Traffic Light Scam II

More on the Italian traffic light scam. I wrote to Mr. Arrighetti asking for comment, and received this from Silvia Guelpa, who says she is a consultant to the company. In summary, she’s arguing that the company, and its founder Stefano Arrighetti, haven’t done anything wrong and that if anyone has broken the law it’s the companies and police who have been responsible for changing the settings which created the huge volume of tickets.

She makes the points that

  • KRIA is a manufacturer and does not sell to the City Councils but to Companies who rent the T-RED to the Police with contracts based on the number of ticket (about 30%).
  • T-RED—the system–does not actually control the traffic lights, which are managed by a controller.
  • T-RED can be configured to detect immediately after the red phase begins or after a configured delay (0-10.000ms). Local Police and Companies renting the systems set the yellow on the controller for as short a period as possible and reset to zero the above mentioned delay, in order to increase the number of tickets.

This, she says, is what is causing the abnormal number of tickets.

She also says there has already been one investigation, by Milan’s attorney, which concluded after one year that KRIA is “absolutely innocent and out of any private interest.” That investigation, she says, resulted in the arrest of “bosses of the companies buying and renting T-RED and they admitted that they forced and won many tenders incorrectly.”

But with public outcry still strong—three million tickets still had to be paid—Verona’s attorney started investigating KRIA’s certification—whether or not its system had all the right paperwork. The idea, she says, was to find an excuse to cancel all the tickets.

KRIA believes it has all the right certification, arguing that the only parts which need to be certified are “the fixed, immutable components of the device”–cameras, lighting systems, PC and PCI board. But Ms Guelpa says the attorney’s power “is unlimited during the investigation phase. They can even arrest people.”

Her argument is basically that Mr. Arrighetti is being made a scapegoat on a technicality.

Lesson from this? I guess I’m still reeling from the idea that police forces would fiddle the system to fill their coffers, not just in Italy but elsewhere. But I guess the bigger point is that all kinds of technology are susceptible to this kind of manipulation, which raises the question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

It’s All About the Backstory

If you’re going to do a scam, have a good backstory. Here’s how.

It’s from a Mrs. Sarah Welsh of 26 Kensington Court, London, W8 5DL, England who says in an unsolicited email that illustrates how best to do the old Nigerian email scam:

I am Mrs. Sarah Welsh, an English woman who is suffering from cancerous ailment. I am married to Sir Jim Welsh who also is an Englishman though dead now. My husband worked with the British Railways for over two decade before the cold hand of death took him away on the 23rd of July 2003 at about 2:00AM.

I am glad she still feels married to Sir Jim, despite the clammy hand of death. That’s loyalty for you. But this is good stuff; it sets up the story nicely, although perhaps actually giving the time of death might be a superfluous detail.

Unfortunately their decade-long marriage was without “any fruit of the womb.” This might have been because the late Sir Jim spent too much time on a very modest and narrowly focused effort “to uplift the down-trodden and the less-privileged individuals within the United Kingdom, Europe, North and South America, Africa and the rest of the globe as he had passion for persons who can not help themselves due to physical disability or financial predicament.” This must have taken up quite a bit of his time for pottering around in the garden. His widow, showing perhaps a trace of bitterness, says “I can adduce this to the fact that he needed a Child from this relationship, which never came.”

Anyway, this timeless sadness aside, there’s dosh. Ten million quid, to be precise. It’s not clear how a career with British Rail secured this kind of money but it might explain why British Rail had to be privatised. Sadly Mrs. W. is not going to be around to spend it, since “my Doctor told me that I have a limited or numbered days on earth and that my life span will not exceed 150 days due to the cancerous problems I am suffering from.” A precise doctor indeed. Still, that’s not what is really bothering Mrs. W. “What bothers me most,” she says, “is the stroke that I have in addition to the cancer.” Good little extra layer of ailment, though some might think it’s being laid on a bit thick. Anyway, here comes the denouement, better known as The Bit Where You Get Ripped Off:

Mrs. Welsh (shouldn’t she really be Lady Sarah, what with Sir Jim and all that? Points deducted for not knowing the English honours system) has decided to give the 10 mill to “a non governmental, or a non religious, and or a non profit organization or better still an individual, that will use this gift which comes from my husbands sweat to fund the upkeep of widows, widowers, orphans, destitute, the down-trodden, physically challenged children, barren-women and persons who prove to be genuinely handicapped financially.” Another tightly focused project, it seems.

