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Section A: General News


‘Pity pleas’ in email often are scams to get money




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Russell Dickerson
Special to the Wilson County News
March 7, 2012 | 1,242 views | Post a comment

So, you are checking your email and discover that someone in Darfur is in desperate need of your help. You see, she is hiding in a refugee camp because rebels have killed her family and she needs your help to escape her dire circumstances. As fortune would have it, her family was wealthy and $5.5 million in cash is sitting in a bank, but she can’t get to it without alerting the rebels. What she needs you to do is help her transfer the funds and help her escape. For your troubles, you can keep half the money. Sound familiar?

Not all “419” scams are exactly like this, but this is representative.

All the scams are directed toward one goal -- getting your money. The above scam would eventually require you sending -- via Western Union -- some of the money back for “transfer fees,” “shipping,” “taxes,” “bribes,” “travel agent expenses,” whatever.

Another scenario: You advertise a car on Craigslist and someone wants to buy your car. They live far away and need you to ship it. So, they’re going to send you a check for $5,000 more than the car is worth and then you need to wire money to the shipper, keeping the change. Sure enough, a nice shiny cashier’s check comes and the bank accepts it, even releases the funds after five days so you wire $2,400 to the shipper, who is then supposed to pick up the car. A couple of days later, you get a call from your bank with bad news -- the check was fraudulent and you are personally liable for the $2,400 you wired.

Although this happens with Craiglist postings, it also can happen with ads in your local newspaper. It is less frequent with the paper, but you should still be aware of the possibility.

It’s called Fake Check Fraud and the scammers have mastered the art of creating fraudulent cashier’s checks. International checks take longer to actually be processed, but the bank only holds the funds for five days, so the scammer knows there is this window of opportunity to take advantage of you.

Another scenario: You get an email from a girl who says she saw your profile and wants to talk to you. You reply and she sends you a picture -- very pretty, young, etc. -- and spins a yarn about her life in Darfur, Indonesia, etc., and attempts to establish an emotional connection. She wants to come visit you and see America but, alas, she is poor. However, a “travel agent” can get her tickets to America for a mere $1,200.

How can you say no to that? She’s beautiful, after all, and adores you and is going to be ever so grateful for your assistance. She’s in love with you, after all! So you wire the money to her travel agent, but alas there is a hitch -- her mother insists on coming as a chaperone, another $1,200 -- and then there are unexpected taxes, bribes for visas, etc.

Any money wired by Western Union and others is gone. In Nigeria, they simply have to walk in and say they are so-and-so, give them the challenge phrase, and walk out with the cash. There is no recourse and the government will do nothing -- on either side of the pond.

They use greed and emotional hooks that blind you to the glaring warning signs that everyone else can see. In America’s get-rich-quick society, the hunting ground for victims is very rich. There is just something about an $800 million inheritance that makes one willing to deny reality -- just on the chance it is true. Once the fraud is discovered, the shame is often enough to keep someone from admitting to friends and family that they were defrauded.

There are those who, thinking themselves more clever than the scammer, set up a separate empty banking account and let the scammer use it, with plans to turn the tables on them. In 2011, a young lady in Brisbane, Australia, tried this and was able to siphon off over $30,000 from Nigerian scammers.

What she didn’t realize was that all their scams would lead back to her and her account. Now, in 2012, she is facing years in prison, while the Nigerian scammers go free. So, having any official dealings with them is hazardous.

On rare occasions, scammers will attempt to arrange face-to-face meetings with their victims -- which they call “Mugus,” which roughly means stupid oaf. Under no circumstances should one meet them. At best, you will be robbed; some victims have been murdered.

These are dangerous people who are not to be trusted. They do not care about you and you should feel no remorse in deleting their pleas for help or solicitations. No matter how desperate they seem, or how heartfelt the cause, it is a scam. They will even claim to be clergy! They are no more your friend than the telemarketer who will not take no for an answer, or the fake collection agency collecting for a debt you don’t owe. Once, a scammer told their victim that they must send the money for their child’s cancer medicine to them. They have no scruples.

The “delete” key is your best friend.

There are those who, as a hobby, use false identities to engage and enrage these scammers. While this sounds fun and exotic, it is best left to those with experience. These scammers are often involved with organized crime. Never give them any of your personal information!

Russell Dickerson is a resident of Wilson County and a software engineer with a background in computer forensics, malware reverse engineering, and network intrusion response.
 

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