A Consulting Session With an Unfortunate Victim

This poor girl from Ghana inherited many kilograms of gold and can’t get at it because she can’t pay the back due rent on the gold storage unit. She has reached out to me, a total stranger, for help. I use my testing skills to help her understand that she’s being scammed. But you know, sometimes it’s hard to help people see the truth when fantasy seems less painful…

A stranger approaches on Skype…

[12:29:22 AM] Irene Kusi: Hello

[12:29:33 AM] James Bach: hi

[12:29:44 AM] Irene Kusi: How are you doing ?

[12:29:54 AM] James Bach: Why are you contacting me?

[12:30:10 AM] Irene Kusi: I am very sorry about that and sorry again if i disturb you. I am Irene Kusi from the UK but i am now in Ghana and i would like to know more about you.

[12:30:51 AM] James Bach: Why are you contacting ME, though?

[12:31:39 AM] Irene Kusi: Like i just told you .sorry if i disturb you.

[12:32:06 AM] James Bach: You haven’t told me why you came to me instead of someone else. Is there any reason?

[12:32:10 AM] Irene Kusi: Can we get to know each other personally? What do you mean ?

[12:32:27 AM] James Bach: Look, strangers contact me often for business purposes. That’s normal. I’m trying to figure out if this is for business. Usually people tell me why they are contacting me.

[12:33:08 AM] Irene Kusi: Yes is not strictly business. I just would like to get to know you

[12:33:18 AM] James Bach: So, you don’t know who I am.

[12:33:54 AM] Irene Kusi: Yes i really dont know you but i found your profile on skype and decided to get to know you if i can work with you.

[12:34:23 AM] James Bach: You just chose me at random? Seems like a lot of people from Ghana are doing that.

[12:35:13 AM] Irene Kusi: Why have some people from ghana done something like that to you ?

[12:35:18 AM] James Bach: Yes you are not the first person from Ghana to randomly contact me

[12:35:40 AM] Irene Kusi: And what did they want ??

[12:35:51 AM] James Bach: They wouldn’t tell me… Just like you aren’t telling me.

(She cuts the small-talk and tells me her problem)

[12:36:30 AM] Irene Kusi: My main motive here is to find someone who will help me inherit my property thats why i am on skype .

[12:36:40 AM] James Bach: oh, a 419 thing. I understand

[12:38:27 AM] Irene Kusi: Oh who said is a 419 thing

[12:39:03 AM] James Bach: I did, “oh, a 419 thing” See, that’s where I said it.

[12:39:23 AM] Irene Kusi: what shows is a 419 thing

[12:39:41 AM] James Bach: You said “My main motive here is to find someone who will help me inherit my property thats why i am on skype.” If you haven’t heard of 419, that’s okay.

[12:40:54 AM] Irene Kusi: Ok

[12:41:12 AM] James Bach: Usually it’s Nigerians who need this kind of help. I didn’t know it was happening in Ghana, too.

[12:41:34 AM] Irene Kusi: Ok .so are you going to help me or not ?

[12:41:46 AM] James Bach: What do you need?

[12:42:06 AM] Irene Kusi: I will like you to help me pay with the bills so that i can get the gold

[12:43:07 AM] James Bach: Oh, you want money. Why didn’t you say so at the start?

[12:43:20 AM] Irene Kusi: I dont know why

(With my tester skills, I immediately comprehend what’s going on: she’s too innocent; she sees only the good in people)

[12:44:26 AM] James Bach: Okay, but, why would you trust me? You don’t know me. I might be a bad guy.

[12:45:11 AM] Irene Kusi: Nothing i have just gotten to know that you a very giid guy and i will trsut you .

[12:46:39 AM] James Bach: I think you have to be careful, though. There are many people in the world who may try to take advantage of you. Especially if you have inherited gold. Let me ask you this: If I help you, will you share part of the gold with me?

[12:47:51 AM] Irene Kusi: I will do exactly that not just half but i will let you get the whole gold that is i will bring it to the USA and then we will sell it there and share the money. But before we share the money i will give you 5kilograms of the gold for free just for helping me get it . [Editors note: that’s about $300,000]

[12:48:30 AM] James Bach: See? You were just about to trust me and then I tried to take your gold! Irene, you are WAY too trusting. People will want to take from you and not give you anything.

