I was minding my own business at work some afternoons ago when a friend buzzed me on Facebook inbox. This friend lives in London, and is one of those people who almost never initiate conversations on the social media. They are the ones who you have to say hi to every now and then just to remind them that y’all are on each other’s friend lists.
So you can imagine my surprise when he sent the message: Hello, how are you doing?
Me: I’m good.
Him: Great to hear from you. How is work and family? Hope all is well?
Now, this was where the first alarm bell pinged off my subconscious, nothing loud, just a faint presentment to the weirdness of the conversation. You see, my friend is a bit of a witty fellow, and ‘How is work and family, hope all is well’ sounded like something his grandmother would say.
Me: All is indeed well. Thanks for asking. (Added a smiley here for effect)
Him: That’s good. I really need a little favour from you now.
And instantly, my goodwill instinct kicked in. He’d never asked me for anything before; in fact, the guy is very self-sufficient, and so, seeing him request for a favour from me instantly put me in the frame of mind to move seven mountains and hack through seven forests just to do a good one for him.
Him: I’m in a meeting right now and a good friend of mine is stranded in Kogi, Lokoja. I need your help with airtime to send to her. I promise to refund your money once I’m through with the meeting, okay?
Me: How much?
Him: MTN 5000 naira.
Now, if I were unemployed or not working for MTN, I’d have sadly declined. I may have good intentions for friends and family, but only Jesus came to die for the sake of the world. Three thousand naira is not something I’d just toss out for a friend who I interact with about three times a year.
But this would be my standpoint if I was unemployed or didn’t work for MTN.
But I do, and something about the job sort of insulates you from being tight-fisted with the resources that are readily available to you, resources you could bestow on another close to you in his hour of need. So, instead of a grimace and a sorrow-filled response of ‘Oh, I can’t, I’m so sorry’, I replied with: you should know that the airtime we sell here isn’t the recharge card kind, where the pin is sent and the recipient can either recharge or sell. It’s electronic and it recharges the line directly.
Me: Is that okay by your friend?
And that was when the second subconscious ping went off. Because the thing is, in my opinion, when someone asks you for airtime on the premise that he or she is stranded, it is my understanding that said someone wants to barter the airtime for money to bail himself out of a tight situation. And so, this someone would need the pin of the airtime; recharging his phone with the airtime would just be an inconvenience. Sure, of course, he could always transfer the amount from his phone, but ‘wouldn’t it be better if you simply sent me the recharge card pin?’
I pondered this while I typed out my response: Very well, what’s the number?
Him: 07034753025 (That’s the actual number he gave to me, guys. So feel free to investigate it as you wish, perhaps send it to EFCC to look into…?)
Him: Have you got it? How soon can you send it?
Me: In about three minutes.
Him: Ok. Let me know as soon as you send the card.
But then, I got sidetracked with work, and three minutes ticked by into some five-or-six minutes. And he buzzed me again: Are you there?
I didn’t reply because I was still attending to customers, and hadn’t seen the message. Some seven minutes passed, and he buzzed again: Please, talk to me. Are you there?
Me: (finally) Yes.
Him: Have you sent the card?
I had the phone in my hand. I’d already typed out the number he gave him. I was just a couple of clicks away from transferring five thousand naira to the number. Then the Anti-Fraud gods declared in my favour: NOT TODAY!
Because, just then, yet another ping echoed in my subconscious. This time, it nudged awake a memory from last year, an encounter with a customer I had in September. He was an elderly man, looked well-to-do, and after I attended to his customer need, he – as an aside – told me he had another problem. Apparently, both his email and Facebook accounts had been hacked. He’d not been able to log into either accounts for about a week, and had thought nothing of it. He was after all a busy businessman, and kept procrastinating on the rectification of the problem. Then a friend called him to enquire about what ‘the problem was that was so serious he inboxed him on Facebook to ask him for 3, 000 naira.’ Then another friend called, and yet another. They were collectively startled by this problem that had him sending them Facebook messages, asking for airtime. Peanuts, for that matter. He was a businessman for crying-out-loud. These friends expected phone calls for loans above 10, 000 naira. And that was when he realized he’d been hacked.
And so, he wanted to know if I was savvy with technology enough to get his accounts back under his control. I was. And after an hour of doing this and that, we wrested control back from the hacker. We checked his Facebook inbox; it was littered with implorations for recharge card ranging from 3, 000 to 5, 000 naira.
And, diary, you know what the kicker is? This fraudster wanted help for a friend who was stranded in Lokoja, Kogi State.
Suddenly, I saw the light. Was blind, and now I could see. So, instead of going ahead with the transaction, I typed a response to ‘my friend’: No, I haven’t sent the card.
Me: I have suddenly realized that you could be a fraud. So, to convince me otherwise, tell me the mutual friend who introduced you to me. Tell me his name and I will send the airtime.
Seconds later, the notification inched in below my message: Seen Tue At 2: 16 PM.
It still remains seen.
And without any reply.
Hmm, I wonder why.
I am @Walt_Shakes on twitter