Saturday, 26 January 2013

A journey to the centre of the earth

As a follow-up to a previous blog we decided to phone up M. Piffaut of the “Association des amis du vieux Berzé (AVB)” to make an appointment to see the gypsum kilns in Berzé-la-Ville.
M. Piffaut was very enthusiastic about the whole idea, and we made an appointment to meet him on a Wednesday at 10 o’clock at the Chapelle des Moines in Berzé-la-Ville. When we arrived, there was a heavy delegation awaiting us. The mayor of Berzé was there (by accident, we learnt later), M. Piffaut and two more active members of the AVB. M. Piffaut and his friends gave us a very interesting tour along the two different types of kilns which had been in use there.
A very concise run-down on what we were told: gypsum, a soft sedimentary rock was mined in the nearby gypsum mine. Depending on the type of oven used, the gypsum was deposited in an oven and heated (with wood) to ca. 180 degrees, whilst in a slightly more modern type of oven the gypsum was deposited in layers, with in between layers of coal. The bottom fire burnt the above layer of gypsum, and when ready the bottom layer of gypsum was taken out.
When the gypsum was ready it was taken out of the kiln, the whole concoction above fell down one layer, the coal were lit and the kiln was refilled from the top. That way a continuous process was created. The gypsum was then transported to a nearby mill, where the gypsum was milled into powder with horse power. The final product was bagged and sold off as building material.
After the kilns we were invited to see one of the mine shafts which was still intact. The shafts are quite dangerous, and are normally closed to the public. The mine shafts had been used (even before the closure of the mines around 1900, but also after) for growing mushrooms. However the “mushroom” farms were closed down after a fatal accident due to one of the shafts caving in. These mineshafts were not very deep, and only slightly sloping, but still, it was a special experience to move around under the surface of the earth.
M. Piffaut and friends did everything within their power to explain as good as possible what had been the purpose of the various features of the site.
They obviously had done a lot of research, but also a lot of heavy manual labour. The kilns were all filled up with rubble and soil, partially underground, and a number of the members of the commune has spent every Friday during the summer since ca. 1995 to clear the site of rubble and to dig out and empty the kilns, all done with spades and wheelbarrows. One oven was still filled with coal and gypsum, as if a local volcano had disturbed the workflow.
We look back to a very pleasant morning with our new found friends. M. Piffaut warned us, when we said goodbye to them, that we could expect a delegation of about five AVB members for a counter visit who are interested in the workings of a brick factory.

Needless to say, that they are more than welcome!

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Paul Temple and the Dr. Kumar Case (10, epilogue)

Although this series originally was meant to contain 8 episodes, in the end it turned out to have two more.
Click here for the complete series, , to be read in reverse.
In the previous episode I wrote that we never heard from Dr. Nelson again. That is certainly true, but still the scam had not yet come to an end.
Some days after the last mail from Dr. Nelson we received another one, from a certain Engineer Wilson, coincidentally (?) having the same address as Nelson. We asked him for € 2460 and received a cheque for £ 7000.

This is how it all started
This was also a stolen cheque, like the others we received, and also in this case we managed to contact the owner. Neither the police nor the bank was interested.
After a while Wilson phoned us, asking why we had not forwarded the money to his logistics agent. We told him that we had never received any details, and promptly they arrived.
We waited a few days, and in the meantime we searched the internet for Mr. Frederick A., the logistics agent. Mr. A had a Facebook account, and we also found him in the telephone directory. The guy we found happened to be a Nigerian student. Coincidence? We cannot prove it, but to us it seems that this "agent" most likely was using his own name and his own bank account!
After some more days we told Wilson that there had been a problem with the cheque; our bank would not give us any details, could he please send a new one?

The first stolen cheque (from Dr. Kumar)
Again we thought this was the end of the story, and again we were wrong. We received another cheque, from the same stolen chequebook, this time for £ 6500.
After a while we told him that his second cheque also had bounced; that both cheques were stolen, and that we would cancel his reservation. We would only consider a booking if he forwarded the money required to book, without any extras for his agent. Wilson could not get enough. He wrote the following mail:

"Hello, Good day. Sorry I have not been able to get back to you as we have been busy discussing with our sponsor. It is obvious as the cheque payment method could be accepted as you stated in your mail. Please we are very interested in your hotel and we are asking if you have credit card or equity line so that the money will be deposited into your account. Thanks as we await your early response. Best regard, Robert."

Would this be sufficient for a birthday party? (Mr. Churchhill)
By this time we started to get a bit fed up with good old Robert, and we answered him thus:

"Dear Mr Wilson Thank you for your continued interest in our accommodation. I would like to briefly recall where we are. Firstly, your sponsor sent me not one, but two stolen cheques, so I find it difficult to believe that the credit card currently on offer, is not stolen as well. Secondly, I am not sure if you are aware, but your logistics agent in Enfield, London (Mr A.) is known as a Nigerian scammer and is currently under investigation by the Metropolitan Police fraud squad. If you want to maintain any form of credibility, you need to find new business partners. In summary, your cancelled reservation remains just that - cancelled. Yours, Sue"

The first cheque from Engineer Wilson
And finally it stopped. While I am writing this, it has been almost three months since the last email. Since then we neither received scam emails asking for accommodation, nor for organising birthday parties. Even emails asking for help with smuggling big sums of money out of obscure countries has ceased.

