On December 1 last year a bag and a coat were stolen from my rental car in the city of Portimão in Portugal. The bag contained a few items of value, one of which was my Kindle. As I recounted at the time, a few days later (on December 10) a post was made to my Facebook account from my Kindle from a Portuguese fellow named Pedro, who told me that his father had found it in the middle of a road while walking his dog. At the time I made the post I had forwarded Pedro my address, and he had stated that he would post my Kindle to me. My assumption was that the criminals had thrown the Kindle out their car window due to the fact that a Kindle is tied to a particular Amazon account and this cannot be changed from the Kindle, and was thus useless to the criminal.
Upon my making that post, a couple of Samizdata commenters suggested that I was being overly trusting and mentioned the possibility of scams involving criminals who lure victims in various ways with the prospect of returned items and then rob them further. I was sceptical of this, as I had not given Pedro any information other than my address, which a criminal could have found out from documents that were in the car anyway and which isn’t exactly a secret anyway. (I am listed in the phone book, assuming phone books still exist). When one is on one’s guard it is usually easy to tell the difference between someone who is trying to scam you and someone who is genuine, which is why most scams work by targeting people at those moments when they are off their guard. Pedro did not feel like a scammer, so I was confident I would get my Kindle back. He felt more like some teenager or young man who upon being given the Kindle started playing with it and while figuring out how it worked found out how to make a Facebook update and did so.
However, I waited for the Kindle to be returned. Nothing arrived. I was mildly disappointed by this, but compared to the unpleasantness of having my possessions stolen in the first place it wasn’t a big deal. As it happened, I remembered that when I first contacted him Pedro had asked if I were still in Portugal. (I wasn’t). Perhaps his attempting to contact me had been an attempt by criminals to get me to meet with them so that they could steal from me some more. Or something.
As of the 2nd of February this year, no Kindle. My assumption was that I wasn’t getting it back, but I thought I would just give it one more try. I sent another e-mail to Pedro, just asking him whether he had sent it. I got the following reply.
The lady from the post office and made a “mistake” and didn´t sent it for me!! Because she donne something rong.
And i had tried to send it by registraded mail and it was taking to long??? so i have been to the post office and checked!!
I did know it since monday and i was supose to deliver it to some inglish frinds of mine that i have brougth to faro airport today and they were landing in London and i have forgothen it at home!
Monday morning i will try to send it to you!!
Sorry about that!
Now, I wasn’t going to take this as a literal statement of fact any more than I would a statement that the Kindle had been eaten by his father’s aforementioned dog along with his homework (a better guess was simply that he had not got around to sending it), but as there was still a reasonable chance that I might actually be getting it back, I thanked him once more. Another e-mail was forthcoming.
You can call if you whant!!
00351 967 xxx xxxx
This was slightly peculiar, and I wasn’t actually going to call him (what would I say?) but things had reached the stage of being more amusing than anything else. It didn’t feel like I was in contact with criminal mastermind Professor Pedro Moriarty, but I really had no idea what was going on. On Tuesday February 7, more e-mail
I have a friend that whent to London today and he will post it for you today so you will get it tomorow or the day after.
Nothing arrived on the 8th, 9th, 10th, or the 11th, so at that point I mentally shrugged and gave up on it.
However, early on the morning of Monday February 13th, I heard the encouraging thump of a package coming through my legendary mailslot. It was a padded post bag, sent recorded delivery from Brighton on the 11th. It did indeed contain my Kindle. The saga was over. I posted a status update of delight to my Facebook account.
Except, it wasn’t. The Kindle required recharging before it could be used. I plugged it in to the power and a couple of hours later turned it on. It immediately told me I required a password to use it. This was puzzling, as I had not had the Kindle password protected. (If I had, Pedro would never have been able to update my Facebook status from it). Had I been sent the wrong Kindle? Was Pedro a criminal mastermind after all who was trying to get access to the password to my Amazon account? The complexity of the whole saga so far compared to the trivial gains to be had from finding such a thing out made me think not, but one does not type one’s password into anything that could conceivably be any kind of phishing operation, ever, so I did not enter anything.