[12:49:14 AM] Irene Kusi: Oh so will you do that to me ?

[12:49:28 AM] James Bach: I just proved that you would LET me if I TRIED to. That was a test. I do testing for a living. And you showed that you are too innocent and good. This is a hard world, full of cheaters.

[12:50:07 AM] Irene Kusi: Oh okay thank you so much for telling me this .

[12:50:13 AM] James Bach: They may try to contact you and fool you into giving up your money. So be more careful.

[12:50:26 AM] Irene Kusi: Thank you

(Now I go into consulting mode… First, learn about the problem. Often the real problem is not the one they come to you with.)

[12:50:31 AM] James Bach: Why don’t you keep your money? You will need it.

[12:51:16 AM] Irene Kusi: Ok so are you going to help me pay for the bills so that i get the gold ??

[12:51:46 AM] James Bach: I thought you said the gold belonged to you.

[12:51:52 AM] Irene Kusi: Yes

[12:52:04 AM] James Bach: Then you have much much more money than I have. You can pay them yourself, can’t you?

[12:52:21 AM] Irene Kusi: Oh no not right now. You know my dad left the Gold as a form of inheritance for me and since he could keep all that in his house he had to give it to his lawyer.

[12:53:14 AM] James Bach: Okay, so the lawyer has it.

[12:53:42 AM] Irene Kusi: Yes and what the lawyer is also saying is that he gave it to a security house here in ghana

[12:53:55 AM] James Bach: That’s good. Then you know where it is. What happened when you went to get it?

[12:54:42 AM] Irene Kusi: They told me that i have to pay for the number of years that it has been there so that they can give it to me . And the lawyer told me that i also need to get a man who will stand by me just to help me

[12:55:42 AM] James Bach: Is this place a bank?

[12:56:03 AM] Irene Kusi: No is not bank but a storage house .

[12:56:19 AM] James Bach: Is it licensed to store gold?

[12:56:29 AM] Irene Kusi: Yes. Is a licensed company. It has the sole mandate to store gold for people

(Use my knowledge of local laws and customs to reveal the true culprit. A consultant should have deep knowledge in useful domains.)

[12:56:57 AM] James Bach: Then they are violating Ghanan law by charging you to release it. Your lawyer should have told you that. Do you trust that lawyer? Do you know him well?

[12:57:27 AM] Irene Kusi: Yes he is the family lawyer .

[12:57:51 AM] James Bach: Then why is he telling you something that is against the laws of your own country? I think you need to talk to a different lawyer.

[12:58:59 AM] Irene Kusi: When we went there they told me that is not like they are charging me for the gold which is mine said by my late dad but for the number of years they have kept the gold for safe keeping thats what they mean. The lawyer has got nothing to do with this at all.

[1:01:34 AM] James Bach: That’s called an “advance fee scam” and they are trying to trick you. You need to go to the police. But I think your lawyer may be in on this. He may even have paid off the police.

(My kind of consulting involves tough, direct speech, on occasion. Sometimes that’s hard for clients to hear.)

[1:02:07 AM] Irene Kusi: You cant talk to my lawyer like that

[1:02:12 AM] James Bach: Your lawyer, if he knows Ghanan law, knows that they aren’t ALLOWED to charge you. They can’t charge you! You are being tricked!

[1:02:26 AM] Irene Kusi: Ok

[1:02:39 AM] James Bach: I told you that you have to be careful. Gold is VERY valuable. People want to steal it.

[1:03:03 AM] Irene Kusi: so now are you going to help me pay the bills or not ?

[1:03:46 AM] James Bach: I’m telling you that you don’t owe any bills. It’s a trap. They want you to pay them and then they won’t give you anything. You need to wake up Irene. You are a crime victim.

[1:04:05 AM] Irene Kusi: Stop what you are saying

[1:04:06 AM] James Bach: That gold is yours. You deserve it.

[1:04:08 AM] Irene Kusi: i hate it.  what do you take me for ? you are not ready to pay fpor the bills thats why you are doing this

[1:04:40 AM] James Bach: I think you put too much belief in people who are now trying to hurt you.  Now you are upset and you want to blame me. But I am just the messenger.

[1:05:08 AM] Irene Kusi: do you think the storage house is an orphanage home where they keep things for free?

