Saturday Column - Number 22 - Saturday 17th March 2001

I once found an Italian family of five living in my flat.

I had never seen them before in my life. They had been there for months. I hadn’t heard a thing. Mind you, it was a big flat; they were in the East wing.

It turned out that I had completely forgotten that six months earlier I had told a homeless restaurant kitchen porter I had got talking to one night, that he was welcome to stay at my place for a night.

So I liked the story in this week’s papers about Abdullah the New York restaurant vegetable/dish washer, who the FBI have just arrested for stealing millions of dollars from the bank accounts of rich people. He was another computer Internet genius of course, who, when not peeling potatoes, was keeping himself busy assuming the cyber/voicemail identities of Steven Spielberg, Microsoft co- founder Paul Allen, Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, Warren Buffet and the rest of the Forbes 400 Richest people in America. Don’t ask me how he did it ..I have enough trouble pushing the Send button.

Abdullah (who had once starred in a cyber version Poacher turned Gamekeeper video titled How Not to Become a Victim of Fraud on the Internet), was “one of the very best hackers I’ve ever come up against,” said the top NY detective in charge of the FCABU (Fighting Cybercrime Against Billionaires Unit) who arrested him in the restaurant kitchen. Having ordered him to put down the stick of broccoli he was holding at the time, he was lead away in handcuffs, shouting “You are making a very big mistake.. I am Oprah Winfrey!”

“When he wasn’t washing dishes, Abdullah was everyone and everywhere all over the world,” the officer said. In fact the whole time he was just on his laptop in his midtown lodging room, busy moving millions of dollars into his bank accounts.

Abdullah was only caught when he tried to transfer 10 million dollars out of yet another billionaire’s account to a new bank account he had set up in Australia, because this would have left the account three dollars in the red. How this guy ever got to be a billionaire in the first place with a bank manager like that is beyond me! “I am sorry Mr. Soros ..we’ve had to bounce that cheque of yours for $3 Billion you wrote to buy Uzbehkistan as it would have left you 3 dollars overdrawn.”

I know how Oprah, Steven, Ted, Warren and the others must have felt, as I, too, have also recently become the victim of Internet fraud. Everyone else seemed to have been defrauded by cyber thieves over the last year, but for some reason until now my bank account had been left unscathed.

Even when I read that the Russian mafia had cloned millions of Western credit cards, was my name on just one of them? No it was not!

Frankly I was beginning to feel discriminated against?

Wasn’t my money good enough for the global net fraudsters?

I felt insulted. OK maybe I am not up there with Ted and Warren yet, but my credit limit’s as good as the next victim!

Never one to be left out of the latest craze, I went to all the sites around the net and begged them to take my credit card details. I signed up for so many free 24 hour free ‘look arounds’ that I could have stayed up for 100 years without sleeping.

You just have no idea how exciting Intellectual Property Rights web sites can be.

I started entering chat rooms with the opening remark “Hi! my name’s Peter and my Visa card number is 3097.65976 9578… help yourself” Not a single taker. Nothing.

Not one single defrauded pound left my bank account.

I was about to give up, exhausted, when, in desperation, I clicked on Barney the Churchmouse. Alert readers will recall that my daughter’s school had performed Barney last Christmas. I gave my credit card number to purchase what I thought, at the time, was a children’s book about little Barney, and entered the site. You would never believe some of the things Barney the Churchmouse gets up to. This particular site definitely was not the inspiration for Silent Night, the Carol!

I never got the book, but the next thing I knew, I was supporting a family in Brazil.

Finally, I had become an internet credit card fraud victim!

I only discovered this when I got a call during lunch a few weeks later from Barbara at Visa. I knew this because she said “Hallo, it’s Barbara at Visa.”

“Can I ask you some questions Mr. Rosengard…. for security purposes? “She said. Five minutes later, having established that I was me and I was in London, she said “Mr. Rosengard, were you in Brazil this morning?”

” No, Barbara, unfortunately my time machine has broken.” I replied, through a mouthful of Shepherd’s Pie.

“Were you in Brazil this morning or not Mr. Rosengard?” she asked again.

” Barbara, it is two in the afternoon. It takes about 18 hours to fly to Brazil. It would have been rushing things, just a little, to get here in two hours don’t you think?” I replied.

“I’ve never been to Brazil.” she said.

“Why are you asking me this anyway?” I asked.

“Because someone, used your card in Rio de Janeiro this morning, and spent £1600.” she replied. “Do you have the card with you?”

It was a card I had lost in London and reported lost over 2 months before. “How can someone be using it now?” I asked.” I put a stop on it ages ago.”

“Are you quite sure you weren’t in Brazil this morning?”

“Well hang on a second Barbara, let me think carefully…I’ ll just check my diary again in case after breakfast at Claridge’s I did just pop over to Rio for a quick swim on Copacabana beach…it is easy to forget little things sometimes.”

“Someone will be in contact with you soon, Mr Rosengard” she said.

“You are in contact with me, Barbara.” I said. She hung up.

The next day I got a call from Leanne at Visa.

“Hallo, It’s Leanne at Visa.”

“Mr Rosengard, were you in Brazil this morning?” she asked.

So when, after spending an hour on the phone yesterday trying to sign up for the new super fast BT Openworld Broadband instant internet service,

Julia finally said to me “Can I have your credit card number now to complete your order please, Mr. Rosengard?”

I replied “I will have to ask you a few questions first, Julia, just for security purposes.”

“Where are you calling from, Julia?” I asked.

“I can’t tell you that…for security purposes ” she replied. (You’ll have to trust me on this.)

“What is your maiden name, Julia?” I asked.

“I am single.” she said.

“All right… fine… what was your father’s maiden name then?”

“O Grady” she said.

“How tall was he?” I continued.

“Five feet six inches. Why?”

“I suppose it’s hereditary, Julia. Maybe his father was also short.”

” No, I mean What do you want to know how tall he is For?” she said.

“For security purposes, Julia, of course. Why else would I want to know how tall your father was?” I said.

“I don’t have to remind you, Julia, that credit card fraud on the internet is on the increase do I?”

“No.” she said.

“I have to tell you, Julia, that this call might be being monitored for training purposes.” I said.

“Fine” she said.

“You have to understand, Julia, I don’t know if you are really BT, do I? You could for example be part of a vast Russian Mafia card cloning operation couldn’t you?”

“Do I sound Russian?” she asked. “My name’s Julia Jones!”

” Calm down, Julia, you are hardly going to admit to being Natasha Gourlitansky calling from a call box in St Petersburg, are you?” I said.

“Look,” I continued, “Even if you are who you say you are, we all know that BT are £30billion in debt, so lets face it, Julia, they have a very good motive for getting their hands on my credit card don’t they?”

Maybe your boss has been out for lunch… he tries to pay with his company credit card. ‘Sorry’ the machine says… you have exceeded your limit by £30billion.”

He calls the office. “You have to help me! They won’t let me leave the restaurant until I pay the bill!” he says.

” I know, let’s call Rosengard” someone in BT’s Cyber Section says.

“He won’t miss it…remember Barney the Churchmouse,” a colleague says.

“By the way Julia, your chairman, Sir Ian Vallance… he wasn’t by any chance in Brazil a couple of weeks ago, was he?”




The Saturday Column March 17th 2001 Copyright Peter Rosengard 2001 Weekly on www.rosengard.com If you wish your friends to receive the Column please send their e mail addresses to peter@rosengard.com If you do not wish to receive the column please reply with ‘unsubscribe in the subject box.

All back columns including those that first appeared in The Independent 1993/1995, are now up on the site. Please see The Saturday Column Archive.