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Archive for October, 2009

The 419 Scam

Friday, October 30th, 2009

There are a lot of people out there who’d love to steal your money. Seriously. They would ideally like to have to do no work for it. No, really. Luckily you’re not daft, eh?

But a lot of people are. And they are scammed. Regularly.

The usual one follows the lines of a private mail I got today. Here it is:

Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur October 30 at 5:30pm Report

Are you in anyway related to Mr. Stephen Jecks, an American Businessman who died together with his entire family in Ghana four years ago from a ghastly car accident?

Since then his bank has tried hard to get in touch with his extended family members to claim his 27.9 million Ghana Cedis which is approximately US$18.6 million.

In any case, whether you are related to him or not, let me know; perhaps with my influence, I will ensure the money is transferred to the US or any country of your choice in your name — after all, you have a similar surname.

For security reasons, send me a mail via

Once I see your reply, I shall send you details of Stephen Jecks.

Where’s the harm in contacting this fellow, eh?

Well, the harm comes from talking to these arses at all. Because they work on the basis of (supposedly) feasible stories. You respond, they ask for some simple stuff, you respond with little things, and then they ask for a few dollars to bribe an official to get the money out of their country to you.

It won’t arrive. Soon, you hear that they need more money to pay another official. You pay. You still see no money. They will keep asking for as long as you keep paying. It’s a standard fraud, called 419 in the Nigerian criminal code, which is where it gets the name.

However, it’s getting worse now. Because of the lovely possibilities, the scammers aren’t only getting interested in your money, now they also want your ID. If they can get enough details on you, your home address, your bank details, anything, they may be able to pretend to be you. They may be able to, for example, redirect your mail to their own address and apply for a credit card in your name. You never see the application or the confirmation letters or the bills. They have all been redirected. But you are probably liable when the bailiffs are sent to visit.

But that’s a long way from this fellow. Dear old Kwesi (who won’t look like his Facebook photo, I suppose) is no doubt looking for me to pay him to bribe someone in his country so that he can pocket my cash. The great thing about this scam is that the police will probably have a good laugh at you.


Well, what you are doing is agreeing to get involved in fraud yourself. He is asking you to help him to bribe government officials, yes? Not in your country, perhaps, but carry on: you are agreeing to commit a crime, and you are doing so in order to commit a greater crime, because you are attempting to get into money laundering.

That means that any money you send off is gone, baby, gone, no matter what you think of the nasty man who committed a crime in taking it from you.

After all, you were robbed while trying to commit a crime yourself. Doesn’t win you any friends in the police.

Seriously, I used to know a guy who received one of these scams years ago. He was very tempted, and when he was asked for twenty thousand pounds in order to release some millions, he was so delighted, he began contacting people to try to form a syndicate. He was a bright man, professional, running his own business, and he swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

Because people are greedy. We all love the thought of money for nothing, don’t we? I know I do – it’s the only bloody way, as a writer, that I’m ever likely to be able to retire!

But the old, old rule applies, folks. If it looks too good to be true – it’s a scam! Always. Seriously. Like the lottery tickets that have won, when you haven’t bought the bloody thing. These are scams. Don’t fall for them.

BUT – if you like a laugh, and want to see how other people behave with these scams, look at this:

It really is worth a look. Hilarious series of true stories.

Don’t forget – if it looks too good to be true . . .

And here he is!

Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur

Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur

What a nice man!

I’ve been collecting these scams for years now. Originally I was so attracted by their inventiveness, I thought I’d use them in a story (plagiarism of an attempted fraud rather appealed to me!) but now I think I may just copy them here. What do you reckon?

Take care, folks.

How I Write.

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

DSC_0010, originally uploaded by michael_jecks.

I’m almost there now. I know I have minimum seven more scenes to write, then it’s down to drawing maps, writing the author’s note, and editing, which means hopefully end of next week all will be done.

But it’s the last finessing that matters, I find.

I have to write fast because I always find that the story starts to take me over personally. The excitement of the story comes across, I hope, partly because I find it really exciting to write. If I was to write a thousand words a day, each of them carefully crafted and mulled over, I’d forget what the hell I was writing about quarter of the way into the book.

In fact some years ago I learned that the worst thing I could do while in a book was take time off. If I went away for a weekend, I would invariably forget where I’d put in all the red herrings and cleverer twists of the plot. I learned that if I had a weekend off, it would take up to a week to read myself back into the story. That’s not good!

Nowadays I work flat out, for about two months per title, putting the whole thing down on paper. Each day I read through much of what I did the day before, as well as prior scenes to remind myself where I am and why, and then I work. Usually I will achieve a minimum of 5,000 words. Sometimes I will manage 7-8,000 – but never more. If I get to that sort of level, it’s better, I find, to stop, and do something totally different, because if I continue I will achieve nothing the day after. I’ll be too tired.