Summarising: the first mail that triggered off this scam chase came in on 7 May 2012.
We "received" a total of £ 44740 (approx. € 55750). I did not take into account Wilson's last cheque.
Total sum required for birthday and gîte bookings: € 37470
Total loss for us : € 18280, had we been so stupid to fall for all 3 scams.

the second cheque from Wilson : all is well that ends well?
We sent the last mail out on 8 September 2012. We strongly believe now, after all we know, that this scam is NOT run by a number of independent small-scale scammers, who haphazardly get hold of emails addresses and stolen cheques. The whole thing smells of quite a big organisation, centrally managed using a number of scammers, and structurally capable of stealing chequebooks and possibly even credit cards. It is also evident that neither the banks nor the police are the slightest bit interested in stopping these people.
As far as I am concerned, I am quite pleased that this whole thing ground to a halt. Having said that, it is a pity that my collection of stolen cheques stops at a paltry four pieces....

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Paul Temple and the Dr. Kumar Case (9)

Mid June our involvement with the scamming Dr. Kumar came to an abrupt end (click here for the complete series, to be read in reverse). We had our fun with him, and we were pretty sure there would be no more emails from Kumar being sent inquiring after another two weeks in September. However, a few days later we received another email, again from a doctor. This time it came from a certain Dr. Nelson Mark, a "medicine man" from Aberdeen. The email read:
"Dear Sir/Madam Compliments of the Season,
I am delighted to inquire for accommodation in your facility,I want to book accommodation for a Vacation.
Arrival date: 1st SEPT 2012
Departure date: 10th SEPT 2012
Total number of rooms needed 2 double rooms
Total number of nights 10
Total number of guests 4 (All ADULTS) Two couples.
We need: 2 double rooms or 2 bedrooms apartment for 10 nights.
Kindly provide us with the following details:
1. Your rates per night include all taxes in Euro or GBP
2. Its subtotal for the 10 nights in Euro or GBP
3. Our abroad sponsor will issue a certified cheque to you for our total payment.please let me know if you accept cheque payment.
We are group of medical experts from England coming for vacations.
Date is not available please get back to me with another date.
Have a nice day.
My Regards,
Dr.Nelson Mark
Orwell House, Souterhead Rd.Altens,
Aberdeen,AB12 3LF,United Kingdom.
Not only were the dates Dr. Mark wanted to spend here with three of his colleagues identical to those our Dr. Kumar had in mind, also the party size and the number of rooms were identical. Based on the similarity in use of written English I could only assume that both Doctors had attended the same primary school. The education in basic arithmetic must have been of the same quality as the English language course; I seem to remember from my primary school years that arriving on September 1st and leaving on September 10th results in a stay of 9 in stead of 10 nights...
Anyway, we had had our fun smoking out Dr. Kumar, and decided to bin Dr. Mark, or at least his email.
Until.... after two weeks e new mail arrived, again from Dr. Mark, identical to the previous one, and with the same loud title in capitals "BOOKING NEEDED".
Doing nothing at all for a while had bored us by then, reason why we decided to try to go for Dr. Mark's throat.
We sent him our normal standard email, telling him that he had to pay approx. € 200 up front, and yes, that we accepted cheques. Remarkably enough, we heard nothing from Dr. Mark; even more remarkable was that the steady stream of these sort of scam mails (we received sometimes 3 a day!) suddenly completely dried up.
Based on this I have developed a theory, called the "van Halderen conspiracy theory no. 12".
Mr. X, the brain, or at least one of the brains of the organisation, hands out big amounts of email addresses to a number of his accomplices. They are supposed to send those out, using any name or profession they fancy. The medical profession is obviously quite popular with this gang.
The moment a victim is hooked, Mr. X takes over. He does the actual negotiations, and he is the one with an overview of what has been going on. He possibly has built up a list of "unsafe" addresses, and we are, no doubt, on that list. I assume that our email address has been removed from the database all together.
For those who are fed up with receiving these sort of emails, I would strongly advise to follow the "van Halderen approach". I cannot, however, guarantee the same results as the ones we've got....

For our own website click here.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Paul Temple and the Dr. Kumar Case (8)

This is the very last eruption in this octology.

That scammers ar just as persistant as some bloggers, may be deduced from the following email I received yesterday (before that 2 more came in, but not so blatantly scam as this one).
I will like to contract your services with respect to my wife's birthday(Mrs Jasmine ) scheduled to hold on the 20th of August , 2012.I will like you to take charge of the arrangements.
Mrs Jasmine (my wife) happens to be from your country and this birthday celebrations is meant to be a surprise package that is to say she is not aware of this arrangement.

Please get back to me with any of the services which you can provide as regards the birthday arrangement for my wife.
- Vehicles /hotel transfers for the guests - ( coaches transportation)
- location for the Birthday party
- lodging for the guests for an estimate of twenty people(arriving on
the 19 of August
- and departing on the 23rd(morning) of August )2012

- Birthday cakes and Flower decorations
- Sight seeing tours for the guest/ boat tours - (21st August )
- DJ Sound& flower decorations The Birthday Budget is at the range of 24,000 GBP for now and it remains very flexible pending our final conclusion. Please do let me
have the details of all i should know as regards the arrangement. Estimates and calculations should be based on the quoted budget.
Do get back to me asap via e-mail.
Mr.avrant churchhill"

It was addressed to "Undisclosed recipient", which made me think they had not chosen us for what we really had to offer (in any case, we do NOT do party animations!).

I am half thinking of starting a new hobby: collecting stolen or falsified cheques. But before I really do embark on this track I would like to have a little chat with my lawyer first...

For our own website click here.