[1:05:59 AM] James Bach: Stand up for your rights, Irene. Even in Ghana, there are laws and people have to follow them. They can’t just steal your gold and say you can’t have it because it’s been “sitting there for a long time”

[1:06:24 AM] Irene Kusi: Stop what you are saying

[1:06:26 AM] James Bach: Under GHANA LAW a licensed gold storage house CANNOT charge for storage AFTER the fact. They take payment UP FRONT. Your father already paid. Your lawyer knows that. You have to fight for what is right.

[1:06:49 AM] Irene Kusi: no he didnt pay

[1:07:06 AM] James Bach: THAT’S WHAT YOUR LAWYER TOLD YOU? I can’t believe what a liar this guy is. Do you think you can just bring gold to a storage house and not pay them to store it? He must have paid. So now you are asking strangers to help you pay a bill that YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE.

[1:08:23 AM] Irene Kusi: Bye

[1:08:29 AM] James Bach: I hope you get your gold. Think about what I said.

(If the client is not ready, it doesn’t matter what you tell them: they won’t benefit. I like to think Irene is taking my words to heart. But I have to accept that she probably won’t. Meanwhile I can only hope that her lawyer has invested his ill-gotten gains in an American solar company.)


19 thoughts on “A Consulting Session With an Unfortunate Victim

  1. Brilliant post!

    I don’t know if this was a real conversion, but it’s a great metaphor for what happens on too many consulting gigs.

    Thanks for a great story.

    Assaf

    [James’ Reply: It is real. I edited it slightly for readability.]

  2. Hi James,

    I read through this chat log, I believe you are aware that people like Irene trick people into paying them money by telling such stories (yes her version of having to pay for storage house is just a story).. there were many who were tricked into paying such people and ultimately lost money..

    But yes, I was surprised at the way your consulting skills came into play and ultimately she left the conversation in a hurry.

    Karthik

    [James’ Reply: Really? How do you know I’m aware of that?]

  3. James,

    What are those tester skills you applied to “immediately comprehend what’s going on: she’s too innocent; she sees only the good in people” in the very beginning? Could you exlain it a wee bit deeper?

    [James’ Reply: What other possibility is there? :-)]

    My skills are definitely not enough to make such conclusion. Even after carefully re-reading the whole conversation I suspect it was 419 thing.

    [James’ Reply: You mean you think she didn’t really have many kilograms of gold to her name? Why would she lie about that. Apparently it’s a common occurrence in Africa, judging from all the email I get, to have a lot of money and not be able to get it. The United Nations should look into it.]

  4. I really admire your patience man. I usually blow them off with a yeah right. however, the dialog was rather amusing and I could not stop reading.

    cool analogy with the consulting gig.

    I am attending your rapid Testing class virtually, but I’m the mean time, when could You Coach me via skype? how much is your rate?

    [James’ Reply: Read here.]

  5. Very nice post. A couple of observations and 1 question for you.

    Observation 1) — She seems quite good with her english and has made very minimal spelling mistakes (typing giid instead of good and trsut for trust in 1 sentence, and no spaace between 5 and kilograms in another).

    Observation 2) — Everytime her sentence ends with a punctuation, there’s a gap between the last letter and the punctuation mark. Be it a full-stop or a question mark.
    My 1st question to you is if this was due to your editing or is this a direct copy of what transpired between you both?

    [James’ Reply: I joined separate lines together, and I corrected my own punctuation and capitalization. I added one sentence of my own and deleted one of hers that seemed to make no sense. Otherwise I made no changes.]

    My 2nd question to you is… if you notice the 1st 5-6 lines from her to you, they seem to be from a bot (or pre-programmed) and not as if someone is typing a conversation. Only when she says it is not business does it seem to me that there’s a relevant reply to your questions from her. Did you ever think it could have been a bot in the 1st 3 mins of your conversation, or were you convinced that it was a person at the other end?

    [James’ Reply: It never occurred to me that it could be a chatbot. However, it did occur to me that whatever it was was not very responsive. Some people are remarkably– even shockingly– bad at being lucid online.]

  6. Paying fictive gold storage bills for random Ghanians and other online scams – $3.4B

    Thoughtful reply from James – priceless.

