Aug. 15th, 2014

deza: (Secret master librarians)
A few years back, I was working in a public library near Ft Bragg, in North Carolina. We got our fair share of military folks in. One of the advantages of working the information desk was we had a view out the window of a car wash where the enlisted boys would come to polish their rides. Shirtless. What?! I'm a dirty old lady; never claimed otherwise.

The other half of our regular patronage were people from the community. Often, these would be lower income, less educated folks. Many were older, with little computer experience. I helped people sign up for their very first email accounts at least a couple of times a week.

One lady came to me at the desk just a few days after signing up for email. She was so excited -- turned out she had a long lost cousin who was actually an Ugandan prince. His country was in turmoil, and he needed her help to escape to the US. He was going to wire his fortune to her bank account until he escaped the country, and let her keep $2 million of it for helping him! She just needed my help in figuring out the routing number for her bank so she could send him her account information.

My heart sank for this woman. I recognized the scam. My gmail account filters out dozens of these attempts every month. I showed her the Snopes page debunking it. But she was convinced it was real. He had found her through a site that helped you trace your African origin. She insisted that since that site was reputable, he had to be the real thing. No one would ever try to con a poor woman in semi-rural North Carolina, right?

My job was to fill her information request, so I provided the bank's routing number. I warned her not to send the information. I told her that with those numbers, the scammer could and would empty her accounts.

A few weeks, later, she was back. How dare I let someone take all her money? How could I have allowed that to happen? She was convinced that since she used the library computers to communicate with the scammer, the library (and me personally, since I'd helped her) was behind for the scam and had stolen her money. Even worse, she thought we could get her money back.

I hope she learned not to trust scammers on the Internet after that. I wish I could have given her a wrong routing number, but my job is spreading correct information to patrons. If they choose to do something stupid with it, there's nothing I can do about that.
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