How many times have you received an email from some distant authoritative figure, compatriot in another country, or bank insider claiming to have millions of dollars ready to move into the U.S.? All he needs is you. Or were you told that an acquaintance made a quick trip to London, the Phillipines or somewhere else and was robbed! She needs you to wire her some money asap so she can pay her hotel bill and get to the airport in time to make her flight. Or have you received an email that begins with “Dear Beneficiary” or “Dear Winner?”
Americans are fleeced out of millions of dollars every year by online scams like these, as well as dating scams, phishing scams and more. Many of these scams originate from overseas criminals who work at this as if scamming Americans were a regular day job, and do it without impunity. This is especially true of the 419ers and other “advance fee” scams. Advance Fee scams have a long history that preceeds the Internet. They are known as Nigerian 419 scams because there is a long-standing history of criminals in Nigeria who have successfully targeted Americans with these scams. This type of fraud came under the Nigerian penal code “419” and the nickname stuck. But whether it is the 419ers from Nigeria, Western Union scams from London, or fake-check-to-hired babysitter scams, most of these scams have several things in common.
1. Someone is giving away money. You are either the confidant, co-conspirator, beneficiary, God-fearing person or wonderful human being willing to help receive and disperse funds. Or the money is intended for you, after paying a few fees of course. If not giving money away, someone wants to pay you in advance or pay you more than you are asking for your nicknack on Craigslist or other classified ad.
2. A large percentage of these scams are believed to come from criminals in Africa based on subtle language cues. For example, many use phrases like “be blessed” and “God bless you,” or the email/text speaks about a “blessing for life.” Many Africans are very religious people and it is quite common for many to use these and similar phrases in their everyday lives. These cons may also be trying to appeal to the religious beliefs held by their potential victims.
3. Many of these scams claim to represent World Wide organizations or to be representatives and family members of very sick people (or the sick person him/herself). Or sometimes the criminal claims to be the head of the FBI, Interpol, or other government agency. Sometimes the criminal claims to be a member of the United States Armed Forces.
4. The person whose name and information you are asked to contact is frequently different than the email sender’s name and address. Or you may get an initial email from one source, such as yahoo.com, and then quite inexplicably the email comes from a different source, such as hotmail.com. Or you are contacted by text first from one cell phone number and then later by another. Or you may be told that someone got your name and number from an online service.
Fundamentally, each of these scams is meant to separate you from your hard-earned money in the fastest way possible and in a way that cannot be traced. In most cases this means through Western Union, depositing checks worth more than your fee and sending the con artist the difference in real cash, or by the purchase of money cards with accompanying requests to send the card information to the criminal.
America, it’s time to fight back. In fact, it should be an obligation to hit back! No matter how small your punch, it’s time to send the criminal on useless erands, fill his email inbox with bogus leads and hopes, quite simply to waste his time. Wasting his time means less time scamming us. I’ve done it many times and it feels great! Just recently someone I know, let’s call her Marcia, had her Yahoo email account hacked. Soon after, I received an unhappy email from “Marcia” (sent BCC so that I couldn’t see that it was probably sent to everyone in her contact list) that looked like it came from her Yahoo account. Actually the email was sent from Marcia’s real Yahoo account to a Hotmail account of the same name and then forwarded to me. So it wasn’t clear to the novice which email address it came from. All future email then came from the faked Hotmail account.
“I am sorry for bothering you with this mail, as I could not inform anybody about my trip to Philippines for a conference. I had my phone and wallet stolen from me here on my way back to my Hotel room. The authorities are not helping the situations and my return flight will be leaving soon. I really need a quick loan from you please. I assure to make refund once I get back home. Marcia” [Notice the subtle language mistakes?]
I baited the hook… “Marcia, I’m so sorry to hear about this! What can I do to help you?”
“I was wondering if you can loan me some money to get the hotel bills sort out and also get a cab to the airport,will definitely refund it as soon as we get back.All i need is ($1,750 USD) but will appreciate whatsoever you can afford to loan me right now. You can have it wired to my name via Western Union..Check:-www.westernunion.com and see if you can wire it online or you will have to go to a western union location nearby, Here is the details to get it to me:
Receiver’s name:- Marcia….
Location: 56 T.M. Kalaw St. Ermita
Country: Manila, Philippines
Here are the details needed for me to pick the money up here.
Let me know when you have it done . All hopes on you.Marcia”
I wasted no time to come to the aid of my new scammer friend.
“Marcia, first please tell me… Are you OK? What happened?? I’m worried about you! Of course I’ll send you some money. I’ve never used Western U before, is it hard to figure out? You know I’m not good with these things.
Hang in there!”
Marcia replied within minutes, obviously eager to close the deal.
“Thanks a lot for your concern. I am in a great mess here, and I am happy that you are willing to helping me out of here and finding my way back home. I had my phone and wallet stolen from me here on the way back to my Hotel room by some bad guys.The authorities are not helping the situations I informed the police too about it but no help yet,and my return flight will be leaving soon. You can make the transfer online too,check:-www.westernunion.com and siff if you can wire it online or you will have to go to a wester union location or Walmart nearby, all you need is my details to make the transfer. Email me confirmation and MTCN so I can pick up the cash.All hopes on you. Let me know if you are on it so I can start heading to the bank. Marcia”
I sprang into action online and learned that Western Union numbers are 11 digits. I then found a bogus sample number to send my dear friend “Marcia.”
“Marcia, I am so concerned about you! And thankful you weren’t hurt. I tried to use the WU site and hope it worked ok. I could only send you $500. Will it help?? The number you want (I hope) is 9871282095 Please email me from the airport to let me know you are coming home!!!!”
“Marci” fell for the bait. Off he went for a trip to the bank. Imagine how excited he must have been thinking he had scored a fast $500? But a couple of hours later, I received this…
“thanks for your kind rescue,I am just getting back from bank now and they could not get any match found regarding the information you provided, please can you scan and send the receipt for me to pick up the cash. Marcia”
I tried to make up some excuse and send “Marcia” on another dead-end run to the bank but the con artist had figured out that he was conned. I never heard from “Marcia” again.
These miscreants don’t care who they hurt or how much they hurt them. I just spoke to a young woman who lost nearly $2000 to a fake check scam from someone she thought was hiring her. She was devastated and the bank shut down her account. All too often the scammers con those who can least afford it… the elderly, people with difficult financial challenges, or those who simply don’t know how to get out of harm’s way.
The U.S. Department of Justice has a website with a very thorough description of many examples of these types of scams and more information about this type of fraud.
Wondering what these scams really look like? We’ve collected and posted dozens of them at TheDailyScam.com. Grab a cup of coffee, cocoa or tea and stretch your feet out. You’re in for a treat. Visit: