Island Life by David Slack

Your all loosers

Welcome one and all to the second edition of Discouraging Friday Revelations. I must confess it’s hard work coming up with this little service week in, week out, every Friday, but because you care, well: so do I.

In a moment, fun with criminals, but first: what is this at the once bustling site of nzpundit? Are those real digital cobwebs? Has some unhappy fate befallen the House of King? Did I miss the official adieu? Or is it au revoir? Not that they’d say it in that language. I know the news is not encouraging from Washington, but Wellington has hardly being treating them unkindly in recent weeks.

Now, about those crooks. I was invited to a breakfast meeting at the beginning of the week. Dismal though those things can be, the topic was interesting. Vaguely - and I must be vague because I was there as a customer, and not a roughly-affiliated member of the fourth estate - the topic was in the area of credit card malfeasance.

You buggers who take pleasure in helping yourselves to other people’s money might want to look to your work. That’s all I’m saying, except for this: an intelligent chap from police intelligence had some very interesting information to share, and I'm sure he couldn't object to my mentioning one broad observation he made at the end of a fascinating story about one particular criminal.

In the past few months, this guy has pulled off some breathtakingly audacious stunts, but more recently he has been mostly helping police with their inquiries. The unexpected interview room discovery has been that he is actually quite stoopid. More Van West than Jethro. (Or maybe a little like this guy.)

“You may be wondering”, the man from Police HQ said, “how a dumb guy could get away with so much.” Well, the answer to that question - and here we arrive at today’s discouraging revelation - is that we, the targets of the crime, can be spectacularly clueless ourselves.

He proceeded - using anecdotes about the hapless manner in which we go about protecting our credit card data and personal identity information from the prying eyes of Van, Jethro and Al Qaeda - to demonstrate the undeniable truth of his assertion.

What he didn’t say, but which was clear from the picture he painted, is that crime evolves in much the same way as enterprise does on the other side of the tracks: through trial, error, inspiration, and thinking outside the much-derided - and irretrievably clichéd - square.

You may well be a dumbass, but if you’re willing to have a go, and you’re first in to the market, then you have the element of surprise and for that reason, no matter how low your wattage may be, you can't overstate how lucky you may get, and how abundant the low-hanging fruit may be.

Where crime is concerned, the unexpected and the novel are the very things that present the most alluring prospects. People can’t make preparations for something they’ve never heard of. They’re much less likely to deal capably with something they’ve never seen before.

The 9/11 movie, United 93, makes that plain. Everywhere - in the aircraft cabins, in the control towers, at command centres, right across the military - people were caught flatfooted. The President was too, of course, but to be fair, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of the more challenging works of the canon.

There you go, then: discouraging enough? The most enterprising of the bad guys like to do what you weren’t expecting in a million years, and they always will. Take it as a useful word of warning. As the happy hours of conviviality come crowding in later today, just be careful what you do with that credit card.