It is downright mean to laugh at the misfortunes of others, and I have been told I am not mean. I have, therefore, never understood why some people giggle themselves silly when they see another person trip and fall.
I was amazed at myself, though, this week as I watched a TV exposé of the notorious Nigerian-invented 491 scam. For the uninitiated, the scam works something like this: you receive an e-mail from some bank general manager - "my name is Mr Jeremiah Hagagagooba" - who got your name from a trusted source who has assured him that you are the only one who can help.
He heads up the bank's division of deceased estates, and among the accounts he oversees, there is one in the name of Sheik Aya Madu Shehu, a billionaire who died leaving behind oodles of money in a trust account held by the Nigerian Central Bank - US$345million to be exact.
Sheik Shehu had no known family, and if the funds are not withdrawn in the next six months, the bank will be bound to hand them over to the government's ministry of finance. Now this is where you come in: The funds need to leave Nigeria on the double, and because of the fiscal Proclamation 374 (B) governing trust funds, the money can only be paid out into a foreign account.
The plan to move the funds has the blessing of the treasurer-general, who has ensured that there will be no hitches from the government's side. Anyone willing to help move the funds into their own account will be entitled to keep 10 percent after returning the rest to Mr Hagagagooba.
Would you be kind enough to assist? It would be sincerely appreciated if you could send your full banking details with your response . blah bloody blah.
I've been blessed enough to attract dozens of these "great offers" quite regularly, and when I do have the time to respond, I promptly thank the writers for picking me of all the people. I normally conclude my responses, "I have a suggestion, why don't you go play with yourself?"
Back to the TV exposé: I have always imagined that the rapscallions who run this scam are tough-as-nails macho men - the type that extract their own teeth because only sissy pansies go to the dentist.
They caught this ringleader of the scam in a sting (video-taped for 60 Minutes). I never knew that a man is capable of transforming from a fearless, bone-chewing master of the universe, to a whimpering mouse begging for mercy in a matter of minutes. And they had not touched the bastard, for that matter. He promised, on the spot, to lure his partners in crime into the trap - and he did. The implicit expectation was a pardon, which I doubt he got.
Reminds me of one feared rogue linked to every crime known to man - from stealing nappies from the washing line to murder. One day he ran out of luck and the police caught him for a minor robbery. Those days they beat the hell out of suspects as Part One of any investigation.
Before they even touched him, he pleaded, tears in his eyes: "If you do not beat me up, I will tell you about my other crimes you don't know of..."
That, and the Nigerian con's instant transformation from rock to jelly, I find sickeningly funny.