  7. James,

    The whole thing is a scam. There is no Irene. This is a long standing scam, people ain India were spammed with this kind of email 2 years ago. All of them appear to originate from African countries. The sender is benefactor of a large inheritance and wishes to share it with the mail receipient, they would just need a small deposit to bypass the countries laws or whatever. Many people fell prey to this, it was in the papers too. In fact, my father received a mail like and was giving a serious thought to this, until I told him the facts.

    A quick google search shows a trend.

    http://www.fraudwatchers.org/forums/showthread.php?p=129792

    -Keshav

    [James’ Reply: How can you say that there is no Irene? I was talking to her.]

  8. So this is how 419 scammers were dealt with back in Plato’s day! Still James doth protest his innocence too much, methinks.

    Tangentially this reminds me of a magazine article written by an insomniac who decided to become a telephone psychic so that he didn’t have to spend his late nights watching television advertisments for psychic phone services. When callers asked him for the winning lottery numbers, he’d say that he’d looked into their future and saw that they would never win the lottery and so they shouldn’t waste money on tickets. Despite the incredible accuracy of his prediction, this uniformly elicited the response that he was the worst psychic ever.

  9. She didn’t respond with “No, there *are* recurrent rental expenses. My lawyer has shown me the receipts!” So, yeah, low scores for agility.

  10. The “Help, I’m in a bad situation in Africa and I need you to send me some money so I can cause The System to disgorge much more money, lots/most/nearly all of it I will send to you” scam is so old as to be cliche.

    [James’ Reply: I think cliche’ greatly understates it. This is the first time it’s happened to me over Skype, however. So I wanted explore the situation.]

    (Digression: I got a wonderful example of it in the physical mail a month or two ago from Tanzania. Beautiful stamps, interesting envelope, classic letter. A bravo performance.)

    [James’ Reply: Wow, PHYSICAL mail?]

    The “I’m going to mess around with the bad-situation-in-Africa scammer and post the results” counter-tactic is not quite so old as to be cliche, but is certainly staring down at the ramp over the shark tank and gunning the engine.

    [James’ Reply: I think you’re taking this a bit too seriously. You know, there are a whole lot of cliches happening on testing blogs all over our great land. Many of those cliches are actually damaging to the craft. This was something fun that I thought I would share. It marginally has to do with testing, and I notice my hit count goes way up when I try something humorous. And one single blog post about messing with tech support, in 2009, got 100 times the hits of any other post I’ve ever done.]

    So at the point where I finished reading your interaction with “Irene” and your diagnosis of the result, I was, let’s say, 97% sure that you were messing with the bad-situation-in-Africa scammer and having a deadpan joke about the possibility that “Irene” is a real person in this real situation, probably as an indirect way to stir up some discussion about problem diagnosis, the risk of erroneous conclusions, some fun topics in black-box testing techniques, applied epistemology in general, and so on and so forth.

    [James’ Reply: 97% is pretty good. I’ll take it.]

    But — Andy Kaufman notwithstanding — deadpan can only go on so long before one wonders whether it really is deadpan.

    [James’ Reply: That’s pretty much the point of deadpan. I admire Andy Kaufman. I still wonder a little if his death was part of the joke.]

    So I’m going to sit back and observe your responses to these questions and see how long it takes me to determine whether you’re deadpanning or whether you really believe Irene is a real person stuck in a bad situation in Africa.

    Yours in meta self-reference,
    –JMike

    [James’ Reply: Fair enough. But I’m curious why the fact that I mentioned “419” isn’t a complete giveaway?]

  11. I have to find this Irene Kusi. She sounds desperate and may do something foolish. She needs my help. I hope I’m not too late. Please let me not be too late.

    [James’ Reply: That’s the spirit!]

  12. Hi James,

    how do you come to the conclusion that she is too innocent and sees only the good in people after she said that she didn’t know why she hadn’t revealed her motive to get money from you from the very start of the conversation? Me thinks such people wouldn’t fear saying this from the start as “all people are mostly good” and they wouldn’t run after hearing/reading that. Besides, why go on a chat to ask for money? Unless she sees no good in people she meets on the streets.

    [James’ Reply: These are good points. Do you think I’m too trusting?]

