Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

Just Say No

I grew up in Amsterdam, which is a pretty rough town by Dutch Standards. As a kid there are all kinds of temptations and peer-pressure to join in in bad stuff is something that is hard to escape. But somehow that never was a big factor for me, computers and electronics kept me fascinated for long enough that none of that ever mattered. But being good with computers is something that sooner or later also is something that you realize can be used for bad.

For me that moment came when one of my family members showed up at my combined house-office in the summer of 1997. The car he drove was a late model E-Class Mercedes. This particular family member has a pretty checkered history. When I still lived with my mom as a kid he would show up once or twice every year, unannounced and would comment on our poor condition and would give me a large bill to go to the night store and get luxury food. Salmon, French cheese, party time. Always flashing his success and mostly pretending to be wealthy. He vowed he’d pay for my driving license which is a big deal here in NL, that costs lots of money, but then never did. This was fine by me, I could easily pay for it myself but it didn’t exactly set the stage for a relationship of trust. Also, in the years prior to this I had never seen or heard from him.

What had changed was this: a few weeks prior to the visit there had been a large newspaper article about me and one of the things that it mentioned was my skills with computers. And this must have been the reason that my family member decided that those skills were undervalued by the marketplace and I needed a bit more in terms of opportunities.

So here was his plan: he’d bring me one of those cars every week. I could drive it as long as I made sure that when it went back to him it would have 200,000 kilometers less on the counter than what it had when he brought it. Every car would come with 5000 guilders in the glove compartment, mine to keep. Now, I’m sure that this is a hard thing to relate to, but when your family, even if you hardly ever see them shows up and makes you a proposition you can’t just tell them to fuck off. Especially not when they’re dangerous people. So I had a real problem, there was no way I was going to do this but saying no wasn’t simple either.

The backstory to this is that those cars were taxis which had been used intensively in the two years that they were old and that their market value as low mileage cars was much higher than their market value with 200K+ on them.

In the end I clued in on the fact that my family member needed me because he was clueless about the difficulty factor involved. And in fact, with my love for puzzles that was the one thing that caused an itch somewhere at the back of my mind: could I do it? Interesting hack, not because it was worth a lot of money. But this also offered me an easy out: I would simply tell him that I couldn’t do it. There is no way that he would be able to know one way or another whether or not I was lying or not. Yes, 5000 guilders per week was (and still is, though we use the Euro now) a boatload of money. And they’re nice cars. But some lines you just don’t cross.

Because what I could easily see is that this would be a beginning, and a bad beginning too. You can bet that someone somewhere will lose because of crap like this. (Fortunately, now the EU has made odometer fraud illegal). You can also bet that once you’ve done this thing and accepted the payment that you’re on the hook. You are now a criminal (or at least, you should be) and that means you’re susceptible to blackmail. The next request might not be so easy to refuse and could be a lot worse in nature. So I wasn’t really tempted, and I always felt that ‘but someone else will do it if I don’t’ was a lousy excuse.

If you’re reading this as a technical person: there will always be technically clueless people who will attempt to use you and your skills as tools to commit some crime. Be sure of two things: the first is that if the game is ever up they’ll do everything they can to let you hold the bag on it and that once you’re in you won’t be getting out that easily.

Just say no. And lie if you have to.

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