After the first draft, I rework a little. Usually I need another clear week for this. It’s the finessing part, where I get the characters’ voices to be coherent and consistent scene to scene, where I make sure that there are no major plot holes, no missing red herrings or loose ends to be tied down.

And then it’s the scary period – the time when agent and publisher get their mitts on the thing.

Well, this time I don’t care. Because I’ll be going for a good, long walk. Hopefully in weather like that in the photo. Up to the stone row, then down to the south side of the moors to the longest stone row on Dartmoor – it’s over two miles long!

The Abbot’s Way

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

P1020191, originally uploaded by michael_jecks.

I am sitting down still, trying to finish 29 while the weather outside is so good (David Hewson’s just back from Canada saying he’s found the summer’s returned), and all I really want to do is get outside with a tent and sleeping bag and walk some of the longer paths over the moors.

This one, courtesy of my brother Keith, was taken in August when we undertook our three day march from north-east to south-west. That walk was bloody good fun, especially with views like this, down near Burrator.

They say that the early crosses were installed to help people navigate. So many used to die trying to cross the moors that it was decided by the monks at the three monasteries to install crosses at specific points, each in view of the next, so that walkers would only have to aim for the next cross to be able to follow the track. However, I’m a little suspicious of that. It is not usually so easy to see from one cross to the next when the weather is bad: if a cloud comes down, visibility is reduced to a few tens of feet, not half a mile or so, which is how widely spaced these crosses could be. So perhaps there was an assumption that a man should know roughly the right direction, would set off, and then hope to come close-ish to the next? Or was it a built-in safety feature, so that if you couldn’t see the next cross, just give up until you could?

Anyway, thank God in a few weeks I’ll be out this part of the moor again, wandering all around the southern parts with my brother, and my brand new Alpkit PD600 sleeping bag. Light, tiny, and incredibly warm. I’m very glad with that. So, provided we have enough hot food, smoked meats and other basic supplies, we’ll be having a fantastic five day walk in the middle of November.

And as soon as that’s done, it’ll be time for signings.

Buckland Abbey

Monday, October 26th, 2009

DSC_0014, originally uploaded by michael_jecks.

This is one of those magical places that are so common still, thank God, in England. It was a Cistercian abbey from the 1270s or so through to the reformation. On the south-western edge of Dartmoor, it was one of the three main abbeys in the area, along with Tavistock and Buckfast. The Abbot’s Way was a great walk created to link the east and western edges, and I’m looking forward to walking that later in the year.

But Henry VIII took a dislike to abbeys – or, rather, he saw the potential to make money out of them while forcing the clergy to follow his lead, and closed them down. Many were ripped apart for the lead on their roofs and the glass in their windows. They had the catholic symbols stolen, the brasses torn from graves, and all the carvings vandalised. Some, like Buckland, were sold on to friends of the royal family.

Buckland was luckier than most. It had been built in a quiet, out of the way place, nestling in a little valley, and was bought by a local family who maintained their local interests for centuries. They only gave it up after successive English governments decided to impost appalling taxes on death, so that there’s no point in saving to pass money on to children any more. It’s all to be ‘redistributed’, which is another word for state theft.

However, Buckland became the home to a family of cheerful pirates. The Drakes. It was here that Sir Francis Drake lived as a boy, and it was from here that he went down to Plymouth to sail to America to rob any Spanish ship he could find, before winding up as England’s hero when he defeated (with a little help from the wind, storms, and the almighty) the Spanish armada, the most enormous fleet ever seen.

If you have never visited this tranquil little site, it’s worth it. The displays this weekend were superb, and the whole area very attractive.

Accountancy is too exciting.

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

P1000981, originally uploaded by michael_jecks.

