Thursday, July 4, 2019

The luxury of fiction

Stanley – Thursday

One of the wonderful attributes of writing fiction is that you can manipulate reality to suit the story. For example, in real life, DNA results can take months to come back. In our stories, the lucky detectives can have them expedited to be back in days – and with new technology, in hours. 

In our Kubu series, Kubu has the luxury of being able to put his feet up on his desk to snatch a quick power nap, partly because it invigorates him, partly because it is in those few minutes that his subconscious works overtime to produce flashed of insight into whatever case is perplexing him. In real life, detectives face such a mountain of cases that I suspect they have difficulty having a normal sleep at night let alone a midday power nap.

And of course, it is one of the pleasures of writing police procedurals that despite difficulties, immensely clever criminals, and a host of other obstacles, our protagonists usually succeed in bringing the baddies to justice. The pleasure is less in the writing of the story than in knowing that your readers love to see justice done. In real life, of course, justice is rarely done. Criminals are often never arrested and, if they are, frequently do not feel the harsh consequences of the law.

All this came in sharp focus for me this week when I visited the Sea Point police station in Cape Town to chat to a detective who is handling a case in which I am involved.

First some background. I am a pretty savvy computer and technology person and pay a lot of attention to the various nefarious schemes to deprive honest citizens like myself from their hard-earned money. A thousand times, I have ignored emails from Nigeria offering a slice of a fortune that has miraculously come my way. I can’t count the number of lotteries in obscure countries that I have won, with the money just awaiting my banking information. I am constantly surprised by the number of family members I have who have left money to me in their wills. 

The Nigerian scam
Some of the scams are so obvious that we can’t believe that anyone would take them seriously. However, the fact that they persist in such numbers may indicate that an occasional person falls for them. If one person in a thousand responds and has his or her bank account cleared out, sending out a million emails may be a very profitable enterprise.

Some of the scams are clever – particularly the ones purportedly from a broker or banker with the look and feel of the email identical to that of one from the bank. alerting the recipient to the fact that there has been a problem with their account, asking them to CLICK HERE to sign on and rectify the situation. I suspect most of the people who fall for this type of scam are elderly, and not particularly comfortable with computers and online financial transactions. I feel so sad when I hear of someone who has just had their life savings pilfered.

Last November I came across a scam that was ingenious in its concept and execution. And I was the victim.

Me when I found out - note the fine crop of hair and the tie, both of which I am without.
The scammer hacked into my nephew Ivor's email account without him knowing it. Rather than sending out weird emails to people under my nephew’s name, the scammer did nothing but monitor his emails. He or she was probably monitoring lots of people’s emails. 

I wanted to give my nephews, Ivor and Sean, and niece, Colleen, some money, so I used the typical bank transfer readily available in South Africa. Two of the three went through, but Sean’s bounced – the account had been closed. I emailed him for the correct information, but that too bounced, so I emailed Ivor to see if he had Sean’s current email address. He had it and I sent a new email asking Sean for his bank account number. He replied with it, and I sent him his money for which he thanked me.

To cut a long and sad story short, when I emailed Ivor for Sean’s email address, it was the scammer who replied, giving me a working but false address. When I emailed Sean, of course it went to the scammer, who supplied me with what I thought was Sean’s bank details. And it was into this account that my money went.

And disappeared.

As did the scammer.

So what has this got to do with my topic for the day – the luxury of fiction?

I reported the scam to the fraud department of the bank where the scammer had his or her account. I notified my bank of what had happened, and I filed a police report. All of these were done within a day of finding out what had happened – during the first week of November last year.

As of today, my bank kicked the case over to the bank where the scammer's account was. The scammer's bank has promised on numerous occasions that they are looking into the matter and will get back to me by the promised date. There has been no promised date.

I  have visited the police stationer six times so far, and only once did I speak to the detective assigned to the case. It was in process, he said, but would take a while because they were overloaded and short-staffed. Then he was taken ill and his cases reassigned. Or at least that was what I was told. I was even given the name of the new detective, but every time I went to see him, he was out detecting somewhere or other.

Earlier this week I returned with the hope of meeting the new detective on my case. No such luck, but I did wander into the head detective’s office. Small, badly needing paint, bits of paper stuck to the walls, piles of files on his desk. He was very helpful. We accessed his computer, brought up my case, only to find it hadn’t officially been reassigned. It was still assigned to the detective who was still out sick after three months. The head detective immediately officially reassigned it to the other detective I had still failed to meet.

Then the head detective explained the process that had to be followed to allow them to subpoena records from the bank. The case had to be written up and then presented to a magistrate in court. And the magistrate would decide whether to allow the case to go forward.

Yesterday I actually managed to make phone contact with the right detective. What a win! He said that a bunch of dockets had been sent to the magistrate to get permission to subpoena the appropriate records from the bank. (Note he didn't actually say mine was in the batch.) However the magistrate wasn't the normal one they use, and the new one sent the docks back. So, the detective told me, he has to resubmit all of the dockets, including mine.  

And that is only the start of the process, he grumbled. Banks don't respond timorously to sub open requests, often stonewalling indefinitely.

Meanwhile the mountain of cases on the detective's desk continues to grow.

It was clear to me that there wasn’t going to be any speedy resolution to any part of this case. And it was this reality check that made me think of how lucky we writers are to be able to massage reality to suit our stories. If we wrote out stories to mimic reality, our readers would be fast asleep before anything happened, and likely dead before the case was resolved.

Here’s to fiction! Clink.

And this is what I dream about.

1 comment:

  1. It's a jungle out there. Whoops, wrong analogy for you, Michael.

    I hate getting hustled, though it's happened to us all. In fact, I'm working a recent one into my WIP...trouble is, I doubt he can read so he won't see how dastardly I've made him. :)