All The Books I Can Read

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Review: You’re Just Too Good To Be True by Sofija Stefanovic

on February 18, 2015

Too Good To Be TrueYou’re Just Too Good To Be True
Sofija Stefanovic
Penguin Specials (Penguin Books AUS)
2015, 93p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Sofija Stefanovic pays a visit to her friend Bill, an eighty year old man who fell victim to a Nigerian love scam, fleecing him of over $80,000. Although the police eventually found Bill and informed him that he was being scammed and that he should change all of his email addresses and passwords, Sofija suspects that Bill hasn’t done that. It’s gone on too long and now he’s sucked into the story he’s being fed, he’s invested in the scam.

Through Bill and his story, Sofija investigates further, talking to the Queensland police who did the hard work tracking people down who were being scammed. They had no reports of a crime being committed, either because people were too embarrassed to admit they’d been scammed or because they were still in the grasp of the scammers. Instead the police did the hard yards themselves, watching the flow of cash from Queensland to Nigeria via Western Union.

Sofija decides she wants to tell the story from both points of view and to do that, she needs to be able to talk to a scammer, to find out their motivations and methods. When a point-blank approach doesn’t work, Sofija tries another way…and soon finds herself drawn into the web as her interactions grow and she begins to construct a life and reasons for her would-be scammer and realises she needs to get out before she goes the way of Bill and many like him.

According to the inside of the book, Penguin Specials were created to ‘fill a gap’ – something to read on the train, in your lunch hour, etc and can be either fiction or non-fiction. This is the first one I’ve ever read and I think they’re a marvelous idea. Sometimes you want to read but you don’t have time to fit in a full length book and you want to read something that won’t leave you hanging, trying to choose a place to finish. I actually read most of this one sitting in the car before school pick up.

Last year, someone quite close to me was scammed. Not by a Nigerian love scam, as this book focuses on, but a different sort of scam. They lost close to $5,000 which for some isn’t much but for them is a lot. Because of the way in which the scam was enacted, the bank could trace where their money went (it was still in Australia last I heard) but couldn’t get it back for them. They had to wear it. It was taken not from a savings account but from a overdraft facility so presumably they now wear the interest the amount will accrue as well, until they can pay it back. They went through a gauntlet of emotions: shock, horror, disbelief, anger, grief, humiliation. They reported it to the police and there is a cyber crime unit that looks into these things but it appears there’s very little they can do, because of the way the scam is played. They’ve put it behind them now, but the funny thing is even after they were conned out of money, they’re still being harrassed by the scammers. Whether they’re different scammers or not, they’re still repeatedly targeted. Now they take great delight in attempting to frustrate and humiliate the scammers, just as they were themselves I suppose. At least I am sure of the fact that they will not get fooled again.

The same cannot be said of eighty year old Bill in this book. Sofija suspects that he’s still in contact with the scammers and it proves to be true. The scam has changed, evolved and Bill has been sucked into it so far that he cannot extract himself. It’s something that I think he probably has convinced himself that it must be true, who would go to all this trouble otherwise? And there’s no doubt that Bill’s scam is particularly elaborate and has targeted a lonely and isolated elderly man. Sofija speaks with the leader of a support group in Queensland that has been established for humiliated victims of cyber love scams and many of them are of the baby boomer generation: retired but financially secure – or they were until they gave away most of their life savings. The scammers use dating sites like RSVP to target lonely pensioners and get them off the sites and into private emails as quick as possible, before the sites shut down their profiles. They tailor their stories and lives to revolve around their victims: similar interests, passions and causes.

I found it interesting that Sofija, whilst attempting to research scammers and get their point of view, still found herself being sucked in to the story and relationship that the scammer was trying to cultivate. It is probably very flattering for the victims, to be paid so much attention. I think the police find trying to interact with some of the victims rather frustrating, because even after they explain they’re being scammed and block their Western Union accounts, some of the victims are still finding ways to send their money, not convinced by the flesh and blood police in front of them. Instead they’d rather take the word of people in email, because they’ve already invested so much into the relationship that was being cultivated by the scammer. I think this goes to show how easy it is to become invested in someone, even when you’re aware that you’re being scammed. The mind is always trying to justify people’s actions and reading this gave me a much better understanding of how these people get scammed.

I’m not sure if I can say I enjoyed this, because I found myself wondering about Bill long after I’d finished it but it was definitely really interesting and I think it shows how the victims deserve sympathy. I love the idea of these Penguin specials and I’ll definitely be looking to collect more of them for those times when I’m waiting or only have a little bit of time but still want to read.

8/10

Book #36 of 2015

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2 responses to “Review: You’re Just Too Good To Be True by Sofija Stefanovic

  1. The concepts of this book sounds really interesting, Bree, as does your story about what happened to your friends. Now I want to know how they were sucked in – so I can avoid the same trap!

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