12 August 2010

The tough life of a petty criminal

If I take a look at the risks criminals and scammers take every day, it really does seem like less trouble to do a job, any job, says Susan Erasmus.

If I take a look at the risks criminals and scammers take every day, it really does seem like less trouble to do a job, any job, says Susan Erasmus.

Bucking the system takes ingenuity, a lack of conscience and shame, good acting ability, persistence, the knack to spot a gap and preferably a pair of fast legs. And there are no guarantees. I have interviewed serious job candidates who didn't have that range of skills.

'Robbed tourist' scam
Take the 'robbed tourist'  scam, mentioned by a News24 user. In order to pull this one off, you need to master a foreign accent, wear clean clothes, practise your sob story until it's believable, and then be prepared to stand next to the N1 to take your chances with the passing traffic. Once you've climbed into a stranger's car, there's no telling where they might take you or what they might do to you. Life sure is tough. And you might not get a cent for hours of effort. And then it's back to the inhospitable highway. This sounds a bit like the grim life of a street-walker.

Petty burglars
Then there's the hooded would-be burglar who tried his luck at my house yesterday morning. He had to scale two six-foot fences (four, actually, if you count his escape too) to get into the garden, fiddle with a scullery window I haven't managed to open in years, and then had to deal with the nasty shock of peering in – and finding me right there screaming like a fishwife. My ears are still ringing from the panic button's unbelievable din. If you think I had an adrenaline rush, his was sufficient to get him over two barbed fences and off the face of the earth before the armed response arrived 30 seconds later. And all for nothing. If I were him, I'd  go to the CCMA.

Internet scammers
Imagine being a 419 scammer. All you have is an old computer (and it isn't even yours), and you spend your days sending out endless unwanted e-mails to possible victims from a rat-infested flat in the slums.  Apparently the success rate of this scam is lower than one percent. I am sure cellphone telesales staff have higher hit rates than that. And now that everyone knows about your scam and there are so many others doing it, days must go by without a single nibble from possible victims. It would be more entertaining to work in a factory. At least there your boss will register you for UIF. And possibly even a hospital plan.

Then there are pickpockets. It's a real skill to be able to remove someone's wallet without its being noticed. In fact, it must take days of practice. And, like many well-known restaurants, staff-in- training probably do not get paid. Then, it's no fun hanging out on the streets all day looking for a victim. Talk about the fight-or-flight syndrome. At the end of such a day, a pickpocket must be exhausted from all that running. I have seen what passersby have done to a pickpocket they caught – even if there were R10 000 in that wallet, it would so not have been worth it. And all this at no fixed salary and no benefits or paid leave. Or workmen's compensation.

Colleagues count for something. Imagine the company the people above are forced to keep. No one you could ever introduce to your parents, or leave unsupervised in your room for two minutes while you pop to the loo. And if you do get caught, you might have to spend a few nights in the police cells with even less salubrious company. I don't have to go into detail.

Right, you might make the odd bit of cash, but it's unpredictable and it would be safer to work for a bomb disposal unit. You also have no job security whatsoever.

All in all, I really do think working is less of a hassle. That's if you can find one. A job, any job, that is faintly above board has to be preferable to the horrible uncertainties and risks of all the above professions.

In the long run, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Luck just can't last forever. Sometime, someone is going to stab you in the back. If you're lucky, just figuratively. And the free lunch in prison isn't going to win any Michelin awards. That's a promise.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, April 2010)


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