Nuala McCann: Please son, please... protect us from the scammers

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

I live my life online with my fingers crossed, 1,000 complicated passwords and an eye ever out for the scammer
I live my life online with my fingers crossed, 1,000 complicated passwords and an eye ever out for the scammer

THE text came from a recruitment company in Belfast. They said they had an opportunity that might match my unique skills.

How did they know that I can count to 10 in Spanish and ask for a large beer and a very hot coffee (retirement classes, hola… and the coffee is never hot enough in Spain)?

Did they know that I can do wonderful hospital envelope corners on bed sheets (the introduction of fitted sheets means I don’t get to show that talent off too much)?

The text said Emailia (sic) would pass me on to someone who would contact me. When I asked what the opportunity might be, Emailia (has she a brother called SMS?) said it was about innovation and management. Very impressive. I should have smelled the rat then.

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I got another text on WhatsApp. The job would be with Imdbb (sic). They wanted me to review their films apparently. I’m no Mark Kermode but still.

Was it the fact that they couldn’t spell Emilia or the fact that they stuck that extra b onto Imdbb? I smelled a giant Siberian hamster.

I rang the particular Belfast recruitment company quoted who are indeed real and they confirmed that I wasn’t the first one to be taken in by the scam. The only details I’d shared were my age range. I still felt stupid.

The next day, my husband got a text from the Guardian jobs section.

“Do they want you to be the next Scorcese?“ I asked.

“Something like that,” he said.

“Be afraid, be very afraid,” I told him.

This is where our boy comes into his own. He is in computers and can whiff a scam like the rest of us can whiff smoked brown fish for dinner as you come through the door. There are people in his work who invent scams to keep fellow workers on their toes.

He rolls his eyes, blocks the scammers on our phones and advises us on how to stay up to date.

“I’m on the ticket here 24 hours,” he jokes. We consider ourselves reassured.

I have already almost fallen for the TV licence scam and have received texts from a mythical child who lost his phone and needs money fast: “Please mum, please.”

I took that with a large dose of salt – it’s role reversal about here. I’d be texting our boy having lost my phone, going: “Please son, please.”

Still, it’s the vulnerability that hits home.

I understand why some people might keep their cash stuffed in their cushions or why others like to see the person in the bank face to face to withdraw their money.

In her later years, my mother insisted on taking me and her rollator for a long walk through the town to manage her affairs with a real person in a real bank. None of your virtual. She’d never have got on with a chatbot. Alexa was bad enough.

“You really don’t have to thank Alexa,” I’d tell her.

“It’s only polite,” she’d say.

So even though there was a cash till in the shopping centre, we had to walk to the bank and talk to a cashier called Ronan. He was very young and very kind... if you’re out there, Ronan, I salute you.

She got her money out in certain strict note denominations, each tucked up in small plastic bags and also including £10 in 50p coins for her grandson. Ronan was en route for beatification by the time he’d filled all the plastic bags.

Now, it’s all cashless. I rarely carry money with me and a bag of 50p coins would be much too heavy for my pocket.

I live my life online with my fingers crossed, 1,000 complicated passwords and an eye ever out for the scammer – if it’s too good to be true then it probably isn’t true.

The days of helpful Ronans at bank counters are numbered… and I’m just beginning to appreciate them.