Online fraud is still fraud

Did you know the word ‘gullible’ doesn’t appear in the dictionary? And if you fell for that ancient line, I have some magic beans to sell you.

I had occasion today to use Western Union to send some money to the US for something I am doing at the moment and I noticed on the company’s website that it had some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) prominently displayed in a panel on the right hand side of the screen. Most of these were the kind of thing you’d expect, but in amongst them were the following:

Q: Are you sending money to claim lottery or prize winnings?

Q: Are you sending money because you were “guaranteed” a credit card or loan?

Q: Are you responding to an Internet or phone offer that you aren’t sure is honest?

Q: Are you sending money to someone you don’t know well or whose identity you can’t verify?

Now, I’m amazed by this. Are there really people out there naive enough to do any of the above? Presumably there are, or Western Union wouldn’t feel the need to highlight these as problems. When it comes to Internet scams, the country that’s become synonymous with the problem is Nigeria. Why I don’t know, but the so called Nigerian 419 scam has become incredibly common. This scam is named after section 419 of the Nigerian penal code and usually takes the form of a poorly written letter from the wife of a recently deceased government minister or banker who has $200 million to shift who wants to borrow your bank account and is willing to pay up a couple of million to you for the privilege.

They’re usually badly written and formulaic and so transparent, they’re funny.

I think I’ve received at least 20 of them in the last year alone, and like all spam, you have to presume the people that send them out wouldn’t bother if they didn’t occasionally bag a victim. I can’t help but imagine it’s the elderly or mentally infirm that fall for it, but it can be extremely sinister. Check this out, taken from http://www.scambusters.org/NigerianFee.html

Be careful. This scam can be physically dangerous as well as dangerous to your finances. Victims are almost always requested to travel to Nigeria or a border country to complete a transaction. Victims are often told that a visa will not be necessary to enter the country. The Nigerian scam artists may then bribe airport officials to pass the victims through Immigration and Customs. Because it is a serious offense in Nigeria to enter without a valid visa, the victim’s illegal entry may be used by the scam artists as leverage to coerce the victims into releasing funds. Violence and threats of physical harm may be employed to further pressure victims. In June of 1995, an American was murdered in Lagos, Nigeria, while pursuing a 4-1-9 scam, and numerous other foreign nationals have been reported as missing.

If you’re of a cynical nature with a sick sense of humour, you may be interested to know about the wonderful world of 419 scam baiters. These guys deliberatly reply to these scam e-mails with the express intention of seeing how long they can string the scammer along for. Why? Well, in their own words at the website http://www.419eater.com/:

What is scambaiting? Well, put simply, you enter into a dialogue with scammers, simply to waste their time and resources. Whilst you are doing this, you will be helping to keep the scammers away from real potential victims and screwing around with the minds of deserving thieves.

It doesn’t matter if you are new to this sport or a hardened veteran; if you are wasting the time of a scammer, or frustrating them in any way well that’s good enough for us, and we would welcome you to join with our now very large community.

If you’ve got some time to spare, go look through some of the websites that list the exploits of scam baiters – some of them are very very funny. Particularly the ones in which the baiters manage to persuade the criminals behind these frauds to send pictures of themselves holding up pieces of card with key phrases written on them, in order to ‘prove’ their bone fides. Some of them are very funny. You would almost feel sorry for them if they weren’t engaging in shamelessly exploitative behaviour.

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