If you were the suspicious reader you might wonder: Aren’t there other members of the family who could make use of this money? Mrs. W/Lady Sarah has already thought of this, and helpfully sets up another strand to the story: “I took this decision because I do not have any child that will inherit this money and my husband relatives are bourgeois and very wealthy persons and I do not want my husband Jim Welsh hard earned money to be misused or invested into ill perceived ventures.” Sounds like it’s not the first time that Sir Jim has bailed out his wastrel siblings and others from his side of the family. In-laws. A nice touch, bound to win over the most skeptical of readers. Who doesn’t have some ne’er-do-well relative?

Indeed, they are already proving a bit of a pest. Lady Sarah asks for help urgently to distribute this cash via the usual power of attorney, bank account numbers and transfer fee scam, but doesn’t want phone calls. “I do not need any telephone communication in this regard due to my deteriorating health and because of the presence of my husband relatives around me. I do not want them to know about this development.” A very good idea. They’re bound to be eavesdropping on the line in the spare bedroom, the leeches. (Not to mention the difficulty of disguising the fact that an elderly female member of the British aristocracy on the phone sounds a lot like a man with a West African accent.)

As Mrs. W. points out, “with God, all things are possible.” But a good back story helps. If you need one you can always copy it off one of the numerous websites collecting this kind of thing. Sir Jim’s has appeared on several, including here and at Scam o Rama, which helpfully organizes them according to ill person, cancer type, life expectancy, sum involved, purpose and location of money.

The General, The Famous Psychiatrist and “Different Nigerians”

You don’t have to be dumb to fall for Nigerian email scams. According to a suit filed by a renowned psychiatrist’s son, Dr. Louis A. Gottschalk lost perhaps $3 million over 10 years to scammers from Nigeria. As the LA Times puts it:

The court documents, filed last month in Orange County Superior Court, allege Gottschalk even traveled to Africa to meet a shadowy figure known as “The General.” Gottschalk — who at 89 still works at the UCI campus medical plaza that bears his name — said in court papers that the losses were caused by “some bad investments.”

The tale is an awfully familiar one, made worse by the sums involved and the apparent fact that we are talking about a renowned psychiatrist. As the son’s attorney put it: “While it seems unlikely, even ludicrous, that a highly educated doctor like [Gottschalk] would fall prey to such an obvious con, that is exactly what happened,” according to court papers.

According to the son’s account, the scam dates back to 1995:

A year later, Louis Gottschalk traveled to Africa to meet “The General” and other Nigerians “to show them that he was sincere so he would get the money.” Another court document said he also traveled to Amsterdam to meet the Nigerians. Soon afterward, his son said Gottschalk admitted to him that he had lost $300,000 and that FBI agents concluded that he had been a victim of an Internet scam.

But, as in many of these cases, that didn’t stop him. Throwing good money after bad, caution to the wind but not the towel, Louis Gottschalk, according to his son

kept clandestinely wiring money to the Nigerians at least until last fall. Guy Gottschalk said that when he confronted his father in October, Louis Gottschalk said, “Don’t worry, everything will be all right on Thursday because I will be getting $20 million.”The son said his father also told him he’d get the money this time because these were “different Nigerians.”

They always are.

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Why Did EarthLink Drop Charges?

What’s the story behind EarthLink’s decision to drop charges in part of the Alabama Spammer spam case? The Atlanta Business Chronicle yesterday said:

Atlanta-based EarthLink dismissed charges against Alyx Sachs and Albert Ahdoot and said it believes the two were victims of a massive and sophisticated campaign of identity theft and that they were unaware of and had no role in spamming. In January 2005, EarthLink scored a legal victory against the Alabama Spammers.

That must have been quite a campaign to dupe EarthLink, who one assumes are quite good at sorting their wheat from their chaff. The press release itself leaves no doubt that EarthLink feels the two are on the good side of the email marketing fence:

“Sachs and Ahdoot are considered professionals in legitimate internet marketing and recognized leaders in web based advertising,” says their attorney, Paul Sigelman. “Their dismissal is a clean triumph of truth for legitimate Internet ad agencies.”

