By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette
Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011 — My primary e-mail address has been the same for more than 14 years. In that amount of time, you can imagine the number of e-mail SPAM lists that have included my address. Fortunately, SPAM filtering does a good job of catching the bulk of the e-mails hawking viagra, cheap student loans, dating sites, etc.
But those who create SPAM are pretty creative in their methods, and invariably, some SPAM gets through the filter. The Nigerian scam artists seem rather adept at getting their message through the filter.
What is the Nigerian scam? It typically involves an e-mail plea of some sort — a dying widow with millions of dollars who wishes to give it to someone, or a former finance minister of an African nation has millions in an account, but he needs your help getting the money out of the country. If you will only send him your contact information and bank account info, he’ll gladly give you a hefty percentage if you’ll assist him with the transfer the money out of his country. The transaction requires the payment of fees, bribes, taxes, etc., all of which the victim will be asked to pay in advance (hence the alternate name for this fraud as an “advance fee scam”).
VARIATIONS ON A THEME. There are a long list of different versions of this scam. Sellers on eBay may get an offer from a foreign buyer to pay for an item with a money order made out for a huge amount of money; the seller is directed to take the money order to their bank, cash it, and then send the scammer the rest of the money.
Dating sites now routinely have warnings about foreigners who use the site to request money or to initiate some other variation of the Nigerian scam.
The various Nigerian scams are based primarily on a human character trait — the temptation to get rich quick, to score a huge windfall with a minimum of effort. Those who respond to these e-mails wind up being asked to send money to cover fees, bribes, taxes, etc., required to move the transfer of funds to the next stage. Scammers are known to stretch this out for months if they have a willing victim.
One woman I heard from recently lost hundreds of dollars she thought would buy her a purebreed puppy: She sent hundreds of dollars initially (a bargain considering the breed), only to be asked to send more for some additional fees, licensing, etc. Sadly, she sent additional money, hoping to recoup her original investment in order to receive her puppy. The seller asked all funds to be sent via Western Union, which cannot be traced. She will soon discover there will only be requests for more fees; the only certain part of this transaction is there will be no puppy coming from the seller.
Why do they send out these mass e-mails to thousands of people? The simple truth is that they work. Scammers send out thousands of these e-mails at one time.
A Bardstown woman, Rosie Powers, was recently indicted for her role in taking part in a Nigerian scam. She apparently received funds from other sources and sent that money — nearly $20,000 — to an individual in Nigeria. The details of what was promised in the scam haven’t surfaced yet, but the truth is that while Powers is accused of a crime, she is also a victim. Unfortunately, the Nigerian perpetrator of the crimes against her will never be brought to justice.
MILITARY ANGLE. The variations of the pitches used in these scams constantly evolves as the perpetrators try to lure more victims into taking part.
I received the email below overnight last night, and it introduces a different twist on the Nigerian scam. If the scammer’s use of English were a little better, the pitch might find more takers, given that it is allegedly written by a member of the U.S. military.
Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2011 06:53:21 -0600
Subject: Business Proposal
From: “Sgt. Kenneth Dickey” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I am Sgt. Kenneth Dickey with the United Nations troop in Afghanistan on “War Against Terrorism.”
Based on the United States legislative and executive decision that we must evacuate Iraq immediately for Afghanistan, we are now in Afghanistan military base and I will be redeployed to my country’s military base soonest. Our mission is to help beef security in terrorist targeted states, mostly the United States and the European Union on the war against terrorism.
On the other hand, I want to inform you that I have in my possession the sum of 25 million U.S.D, which I got from crude oil deal here in Iraq. I deposited this money with a Red Cross Agent informing him that we are making contact for the real owner of the money and it is under my power to approve whosoever comes forth for the money. I want to invest the money in a good business as soon as I am redeployed, anyway you will advise me on that since I am not a business oriented person.
I am an American and an intelligence officer and for that I have a 100% authentic means of transferring the money through diplomatic courier service. I just need your acceptance and all is done.
Where we are now we can only communicate through our military communication facilities that are secured so nobody can monitor our emails, then I can explain in details to you. I will only reach you through email, because our calls are being monitored, I just have to be sure whom I am dealing with.
If you are interested, please send me your personal details as listed below and if you are not interested do not reply to this email and please delete this message, if no response after 3days I will then search for someone else.
I wait for your contact details so we can go into action. In less than 5days, the money should have been in your possession and I will come over for my money. I will give to you 30% of the sum and 70% is for me because I know that nothing goes for nothing I hope I am been fair to you.
I wait for your full details information:
1. Full name
2. House Address
4. Direct telephone number
5. Scanned Copy of your ID
Sgt. Kenneth Dickey
While this e-mail has “scam” written all over it, the message illustrates the point that the scammers are continuously searching for new ways to separate people from their money. Those who fall victim to their desire to get rich quick have little recourse; it is believed many victims never report their losses to police simply to avoid embarrassment.
The best advice to remember from any pitch — be it via e-mail, telephone or in print — is that if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.