The Perfect Crime


Do you have a Facebook account?

If so… how many friends do you have? Has anyone ever approached you with a friend request and left you scratching your head?

I ask to develop this in a general way. Here are a couple of stories that kind of open up where I hope to take us…

I was talking to a good friend of mine the other day… in person, over a cup of coffee. The discussion turned to Facebook and Twitter and such, and he started laughing about one of his Facebook friends.

Apparently when he got a friend request from this person, he couldn’t quite place the name. It sure sounded familiar to him… maybe a name change through marriage was involved. She had several friends in common with him though, from a place he had worked at for a few years until he left about ten years ago.

So he accepted the request.

Soon after, he began noticing that he never saw any posts from her. Nothing. And the reason he noticed this was that every day her name popped up in those wonderful game invitation announcements.

When we talked he said he was debating pulling her friendship status. (Yes… the dreaded unfriending.) But the funny thing was, he had been considering it for months and just couldn’t do it. She wasn’t hurting anything that he could see… just creating game messages… and there was still that gut-instinct kind of feeling he had, created by her connection to other friends of his. More than four dozen people were friends-in-common between him and her.

To this day though, he still has no clue who she is.

The second story involves my Facebook page for this web site, In My Backpack.

Early on I got a message that the page had picked up a new fan, and had been liked by someone sending me a picture. When I opened it, I saw a boy proudly holding up his backpack. (And I smiled.) Not quite the “In My Backpack” I was referencing… and yet, even if just for a few brief moments, the internet had allowed me to make a connection with someone I didn’t know, still don’t know, and likely never will meet.

And with that offered to get us started, I want to mention an article about technology scams. It discussed the amazing and informal ways that we interact these days, and how con artists and scammers use things like Facebook to create the impression of connections that really don’t exist. They want to develop a fake sense of trust… and from it get that brief second of misdirection that diverts you from seeing the trick as it is pulled off right in front of you.

I called this article “The perfect crime” because… I’m sure like many of you… I have noticed a growing sophistication in scams that essentially is based on a lack of sophistication. And the article I linked to explains a portion of it.

Have you seen e-mails about the package you sent several months ago that couldn’t be delivered? Sophisticated… it takes a process like mailing a package, and tries to place it so far in the past that you won’t readily recall you sent no such package.

Have you seen the e-mails about how your taxes are messed up? Sophisticated… using a government agency and the move to e-filing to adjust your focus away from the reality that the IRS wouldn’t e-mail you (and probably wouldn’t use an e-mail address that you never provided them with if they did).

You see where this is going. The attempts at deceit are set up to look legitimate, and then end up failing miserably. Why?

Well… mainly because they raise your suspicions. Sure, there is the horrendous spelling and poor language skills. And many are just awful in what they claim to represent.

But what really is to blame is a level of sophistication… or, if you will, a level of effort that sounds the bells of intuition. When you claim to be the IRS… or to represent a company a person has done business with… the end result is that most people, quite aware of the big scary world technology is creating, are going to at least partially raise their shields.

So how about when you get an e-mail like this…

“Here’s the file I promised you.”

“Forgot to attach this when I e-mailed you earlier.”

Devilishly simple approach here. And that’s what the article… and my stories… are talking about.

Take a look at my friend again.

He doesn’t catch up with many of his old co-workers on a regular basis, so he hasn’t tried to contact any of them to ask about the mystery friend. But he hasn’t removed her from his friend list either.

It’s not the perfect crime because it works… because the design is flawlessly inventive… because the con artist will never get caught.

No, in this case it’s because it’s so fiendishly simple.

I know someone that doesn’t lock her (or his) car. Says if someone wants to steal it, the preference would be that the windows wouldn’t be broken when the car was found.

My take? Well…

In part, I get it. A broken window is a possibility. Door unlocked tends to remove that problem.

But is that the only bad thing a person stealing your car would do to the car? If you keep the door unlocked the thief still has to deal with the ignition. (Unless, of course, you keep the keys in it too.) And a locked door might cause a potential thief to move on to the next vehicle. In short… it’s no guarantee of a damage-free experience.

And what I really think about it is that it’s a lot easier to gain access to where you aren’t supposed to be when someone doesn’t use the locks available to keep you out.

That’s worth keeping that in mind when the e-mails arrive.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at