Those of us with relatives who got really excited about that distant relative who left millions in a Nigerian bank account can just nod sagely here: A couple of years ago, an Indian man received a text notifying him that he'd won somewhere between $319,000 and $478,000 in "the BBC's national lottery." "I and several of my colleagues also received similar messages," writes Geeta Pandey at the BBC. "The texts evoked much mirth, but we all deleted them and forgot about them." But 41-year-old Ratan Kumar Malbisoi—who is unemployed, unfamiliar with phishing scams, and really wanted the money—responded, spawning a two-year odyssey that is equal parts comedy and tragedy. How it went down:
- Malbisoi spoke with a scammer, who claimed he was "the BBC's chancellor. He spoke really well. He promised me a large sum of money but said I would have to first send ($191) so that he can transfer the money into an RBI account."
- Problem: Malbisoi didn't have any money to send. "He said then they couldn't pay me any money, but over a period of time, we kept negotiating and they finally asked me for" a third of that amount.
- Problem: Malbisoi didn't have even that much. He suggested that the "BBC chancellor" deduct it from his winnings; predictably, he was told that wouldn't be happening.
- The back-and-forth negotiating continued until last November when the scammer asked if Malbisoi had received his check. So Malbisoi says he traveled 1,000 miles to the BBC bureau in Delhi, "to find out if a check had arrived here for me."
- When Malbisoi showed up, it fell to Pandey to help him. Pandey called the "chancellor's" number, only to get one "Scott Smith" who became "increasingly aggressive" when questioned.
- As for Malbisoi, he made it home safe, albeit not rich. "I never felt he was trying to cheat me," he says. "I liked speaking with him, he was always very nice. If they don't want to give me the money, I can't force them. It's their money."