Earthlink noted that after careful evaluation, it believes Alyx Sachs and Albert Ahdoot are by their own company policies diligent in enforcing maintenance of a spam-free Internet Ad business and prohibit the sending of unsolicited commercial email.

Sachs and her company (I think it was Netglobalmarketing, but the domain has expired) were the subject of a NYT piece in April 2003, and legal threats against Techdirt shortly thereafter after a reader of the site published the duo’s contact details (further discussed on Slashdot).

Ahdoot seems to have been near the top of the SpamHaus list of top (alleged) spammers, but is now nowhere to be found. I can see an interesting tale lurking behind this. How can one be a ‘top spammer’ one day and then the victim of massive identity theft the next?

Tracking People With A Cellphone

Can services which allow you to track another person’s whereabouts be abused to monitor the movements of loved ones, employees etc without their knowledge?

David Brake of cites an article on Korea’s site that says yes. As he points out, there are plenty of services that offer this service with built-in safeguards to ensure the person being tracked has given his/her permission. In the UK there’s Verilocation and Where RU, for example.

But the OhmyNews article would seem to confirm that such safeguards are easily bypassed. The article, written by Jennifer Park, an OhmyNews intern about to begin her freshman year at Carnegie Mellon University, points to two cases in Korea she says illustrate the relative ease with which folk can monitor people without their knowledge.

One involves a woman subscribing to a location-based service without his knowledge, finding and entering the correct PIN code to register for the ‘search friend’ service. She was then able to “trace her boyfriend block by block” to an accuracy of 10 metres. That, Jennifer says, was enough to be to tell the woman’s boyfriend was at a specific bar.

Jennifer Park also points to a recent case at Samsung, the Korean conglomerate, where civic groups allege that nine employees of Samsung SDI who were trying to set up a labor union were placed under surveillance by their managers by hacking into their cell phones. According to their attorney, Jennifer writes, the hacking was done by finding the cell phone’s identification number and using it to duplicate it. Then the hacker was able to subscribe to the service.

According to the Korean daily Chosun Ilbo, prosecutors began investigations in July into the case. Korea also prosecuted a group earlier this year which had “illegally copied the phones of the female employees of an entertainment establishment and put them under surveillance after secretly installing location-tracking systems”, the newspaper said.

A Happy Ending To The Saga Of

The whole imbroglio seems to have ended happily, or at least, is close to doing so.

Katie Jones, the British owner of the website since 1996, has had a miserable four years since the publication of a book of the same name, about the true ordeal of a teenager sexually molested by a man she met in an Internet chatroom. After receiving hundreds of emails from people believing they are writing to the author of the book, Jones says recently she has come under pressure to donate the domain to a website being set up to help victims of similar abuse. Jones has declined, despite what she says was an “unpleasant phone call” from a lawyer, Parry Aftab, acting on behalf of the author, Katie Tarbox.

After several news reports and a steady campaign by Jones to publicise Aftab’s alleged efforts to obtain the name, the books publishers are backing off, saying they were never part of the move. A press release (PDF only) issued yesterday by Plume, an imprint of PenguinPuttnam,  says: “In an effort to avoid an association between the book originally titled and the website, Plume and the author decide to make this title change.”

The release also says: “In addition, it was erroneously reported recently that Plume had asked its attorney to attempt to buy the web site from domain owner Katie Jones. This is absolutely not true.” Plume makes clear it’s not part of that attempt: “We are not working in association with author Katie Tarbox or any other individual in an attempt to assume ownership of the domain name address”

This is a belated but welcome move by the publishers, who must have calculated the negative publicity was outweighing the good. After all, what’s the point of publishing a book about online abuse if you just engage in another form of it against someone whose only mistake was to register a darn good domain name years ago?

There is a loose end yet to be tied, of course. The lawyer and author will also have to back off , abandoning any plans for a website ”where children who have been victimized by Internet sexual predators can go for help and support” around the name Aftab, a prominent cybercime and Internet privacy lawyer, may also have some damage control to do. She has declined to comment on previous developments in the case, accusing Jones of having “an agenda”, but as things stand the public perception is that it has been the other way around.