This is a scary photo. My old man, brother Keith, and his first son, Martin. All three of them did go the way I nearly did. They all became . . . Actuaries.
You can see what happens to Actuaries. In general they are described as clever chaps – by themselves. Most other people describe them as too boring for words, people with personality by-passes, or (in a cruel jibe against consultants and accountants all over the world) as people who would find accountancy too exciting.
This is worrying. Because the real problem is bloody obvious. Look at them: you’ve got Martin, Smarty-Pants on the left, see? Then his dad, Keith, aka too many things to list them all here, and finally, the funny little fat man.
Now do you see the risk of becoming an Actuary? Yes, of course you do.
Before I became a computer salesman, I had a touching faith that I would be an Actuary as well. But I did suffer from one minor little problem, which was that I had no aptitude, interest or ability whatever. Keith, Bless him, while talking recently, suggested that actually I’d given up. Well yes, up to a point, Lord Copper. in reality, I failed every exam at university (which was when I first developed my Jecks Principle of Economics, which was, it’s a load of tosh) and decided to resign before being chucked out. So I do admire these three.
Of course the fat man (it’s ok, it’s a term of endearment) got out as soon as he qualified, and showed that he was a man with character and personality by becoming a computer expert.
Keith gave up and joined IBM before deciding/realising that was daft, and studied in his evenings, qualifying quickly. Clever boy.
Martin was a Durham lad. He got a good degree, but later, when he passed his finals as an actuary, he got an award for the best answers for centuries ( I may have got the precise details slightly wrong, but it was something like that).
So there you have it. Three lovely old chaps. All suffering from the same Actuarial problem.
What problem?
Look at them. The older they get, the weight of their heads forced them to shrink, and by the time they get to the Fat Man’s age, all their weight has dropped to the belly.
Hmm. I don’t have that problem. I’m just a writer.


Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

There was a time when I used to sell computers. In fact, I did it quite a long time – about thirteen years. However, the early days were the best, by far. Computers were new then, and people didn’t get them. And the best proof of that was always the engineering division.

I used to really enjoy dropping in on TM and the engineers. There was always some new proof of man’s inability to come to terms with technology. Nowadays, of course, we’re all used to switching on a box and seeing the screen come alive – but in the early 80s, it was still magic. And some people just couldn’t get on speaking terms with the logic.

To pick a simple example – there was a general move away from the hulking great 8 inch disks to the neater little 5.25 inch floppies. They took up less space, they were nice. And at my firm, Wordplex, the company was careful to ensure that all computers had upwards compatibility in the range, so clients would be less tempted to go and buy from someone else. So they had machines that had either 8 or 5.25 inch floppy drives. No problem.

Yes. In engineering terms, plenty of problems. It started with the woman who phoned to ask for help urgently, because her computer was “swallowing” her disks. This was not easy to resolve. An engineer was despatched, who later called in, crying with laughter, to explain that the lady had been posting 5.25 inch floppies into the 8 inch drive. He took quite a while to hoik them all out.

That was at least resolvable. Unlike the poor woman who lost months of work by carefully taking her 8 inch disks and cutting them neatly down to 5.25 inches. They were, apparently, perfectly square.

Other calls were eventually resolved over the phone. Like the man who called to say he couldn’t get his machine to work. Was it plugged in? Yes. Was the cable in the back of his word processor? Grumpily, yes. Was the plug switched on? Irritably, YES. Was he sure? Well, yes, but it’s hard to see. Why?’ It’s behind the desk. Would the desk light help to see it? No. Why? There’s a power cut. Oh.

Which pales into insignificance beside the lady of a certain age who called in from her legal practise in Surrey to complain that her cursor was flying across the screen. Questioning did not resolve this one. Apparently, if she typed “The winter of our discontent . . .” she would see “T  h   e       w   i   nt   e     r       o   f ” etc. This was no job for a menial, and TM set off in his car.

When he returned, he had to be taken to the pub to recover. The manager of the typing pool in the legal company had shown him the WP and demonstrated how the cursor failed to show proper decorum.

The hardest call he’d ever had, he said later. Trying to explain to a lady of a certain age and size that the space bar was not a rest for her prodigious bosom.

New Book!

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Bishop Must Die appdIt is always a strange thing to receive a new title that you’ve written. There’s that sense of curiosity as you open the cover for the first time – partly because it’s so long ago since writing it, you’ve forgotten the first lines, but also because you know, you just know, that there’s a typo you should have spotted on page one. Somewhere.

Still, I am enormously pleased with this book. It’s a scary period, and took a lot of research to get my facts straight, but having done it, I think the story’s strong, the characters fascinating. How men respond to war – always a great topic for an author.

And the book is ready to be ordered now, ready for publication on 12th November.


Friday, October 16th, 2009

DSC_0004, originally uploaded by michael_jecks.

Well, it’s been a long time since my last comments here – but that’s been because it’s been a mad year. From March onwards, I’ve been working through things with my new agent, and the result is, I’m becoming a Simon and Schuster author.
What does that mean? Mainly that I’ve not been able to get out as much as I’d like to, because the latest book has taken up all my time. But the great thing is, now I’m with a publisher that is keen to promote and sell the Templar Series extensively in the UK and US. I think it’s a brilliant move, and will guarantee Baldwin and Simon’s long-term future.
So for now, I am writing. Hopefully the new book will be finished in early November, and then I’ll be wandering off on the moors for five days with a mad brother. Lots of pictures after that!