This is a short story about fraud and particularly about scams. I used to work in banking and was involved in managing the scam process.It always seemed to me that scams involved a personal interaction between the scammer and the victim, but were impersonal as they were transactional, a deception practiced to steal money. But each scam does involve two people, two lives and two impacts.
The old man didn’t open his eyes, his voice barely more than a whisper.
‘remember what I taught you boy, happiness is when, what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.’
Raul smiled and put the drink down on the table next to him.
‘I know Granddad, and you also taught me that Gandhi said, ‘The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong. Just rest Granddad, I will see you tonight’.
He leaned down and kissed his head, the old man smiled but didn’t open his eyes. He had kind eyes, knowing eyes, like his they said. He was glad he didn’t have to look into them today.
Raul fired up his scooter and joined the slow-moving traffic, making progress where he could in the tide snaking towards the city. There were no lanes on the highway, the traffic five deep even at seven in the morning. Smoke and smog filled the air.
He pulled into the underground car park. The top floor office was spartan, paint peeling off the walls, trestle tables, orange plastic chairs, but the IT was state of the art. While the computer fired up, he got the photograph out of his ruck-sac and placed it on his workspace in the usual place; Granddad, Anjoula, Immy and little Sayeed smiled back at him. He would have to have another photograph done when the baby arrived. Granddad hoped for a girl this time, he’d always wanted a Granddaughter to spoil.
Raul sat down, put his headphones and mike on and logged in. The connection was immediate. The rest of the team were arriving, just a nod between them as they settled down in front of their computers. It was a small team, just twelve of them. Two of the girls from the east side of the city had not turned up for the last three shifts. Nobody speculated, or asked where they were……. It was the way it was…. don’t ask questions…. do your job… take the money, it was dangerous of course but it paid handsomely.
The file arrived almost immediately and Raul opened it …. a test. He hadn’t been tested for a few days so he was expecting it. He had never got less than 98%; pass rate was 96%. Raul was confident, after all, four years at University in London and a first in languages was as good as it gets. The test lasted about twenty minutes…. minutes when he could have been earning money.
The test call connected.
Raul spoke slowly, with perfect diction.
‘Good morning is this Mrs Sarah Green?’
‘Who is this?’
‘This is Steve Tomlins from the Fraud team at your bank, please don’t be alarmed, but I need to speak to you about your account at the Dalston Branch.’….
The test call lasted about 20 minutes and was a breeze. As the call finished a message appeared on his screen.
You have passed the test with a score of 99%. Well done Raul. Your daily target has now been raised to £20,000. You now qualify for access to Category A files, access is immediate.
Raul sat back in his chair and smiled. He remembered the day he was approached at University. The introducer had been good … very good. She had slipped the note into his hand as she stood next to him on the packed tube, smiling up at him as they hung on to the straps on the Bakerloo line. She had only said one thing to him.
‘Raul, you need to ring us on this number…. we’ve got a fantastic career opportunity for you, don’t waste this chance’.
With that, she was stepping off the tube as it pulled into the next station, lost in the crowd. He never saw her again. Out of curiosity he rang the number the next day. She was right, it was an offer he couldn’t believe never mind refuse. His training in London was intense but he passed with the highest score in the group. His placement by ‘The Mentor’ in the bank’s fraud team started three months later. His application miraculously sent to the top of the pile at the recruitment agency the bank employed. That year had been hard, studying for his degree and working four shifts a week at the bank. He learned the systems, the methods, the language of the bank. He slowly started to understand the complicated detection systems the bank used to protect their customers. He saw the massive strength of the bank but he also saw the weaknesses as well. He stored it all away in his memory and reported it back to ‘The Mentor’.
The Mentor was right, the bank always paid out… in the end the bank had to pay. The Liberal forces always finding a way to embarrass the bank to pay. Customers didn’t lose… the banks did… and they could afford it. The banks were so rich they didn’t even need to charge the customers to bank with them.
The file arrived on his screen and Raul opened the first case. He read for ten minutes, following the timeline of the groundwork already done by other teams, in other places whom he would never meet.
He made the call.
It took a while to connect as the call routed its way through servers, proxy platforms and masked numbers across three continents.
Aashi always ate her lunch at her desk while she worked., she couldn’t remember the last time she had stopped for a lunch break. Her shift started at eight and she had dropped the kids off at the child minders at seven thirty. Her next conference call was just about to start. She hooked into the call, announced herself and took a bite of her sandwich while the rest of the participants stated to join. Thankfully she was not chairing… she could eat her sandwich and listen… at least for the first part of the call.