    I enjoyed reading this. I think the ultimate test was when you were the bearer of good news that she didn’t have to pay anything at all. A real person in such a situation would have probably been more positive because it opens more options. She was mad. Your good news/revelation for “Irene” meant she can’t ask you for money anymore. Money for what? Okey, for a new lawyer perhaps. Yet another flaw in “her” story is of the amount of gold she inherited. So she inherited only gold? Her father had over $300,000 worth of gold and no other assets? No house to sell to pay for this alleged storage fee? A more modest amount of gold would have made it more believable to me.

    But the biggest giveaway was when she had no problem giving you the “whole gold” after all this trouble. I guess I wouldn’t have any problem giving somebody the whole gold either if it was floating in the air. But wait, first you get the whole gold for helping her but then she wants to sell and share the money? I would loved to hear the ending of this scam story, just to see who would really fool whom. Sharing and giving the whold gold is not the same. If she gave me the whole gold first, then why would I wanna share it later? It’s already mine. So obvious how she would say anything to trick people of money.

    [James’ Reply: There sure were a lot of holes (wholes?) in her story. I think that’s one reason I wanted to post this– just the sheer illogical, self-contradictory extreme of it. Like a product full of obvious bugs that a hopeful product manager thinks will get through acceptance testing.]

    Also, as if it is that easy to transfer so much gold across border without being searched or asked questions. Sad that some people fall for such stories and actually give money.

    Anyways it was fun and how she didn’t expect those questions and tips from you. Thanks for posting.

    Regards,
    Jasminka.

  13. I think her facade starting noticeably dropping around “so now are you going to help me pay the bills or not ?” Impatient, and sadly unaware she is being conned left, right and centre. Ssadly, Irene let her emotions get the better of her. She also forgot her manners, by omitting to thank you for the free consultancy – no such thing as a free lunch, Irene!

    [James’ Reply: Actually… I didn’t realize until you mentioned that how that was the depressing moment for me, too. It’s not the realization that this was a scammer, but rather that this was such a dimwitted one. I was trying to set up a battle of wits, or at least to feel seduced. She didn’t have anything close to the patience and skill that I was hoping to witness.

    It is possible to scam me. I know this because I have had friends to whom I would have given substantial sums of money, who later turned out not to at all to be the friends I thought they were. I can be scammed, it just take some months to gain my trust. And here “Irene” is acting like I’m an ATM machine that dispenses money to without a pin.]

  14. James Bach didn’t created his skype account on his name (ID – SATISFICE)
    When you enter first 5 letters of the ID….
    Results you would get most ….satish
    (Since, this is a most common name used in India).

    This is not a Random selection. This is a Targeted shot. (He has the Big name in software field)

    I believe this isn’t a one man show; there is a possibility of a team involvement.
    (Team lasted for almost 39 Minutes)
    They would have handy scripts (Test Cases/Test Script) to speak. But it goes in vain, when speaking with James Bach.
    When expected results not matching with actual results. I am sure; here after they won’t believe in script anymore. But our testing industry still believes in Test cases.

    Another dimension to teach testing. This time, it’s on people.

    Regards
    R Maadireddy

  15. I just had a conversation with a fellow tester officemate that reminded me of this article, so I sent him the link. He read it through and got a big kick out of it.

    That prompted me to go back and re-read and enjoy the article and the discussion thread. And one little out-of-band thought comes to mind.

    James, do you realize there’s a teeny tiny chance that this one particular 419 scam place may actually receive and understand your feedback, evolve just a little bit, and become better and stronger as a result? Which I’m sure would be an unintended side effect of you messing with their call-center operator slash chatbot driver?

    I think that might be a jumping-off point for a discussion of unintended side-effects in general. I think the real-world examples of an organization learning the wrong lesson from a good testing inquiry are sure to be major train wrecks.

    (apologies to all if such case studies have already been gathered and published somewhere, in which case help me out with a link or a title OK?)

    –JMike

    [James’ Reply: Well that’s a nice tought, anyway.]

  16. If you believe you have been scammed and need an investigation underway specifically in Ghana then contact our management team and we will help you with the information’s you have about this scammer, You can also contact us if you need to make enquries on someone you met online, we can help you identify if this person is real or not. Contact us on bans.linda@gmail.com
    Thank you.

    [James’ Reply: What management team? Who are you? Do you have my money?]

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