus who had their eyes wide open to any hint of wrongdoing.
Besides which, the account holder detailed in the email was most likely not even a real person. Silly me, I thought that FICA had put a stop that nonsense.
A little later my phone rang. It was a heavy breather who quickly put the phone down. And then my email peeped at me, as Thunderbird does, with a rather grumpy email asking peevishly when I might be putting his money in the bank, and why my mobile number did not work.
All I could think of during this process was, “how entrepreneurial”. This is email marketing without even a product or service, unless one counts the initial warm feeling of helping out a fellow in need. Heck he even tried to call within 30 minutes!
It’s not the kind of marketing I teach, of course. But a very tiny part of me wished I might at least have thought of it. And another, much bigger, part wished my clients focused so tightly on making each sale.
No matter how well written any email is that you get from a friend who urgently needs eye surgery, don’t blindly send money without calling him first, ideally using a number you know for fact actually is his.
Isn’t life wonderful?