On Thursday night my friend got an email from Steve Curtin SJ, the Jesuit Provincial in Australia, asking her if she could help out Fr. Jean Roger Ndombi, who was on his way to Seattle to surprise the Jesuit community. The email said that Fr. Ndombi was stuck in the Philippines for some reason, please call this number. Fr. Curtin couldn’t help; he was on his way to New Zealand.
So of course, everybody thought it was a scam. I googled all the characters and checked the janky email addresses and tweeted to the Jesuit community in Australia to get some more info.
On the surface, however, the stuff checked out; these were real people in their real jobs. Fr. Curtin really is the Jesuit Provincial in Oz; Fr. Ndombi is an African Jesuit stationed in Rome.
In the mean time, Fr. Ndombi calls my friend up on her cell phone! She hands the phone to me.
At first, I ask him if he’s ok, and where he is. He has trouble pronouncing Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Angeles, Pampanga. It sounds like he could be a francophone African Jesuit stuck in the Philippines… although I wonder why he would have been at Macapagal, instead of NAIA in Manila…
He needs money, he says, the Philippine authorities won’t release him. Scam.
I ask him if he’s contacted the Jesuit community in Manila; he says they’re all at a funeral. I check the time, and it’s 8:30 am, Manila time… they’re ALL at a funeral? Doesn’t seem likely. There are a lot of Jesuits in the Philippines.
By the way, the more I speak with him, the more Filipino he starts to sound. If I have a superpower, it’s identifying Filipino English, and this guy is talking it. By this point I was beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was talking to a scammer.
However, I wanted to stay on the line and make him give himself away in a way that was more explainable to other people than just “I recognized his accent.” I toyed with the idea of speaking to him in Italian (the real Fr. Ndombi works in Rome), or in French, due to his obviously French name. The entire time, though, I’ve kept a respectful tone with him, just asking him questions without sounding too skeptical.
So I asked him his name, and he said “Gene,” as in “Gene Kelly.” And that was it. I said “I don’t believe him” to my friend, and hung up the phone. That was a 100% give away, and totally explainable.
The real Jean Roger Ndombi’s first name is Jean Roger, it’s a double first name, and I happen to be an expert on that matter. So he would never identify himself as “Jean.” But even if he did, the French pronunciation sounds nothing like “Gene.”
I happen to know a couple of agents the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation, so I’m forwarding the information (including email and phone number) to them. I was chatting with one of my cousins last, who is NOT a federal agent, just a mom and a small business owner, and she said, oh yah, we’ve heard of that scam. Maybe they’ll send some NBI agents to investigate.
So it’s kind of a niche scam; the scammer has done his research on Jesuit communities and Jesuit schools. Maybe as the priests themselves age, the scammers are finding a high level of fuddliness and a lack of skepticism. Word on the street is that at least one community has paid out; too bad they didn’t have a francophone Filipino American superhero resource to draw upon. Take that, all you fools who didn’t hire me!