Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hinkey letter is Hinkey

Scams intrigue me [1]. While e-mail scams are a dime-a-dozen these days, paper based scams are less common, and thus stick out more.

Which brings me to the "SARS" letter I received last week. The letter itself was quite interesting stylistically, being a "Your deductions from 2006 are being re-examined, please send supporting documentation or call to query this", and mis-stating the income tax act in various threatening ways. The letter was a pretty good effort, with the correct letterhead, correct tax number, a valid return address and it arrived in what looked like an official SARS envelope. The tone and number to call were enough to make the letter hinkey, but it was convincing enough that I ended up calling SARS to check that it was actually fake. It was also accompanied by a "please call to confirm you've received the letter" SMS the day before. The amount of correct information is both non-unexpected proof that this information is not at all secret and represents a reasonable amount of effort on the part of the scammers.

I assume (based on very little evidence, but inferring from the tone of the letter and the emphasis on phoning them) that this is a "pay us to make this all go away" scam. If that is true, the people running reckon that there are enough people who are somewhat guilty about the deductions they've claimed and/or sufficiently convinced about the corruption in the system that this strikes them as an acceptable approach to getting rid of the problem for the scam to be profitable, which is an unflattering assessment of modern South African society.

Also, given the times-scales involved - probably a week to allow for letters to arrive, a few days for the people who are going to call to call, and them some time to talk them into something that will pay money, it look likely to tie them to an potentially identifiable number for at least a few weeks. Since they cannot be assuming that no-one will realise this is fake and report it, either this needs to move to the paying money part quickly (and I'm not seeing how they'd do that) or there's something in the risk mitigation part I'm not seeing.

[1] Based on the success of the various con caper films, I'm probably far from alone in this.