Saturday, October 11, 2008

Literary Hacks at Business Daily

First of all, I would like to thank all those who I meet on the street, in the office, on the road, who are readers and followers of my blog. You give me the motivation to keep at this. Now, some of you have mentioned that I seem to have deviated from writing "startup" posts, like the rural cyber chronicles in my recent postings. Heck, I guess that's true somewhat, but the mind of an entrepreneur is fickle and unrestrained. Whatever catches my fancy at that time is what I would blog about, so today I am putting on a critique's hat and aim my sights at what I feel is woefully bad journalism.

My target of vitriol is the headline story on the Business Daily of October 7, 2008, titled "Internet theft hits a new high" Naturally I was attracted to this story because I am an avid Internet user and a promoter of its potential as a business tool. Considering the very serious nature of the paper's allegation, I expected a fact-laden article with detailed testimonies, statistics, and warnings. Instead what I read was a vacuous, sensational, and rambling article that relied on unsubstantiated claims, wildly inaccurate headlines, false syllogisms, and a lack of understanding of the internet, internet banking and banking in general.

Is my criticism too harsh? You be the judge.

Let's start with the title, "Internet theft hits a new high". From this title you'd expect:
  1. Testimonials of victims of internet theft
  2. Statistics showing how the cases of theft have increased from a previous period to the current period.

The author goes on to give two examples, of a woman who 'lost' her entire savings over the Internet, and of a man who spent a lot of money to extricate himself from allegations of criminal activity.

Let's start with the case of the woman. The article starts of well enough; Veronica received an email. After that, its all downhill, the author writes that Veronica unsuspectingly provided her banking details and later found out that all her savings were withdrawn "through the Internet" and that the bank cannot be name for legal reasons.

Is it just me or does everyone see the sheer volume of BS in this? Let me break it down.

  1. The author fails to explain what nexus there is in Veronica supplying her account details and her savings being withdrawn ‘through the internet’. Is the mere availability of your bank details enough for a criminal to withdraw your funds? To the best of my knowledge all banks require proof of identification AND bank account details before they authorize a withdrawal. Proof of ID is usually a Government ID and/or a signature on a bill of exchange issued by the bank and/or physical presence. Exactly which method did the perpetrator of fraud use to have the steal the funds?
  2. Apart from that what exactly does the author mean by ‘withdrawing through the internet’? I assume that she can only mean that the funds were transferred to the fraudster’s bank account. In light of strict know your customer (KYC) practices of banks worldwide, the fraudsters identity should be known and it would only be a question of where to find him/her; and not the helpless resignation of her sentence “the money has not been recovered”
  3. Lastly, as a lawyer I know that her claim that the institution cannot be named for legal reasons is a load of bull crap. Exactly what legal reasons is she talking about? Defamation? Well, well if that’s the case then she should not fear as the number one defence against defamation is TRUTH. Unless of course the story is one BIG FAT LIE. Does Veronica even exist? The credibility of this story would be greatly assisted if the author could at the very least had some screen shots of the alleged email/website.
In brief the Veronica story does nothing to further the outrageous headline.

We move on to the second story of Paul Oduor, a Kenyan in the diaspora, who was ‘tricked’ into giving his credit card details which were subsequently used to sell drugs. This led to his arrest and him spending a lot of money on ‘bailing himself out’ and on his lawyer.

Let me pause here, as my heart beat settles with the fury of having had to pay for this miserable excuse for journalism.

The Veronica story at least had a chance, this on the other hand is totally unredeemable. Again I will break it point by point.

  1. First of all why did Paul send his credit card details by email? The author does not even attempt to answer this and leaves the reader to connect the dots between Paul winning a lottery and Paul sending his credit card details via email. In addition to this non sequitur by the author we are supposed to believe that Paul is really, really, really dumb that he would send his credit card details over email.
  2. If Paul sends the credit card details in order that he gets the $1 million dollar prize then he is just a greedy sucker who got what he deserved. Someone rightly said that you can’t con an honest man.
  3. On the claim that the credit card details were used to sell drugs, the author does not attempt to explain this. Anyone with a decent understanding of the internet knows that having a credit card alone does not make it possible to sell items on the internet. You need to have a merchant account (and a bank account) or PayPal account which will require you to provide more than just a credit card number.
  4. And not to belabor the point but exactly what Internet theft took place here? Paul gave his card details willingly (probably with the expectation that there would be some withdrawal against it). Paul doesn’t claim someone withdrew money from his card (which is what I expected when I started reading the Paul story). Unless the author means that the ‘lot of money’ Paul ended up paying to his lawyer qualifies as Internet theft.
I need to stop here for now as my temperature recedes before I proceed with my ventilation

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