RansomBay™

by A.R.Yngve © 2002

It started with a wet rock.

An American married couple, Jo-Sue and Elvin Bogast, was traveling on foot through South America, when the husband slipped on a wet rock and sprained his ankle.

As Jo-Sue went to seek help, Elvin was found by a band of local "freedom fighters" (as they called themselves) who took one look at the man's expensive Nike shoes, and promptly kidnapped him. When the wife returned, all she found was the ransom note: Your husband will contact you soon. If you wish to ever see him alive again, you arrange to pay a ransom of 100,000 U.S. dollars, within a month.

The couple was not rich, nor did they have rich relatives; Jo-Sue asked her bank for help, but got nothing. What was she to do? In pure despair, she posted the husband's picture on her website, telling the story of his kidnapping, and added a plea: Please help me collect the ransom that can save my husband's life. If many give a little, it will add up. Send your donation to this bank account, but hurry!

Then she waited. Rumor of the "RansomBay" website spread faster than she expected: in the first week of posting the message, she received thousands of e-mails of support, and the bank account swelled through tens of thousands of small donations. On the ninth day, the account reached the 100,000-dollar mark - and kept growing. Jo-Sue offered her thanks to the donators on the website, for saving her husband's life.

Finally, the kidnappers got in touch and her husband proved to be alive, but worried: he told her the news over a bad phone connection.

"Honey, they know about the website donations. They want more. And they've extended the deadline. Another month, and another hundred grand. I'm sorry. But as long as you keep collecting, they'll keep me alive, guaranteed. We can't lose."

Jo-Sue Bogast was smart enough to realize the kidnappers would never stop demanding more, as long as there was a profit in it. So she went public on an international cable news network, and challenged them. When the interviewer asked her: "Before we end, is there anything you wish to tell the world?" she replied to the cameras:

"I made a terrible mistake when I started the RansomBay thing. Now I have to make up for it. I shall start a new website, called BountyBay. Through the website I'll collect donations for a bounty to those who catch my husband's kidnappers, dead or alive, and bring him back to me. If a million people send in two dollars each, it'll add up to bring about justice."

The BountyBay website opened the next day, and was flooded with donations: in the first day, Jo-Sue received 46,384 dollars. The next day, donations tripled. In a week, she had collected the increased ransom plus a bounty of three million dollars, and the website announced it. Then she got a new phonecall, from her husband and the leader of the bandits.

"Sen˘ra, we are but simple peasants with hungry families. We did not want this to turn into some sort of conflict," the leader pleaded. He sounded nervous.

"The bounty on your head just went up to three million fifty. Send my husband back alive, and take the two hundred thousand. Or there'll be hell to pay for you and your families. You'll never feel safe again, for as long as you live. Imagine being hunted like dogs until you fall down dead from exhaustion. That's your future, if you keep messing with me."

"You drive a hard bargain, sen˘ra."

"And you should get an honest job... sen˘r."

The conversation ended in a mutual agreement. It was kept; a few days later, Elvin Bogast was returned alive and well, if somewhat thinner and hairier, to the U.S. embassy in the country where he was kidnapped. The same night he was flown to Mexico, where the two were reunited.

What the couple talked about then has not become public knowledge. But a month later, Elvin and Jo-Sue Bogast re-launched their website under the copyrighted name "BountyBay." It presented a fully developed commercial concept: to collect and pay bounties and ransoms.

Human-rights groups condemned the idea as "cynically exploiting and cheapening the value of human life." Politicians demanded that BountyBay should be outlawed for "encouraging vigilantism and lawlessness." Criminals everywhere bought human-rights groups and politicians for campaigning against BountyBay. But neither group could stop the momentum of two unstoppable forces, converted to currency: love for the victims, and hate for the perpetrators.

The first cases posted on BountyBay were similar to Elvin Bogast's: individuals who had been kidnapped in Third World countries, awaiting their ransoms to be paid. The site also listed the standing bounties for known kidnappers; ransoms and bounties increased by the hour with each new update. Business was booming: the Bogasts quit their old jobs and hired a staff of ten to handle the incoming cases. The website accounts grew so large, an accountancy firm was enlisted to help them handle the money flow. Payments were arranged through foreign banks: two million dollars to kidnappers in Bahrain one day, a bounty of five hundred thousand to Angola the next day.

Occasionally, people tried to trick the system: kidnappers posed as their own catchers in order to lift both ransom and bounty. When one of the deceptions were discovered too late, a second bounty was posted for the real capture of the deceivers - and not long afterward, they were arrested.

One fine day, exactly ten months after the kidnapping of Elvin Bogast, a thin, middle-aged man of Arabic appearance entered the stylish offices of BountyBay Inc. He presented himself as an exiled dissident of a major Middle Eastern country, and made a business proposal.

"Your country's government has promised and threatened, time and time again, to finish the tyrant who has ruled my homeland for decades. Hundreds of thousands of my countrymen have been killed by his secret police, army and his endless, pointless wars. I need not say his name, do I?" Elvin called for Jo-Sue to come and listen to the man's proposal. The meeting was taped for security reasons, so the exact wording is known.

"I propose you start a case to collect the largest bounty in the history of man - a bounty for the death of the scourge of my people. Whoever kills the tyrant, shall be paid. It matters not how long we wait, how much money is collected, as long as the job is done. This is the only way to save my people from further suffering. If the reward grows large enough, the ones closest to the tyrant, even a family member, must be tempted to betray him."

Friends of the Bogast couple witnessed the break between Elvin and Jo-Sue that followed. Elvin was for the idea, for the good of mankind; Jo-Sue was against BountyBay getting involved in politics, and the risks it implied.

A divorce settlement followed quickly, where Jo-Sue took control of the "ransom" part of the company (launched as "RansomBay"), and Elvin became sole owner of the "bounty" part. He moved the new "BountyBay" office to Costa Rica, and started the new campaign through ads in magazines:

    BOUNTYBAY COLLECTS DONATIONS FOR MOST HATED HEAD OF STATE! Have you escaped oppression in your homeland? Lost loved ones to the jackbooted thugs of the regime? Fought for free elections and been tortured? Do you wish to free your country from a self-elected despot? Do you want to help liberate a suffering land? Of course you do! GIVE TO THE "KILL S.H." BOUNTY FUND - CALL 1-900-KILLBILL - OPEN TO ALL PRIVATE DONATIONS - DISCRETION GUARANTEED.

The official "All-New BountyBay" website registered a total of 80 million dollars in anonymous donations to the S.H. bounty, in the first week. After a month the bounty stood at a hundred million. Some donors paid only a dollar. Others paid a hundred. One rich person gave a million. What mattered was that the donors were many.

In yet another month, S.H. was suddenly gunned down by his own secret police and closest family. The thirty conspirators who had killed the infamous tyrant cashed in a fantastic official bounty, making them all multimillionaires overnight. And Elvin Bogast began to receive visits from other exiles. Soon, BountyBay was going to do some serious cleaning up among the world's undemocratic regimes. In his private office, he began to stick pins into a world map. Africa, Asia, the Orient, Central Asia...

Today, the second tyrant bounty has been paid out, and Elvin Bogast lives in a heavily guarded residence. There has been a lot of talk in the U.N. about stopping BountyBay, and veiled threats against the CEO have been made. But strangely, no serious attempts on his life have occurred. Elvin Bogast offers the press an explanation to why he's still alive: "It's in the fine print on the BountyBay website: 'In the event of the assassination of Elvin and/or Jo-Sue Bogast, or their family members, the names of our most prominent anonymous bounty donors shall be made public.'"

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