I looked again. The Kindle gave a password hint of “Josehp”, which had a certain Latinness about it. My Amazon account clearly was not what was being sought. Had I accidentally been sent a different Kindle? Curiouser and Curiouser.
The only thing to do at this point was to call Amazon, and ask them what to do. Calling Amazon’s Kindle support from the UK normally gets me someone in Ireland, but today I went straight through to someone who sounded like she was in Atlanta, or at least the American south somewhere. I told her the story. She expressed sympathy that my Kindle had been stolen and asked me whether I had reported it to the police. I said that I had, and she asked if I had the police reference number. She then stated that they would blacklist the Kindle so that nobody could use it, at which point I realised she had only really heard “My Kindle was stolen” and had blanked out through the second half of the story. I told her to listen more carefully and told her the story again. She said that it was nice that I had it back (I agreed) but that Amazon would want to vet things carefully before telling me to use it again. She told me how to reset it to its factory settings, making me realise that in fact it is possible to change the Amazon account that a Kindle is associated with from the Kindle, and so destroying some of my earlier theories
She asked me for specific dates as to when things had happened in my story. When I did this, she informed me that the Kindle had been re-registered to a different Amazon account on December 13, three days after Pedro had promised to return it to me. She told me not to use it until I received further contact from her, as she needed to pass my information on to Amazon’s Kindle security department – such things apparently exist – to confirm that there were no nasty little surprises of any kind.
So here is what I believe most likely happened. The original thieves either accidentally dropped the Kindle, or threw it out the car window as it was not what they were looking for when they stole from my bag. Possibly they knew that the Kindle could easily be blacklisted over mobile networks, or that it was easy to trace. I now know that I definitely did lock the car and entry to it was forced, so the criminals were clearly professional thieves who would be more likely to know such things than people who opportunistically noticed that a car was left unlocked. The fact that electronic gadgets – particularly those that are constantly connected to electronic communications gadgets – can be tracked accurately and often in real time is something that criminals who do not wish to be caught must be becoming aware of. (The story of how my Oyster Card was once stolen by a waiter in a restaurant and how I tracked it down is something to tell another time)
Pedro’s father did indeed find the Kindle while walking his dog, and he gave it to Pedro, who played with it in the way that many young men will play with an unfamiliar electronic device if it is given to them. Pedro was initially unable to figure out how to transfer it to his Amazon account, but did figure out how to post to Facebook. Once he did this, I asked him to give it back. Before sending it to me, however, he played with it some more, and discovered that he could transfer its account and use it after all. After doing this, he “forgot” to send it to me and continued using it himself.
However, when I contacted him again nearly two months later, he felt pangs of conscience and as he knew someone who was going to the UK shortly, he got them to return it to me. Or possibly, the fact that I knew his name, his e-mail address, approximately where he lived and (later) his phone number made him worry a little about what might happen if I kept pursuing it. In any event, he still has my considerable gratitude for returning it to me.
A few hours after the original contact with Amazon, I received further contact from them, telling me that it was fine for me to resume using my Kindle and that they would still appreciate it if I sent them the reference number from the Portuguese police report. I promptly did this. Of course, they may have spent a little time wondering whether they should believe my story, too, as one can conceive of ways in which I might have been scamming Pedro, and not the other way round. Am I a suspicious customer? Before being stolen in Portugal, my Kindle had been replaced four times under warranty. What does this say about me? (Actually, it says more about Kindles and luck. None of the four had been used in any particularly egregious way, and all four failed differently). In any event, by the end if this they clearly thought it was okay for me to use my Kindle again.
So there is the story. My speculations at the end are based on the assumption that the simplest explanations are the most likely, although to be fair, the simplest possible thing happened nowhere else in the affair. And as for conclusions, human nature is sort of muddled. Sometimes we do good things and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes conscience applies and sometimes it doesn’t. In this instance, at least, we had a happy ending, although, clearly, not as happy an ending as if my car had been left alone in the first place.
I have played this story for laughs, a little bit, in places. Perhaps this has been churlish of me. I remain exceptionally grateful that the Kindle has been returned to me.