Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Scams, Frauds & Hoaxes

Congratulations! You have been chosen to be the recipient of a short (ok long) written post by an amateur Scottish writer. Yes, as a result of your application being successful, you are eligible to read free of charge the random mindless mutterings of a Scottish blog writer whose writing skills may be limited but whose computer skills bring him into contact on a daily basis with both in-coming and out-going e-mails. This blogger has noticed that no matter how often updated his computer security system is, he is still regularly bombarded with variations of the Nigerian scam. The in-coming e-mail of the Nigerian scam always starts with the word Congratulations! Here, with no obligation on your part to carry on reading but you will because you just can’t help yourself, is a précis of a Nigerian scam e-mail letter that this blogger received some time last week.

Unlike earlier versions of the Nigerian scam approach which usually came from Nigeria, this one was datelined the Department of Lotteries and State Loans, Madrid. But like them it started with the word Congratulations! before it went on to say "our international marketing department works in conjunction with world residential white papers, humanitarian organizations, and the help of embassies and chambers of commerce in countries in Europe, the Pacific and Australia."

English was never one of the strongest subjects at school of this Scottish blogger but geography was, so the suggestion that there could be other countries within Australia would have aroused this Scottish blogger's suspicion if it had not already been aroused by the phrase "our international marketing department", which is standard in the Nigerian scam pitch, as if the institution in the headline also had a national marketing department. Of course way back at the beginning of the email his suspicion had already been aroused by the word Congratulations!

Anyway the Scottish blogger was then informed that simply by existing he had won a prize in the third category. The implication that there must be a second and first category in which even richer prizes might be awarded was once again a standard corroborating device in a Nigerian scam sucker play. The third-category prize was announced as being 615, 810 Euros. Now as a Scot whose government never signed up to be a member of the European single currency he had no idea how much 615,810 Euros was but that tagged-on ten was a subtle touch, as was the information that there were sixteen other winners to be congratulated, all of whom had won the same amount, thereby sharing a total of seventeen times 615,810 Euros, a very large sum for any institution to be giving away.

But before he calculated how many Fuji S5 DSLR’s he could buy with his new wealth he read further … "We ask" the email asked, "that you keep this award away from public notice until your claim had been processed and your fund remitted to you, as this is part of our security measures." To get the fund remitted, it was merely necessary to contact Senor Carlos Alfonso by a certain date, otherwise the funds would be sent back to Ministry of Economics, presumably to swell the pot for the next disbursement staged under its ministerial auspices, which didn't sound very economic at first blush, but there could be no quarrelling with the name and rank of the official in charge, billed as Dr Antonio Gomez, Vice President.

The doctorate wasn't a bad touch and the Vice Presidency was masterly. Calling him President would have been too much, whereas calling him Vice President apparently stops people thinking to themselves ‘Yeah, right!’ and instead suggests that a Ministry of Economics might actually be in engaged in philanthropic activity as part of some incidental arm of government policy, the kind of thing a Vice President would handle down there in Madrid, or in a small basement flat somewhere beneath Brixton with an old sofa in the garden for the Ministers of Economics to relax in with a beer on a spring day.

Like most people who have spent at least 3 days of their life in a school, whether Scottish or otherwise, I'm pretty good at rearranging the facts on paper to make them more interesting. It's a habit that can spread into real life if you aren't careful and I’m sure I could have made an accomplished fraudster except for one thing. I don't like fraudsters. I never did like the idea of fooling people, maybe because I don't like being fooled. I don't even like practical jokes. To be a good sport about being done down, you need a lot more natural dignity than I possess. If it's different for you, Congratulations!

To be honest I probably would have trashed that email and forgotten all about it had I not logged on to the gumtree website (a sort of craigslist for Europeans, Australians and Kiwis), and saw a similar scam being played there. It wasn’t quite the Nigerian scam, it did have its differences, but it did target the same sort of person. In most instances I think that most of us have enough common sense to see through these scams but in times of desperation when money is short and stress is high its easy to be taken in by fraudsters and that’s the type of person that the scam on gumtree was designed for. Under the employment section is a ‘job offer’ by an American artist who sells their art work to international clients and is in need of someone who will take payments from those clients home country so that the orders may be processed more quickly. The lucky new employee will process the payments of the clients into their own bank account and keep 5 – 10% (depending on the size of the work) for themselves before sending the rest to their new employer. This lucky new employee can expect to receive around £800 a week for the equivalent of a part time hourly commitment. Sounds great, except for the fact that no address or telephone number of the ‘employer’ is given in the advert and that the email that you have to send to is hidden and the information that they ask for in this initial contact email includes - name, address, bank account number etc, etc.

I don’t know what it is, but something tells me this offer of near full time money for some / in exchange for a part time commitment job offer isn’t really a job offer from a highly desirable artist at all but a not so subtle scam designed to get identity details from the desperate and the gullible. Scams, that go after not just your money but your details are particularly cruel because once they've got those, they've got you, and they can get going with the business of helping you to rob yourself.

Some people are unsympathetic to the victims of scams, they think that they themselves are above that sort of thing and maybe they are right, they think that few of these frauds would work without greed. Perhaps so, but none of them would work without the propensity of the fraudster to lie. Admittedly the liar sometimes doesn't have to do much lying. In America before World War II one sharp character made a lot of money in a hurry by placing a classified ad that gave nothing but his post office box number and the instruction in capital letters HURRY LAST CHANCE TO SEND IN YOUR DOLLAR. Had I been born at the time I might have sent in my dollar as a tribute to his simplicity with a note attached 'Congratulations! You're rich! Your mother must be proud of your accomplishment!'


phoenix said...

apologies for the cotton socks, blame my mother (she has a lot to answer for)and my slightly warped sense of humour!
Back to your post, I've had several of these types of e mail, most of which have claimed to have been from someone in Africa who has a sick relative and needs to release funds but can only do it through a bank account in the UK, for which they will be paid for their trouble.Do people really fall for that? I would assume that anyone with a brain cell large enough to switch on a computer would never send a complete stranger their bank details? Mind you greed and desperation are very strong pulls so i guess someone somewhere may fall for it.

Scotsman said...

Judging from the number of times I've seen these scams in their various guises I'm pretty certain a new hapless victim is born every day.

Just a Girl said...

I just watched a TV program on fraudsters and the people that got taken in. On woman ended up doing something similar to the job scam on and had the secret service drop in on her (it was in the States).

I recently had a friend get suckered via an ebay purchase. She bought boots and paid twice not knowing she was being scammed. She didn't check it out though either. $400 plus gone.