Her phone lit up… she didn’t recognise the number. She was going to ignore it but then thought it could be the care home calling again. She flicked her headset off and hit answer.
‘Good morning is this Mrs Aashi Smith’
‘Who is this please?’
‘This is Steve Tomlins from the Fraud team at your bank, please don’t be alarmed, but I need to speak to you about your account at the Stoke Newington branch’.
‘I’m at work and very busy, is there something wrong?’
‘We have seen some suspicious activity on your account. Have you received any strange calls or emails recently?’
Aashi quickly put the headset to her other ear and heard the chair going through the usual preamble.
‘ I did have an email about renewing our TV licence the other day as it was due to expire soon. I renewed it online with the link, but when I checked it had another three weeks to run, I thought that was a little odd. Excuse me for saying, but how do I know you are from my bank, I’m really busy right now?’
Raul liked it when this question was posed, the hook was in, the seed sown.
‘Of course, you are quite right to check. Why don’t you ring me back on the number on the back of your debit card?’
‘OK, but I might be a while, I’m on a conference call at work’.
‘This is really important Mrs Smith; we can see money has been moved between your accounts. I strongly suggest you excuse yourself and ring me back immediately. In the meantime, I will continue to monitor and protect your accounts’.
Aashi thought of the money she had in her savings account from the sale of the family house after her mother had died and the astronomical bills to the care home for her Granddads care.
‘Give me five minutes, I’ll ring you back. My grandfather’s care home fees are paid from my savings account. He’s not well, after forty years working for the Indian Railway Company all he has in the world is in that account, I’ll ring you back’.
Aashi put the headphones on and made her excuses to the chair of the call to leave.
Raul had already hit the codes, covertly keeping the line open to her mobile. Funny, he thought, his Granddad had worked for the Indian Railway company as well, but then again so had about 1.4 million other people. Her name was Indian, she was his age, she must have married an Englishman he decided. He dismissed the thoughts as irrelevant. He updated the system, altering the team to be ready for the incoming call and typed in the summary of their conversation. Raul waited…. the call would be answered by the fake call routing system.
Aashi left her desk and walked to the break out area where it was quiet. She rang the number on the back of her debit card and heard the ring tone. She subconsciously patted herself on the back for taking the precaution of phoning her bank back, she’d heard the stories in the press about the Scams the criminals were using. The call connected and Aashi selected the options on the call routing to connect to the fraud team.
‘Thank you for calling back Mrs Smith, I’ve been monitoring your accounts since we spoke. I can see that money has moved between your savings account and your current account in the last hour, have you made any transactions?’
Aashi felt a cold stone in the pit of her stomach.
‘No, I haven’t’, her voice betraying her rising panic.
‘OK, don’t worry I will fix this for you. We need to move your money into a safe account, this one is being attacked by criminals’. While you are on the phone can you log onto your app and I will guide you through the process?’
‘Of course, please promise me I won’t lose my money, my Grandad is so poorly and the savings pay for his care’.
Raul couldn’t help but think of his own Grandad, slowly fading away in the room at the back of the family home. Then, without thinking he made the cardinal error… he asked a personal question. He couldn’t help himself, his Grandad’s words repeating over and over in his mind.
‘How old is your Grandad Mrs Smith?’
‘He’s ninety next week. He came over to live with my Mother twenty years ago but when she died suddenly, he came to live with us. He was a foreman on the Railway in Bombay for forty years’.
Raul guided Aashi through the process as she revealed all of her banking pass codes to the system. The rest of the team picked up the data and started work on transferring £20,000 from the savings account to waiting mule accounts. Within seconds the money would be fired onto hundreds more accounts as the cleaning and cashing out process began.
The scam worked perfectly; it nearly always did. Raul felt content, his daily target achieved.
When he arrived home it was dark, the children asleep, Anjoula setting the table for dinner. Raul went into the back room to see his Granddad as he always did. He was sleeping peacefully. He kissed his head gently not wanting to disturb him.
On his side table lay a card that must have been delivered that day. Raul picked it up and read it.
I hope this card finds you after all these years, it will be my last, time is short, I am dying. My life has been blessed. We were friends for so long, do not be sad. See you on the other side’
In the envelope was a photograph of a family. A proud couple, children and partners and a small child.
On the back was an inscription.
My Granddaughter Aashi has my eyes.