Most people do not seem to realise that Internet scams are a very well-organised billion-dollar enterprises. Those stupid-sounding emails promising to transfer millions of dollars into a person's bank account may raise a chuckle, but there are countless fools who are sucked into the most ludicrous sounding scams and most are too embarrassed to even report them to authorities. These people are not victims, as described by police and the media. They are gullible fools whose own greed and the prospect of obtaining money, even by illegal means, entices them to send money to swindlers. They only have themselves to blame for their greed and stupidity.
People in the USA sent a whopping $13 billion dollars to Internet scammers in 2014 and this is merely an estimate. Most people who fall for the most ludicrously crude frauds are too embarrassed to report them, so they just absorb their losses and say nothing. Australians have been estimated to be fleeced of over $1 billion every year and again, that's just the tip of the iceberg. This situation prevails all over the world, so it's easy to see why Internet scams, even the most stupid sounding ones, can make fraudsters very wealthy.
The interesting thing is that not all scam targets are ignorant suckers. Some of them are highly educated and qualified businessmen and professional people. For instance, the biggest sucker currently on record was Nelson Tetsuo Sakaguchi, a senior director of Brazilian bank Banco Noroeste of Sao Paulo who embezzled $242 million between 1995 and 1998 in the third biggest scam in banking history. The entire bank went broke. $170 million was eventually recovered after fleets of luxury cars and mansions in Nigeria, Switzerland and the USA were seized. But in most cases, scammers just rely on catching small fry who initially send them small payments and then are enticed into parting with larger amounts each time.
If you ever wondered how these African scammers operate, here is a typical scene inside some premises in Lagos.
These are Guyboys and Yahoo Boys - and that is what they call themselves - who claim to be bank managers, lawyers, dying rich widows, Western Union representatives, financiers, refugees with boxes of cash, government officials, lottery agencies, gold miners and other phoneys - all wanting to transfer millions of dollars or boxes full of cash or gold to stupid and gullible people who send them money by irrevocable Western Union or MoneyGram transfer.
These are the same bastards who get onto dating sites and pretend to fall in love with lonely men and women looking for romance, who happen to be the most vulnerable people to scam. The fake romance scams have the best and safest hit rate for those African criminals and very few people who have been suckered by them lodge official complaints because of the sheer embarrassment suffered by them.
On-line scamming is a massive industry in Ghana and it is so prevalent that this nation was blacklisted for money-laundering by the international watchdog the global Financial Action Task Force in 2012. This dented the country's international reputation as an investment destination. As in Nigeria, Internet scammers in Ghana have their own name - Sakawa Boys, which means "putting inside" in the Hausa language.
Fraudsters pretend to be beautiful women. They play clips of the women saying hello. They then tell their targets that their microphone or speakers aren't working so they can't speak, but they can only communicate via messages. Over time they build up a romantic relationship with them before convincing them to send them money. Others pretend to have a concession in gold, timber, securities or oil to persuade people to hand over money for their fake business arrangements.
Sakawa boys are so renowned in Ghana that any kid can point one out, as their lavish lifestyle gives them away. They can be spotted on a Saturday night in Santa Marie, a suburb of Ghana's capital Accra. The streets are filled with unlicensed Range Rovers and Toyota Camrys. Young men in tight jeans, baseball caps and flashes of gold sit with their car windows wound down and play loud music.
Along with Nigerian scammers, these bastards are making a lucrative living from the utter stupidity, gullibility and greed from American and European suckers. As one of the scammers stated, "You have to be patient, smart, fast and cultivate trust between you and the white person". That is exactly what happens. The stupid white person falls for these scams to the tune of billions of dollar every year.
The scammers are not just itinerant Nigerians sitting in Internet cafés sending out scam emails from laboriously collected email address lists. They are mostly highly organised gangs who run the scam enterprises in a very professional and businesslike way, knowing that their targets are in overseas nations and have very little recourse to recover their money after they have been scammed. In fact, Internet and other scams are Nigeria's third-largest export industry. Many of these scams originate in other nations, such as Benin, Ghana and some Asian nations. Of course there are also many scammers in first-world nations such as the USA, Britain and Australia.
Many of these scammers operate in a highly structured corporate organisation. They have personnel working in a variety of fields to facilitate their sophisticated operations, as follows:
Scammers work 6 to 8 hour shifts around the clock. Experienced scammers expect a strike rate of 1 or 2 replies per 1,000 messages emailed and they expect to land 2 or 3 "Mugu" (fools) each week. One scammer boasted, "When you get a reply it's 70% sure you'll get the money". Some scam members are as young as six years of age.
The Internet cafés of Lagos in Nigeria are the hub of Nigerian scams. Scammers aim to earn at least $1,000 to $2,000 per month. Some earn thousands of dollars per week. The average wage in Nigeria is $1 per day, so people are drawn to becoming scammers for the quick and easy wealth that these scams generate.
Some dating websites screen new applicants and try to filter out scammers. Australia's Cupid Media rejects up to 3,000 (around 20%) of the 15,000 new profiles it gets daily, especially from specific countries like Nigeria. Romance scams target men and women in equal numbers. Stolen credit cards are often used to buy and send flowers and gifts when suckering people. Scammers are patient and expect to spend 6 to 8 months "courting" their targets.
Some scam targets have lost extraordinary amounts of money. Considering that many of these people were wealthy and supposedly clever businessmen and professional people, this shows that even the smartest people can be conned into parting with a lot of money by scams that are so patently obvious frauds that one has to wonder about the sanity of the idiots who fall for them. Here are a few examples:
Many scammed people are so devastated by their losses and broken hearts that they actually commit suicide.
Some desperate targets of scams have attempted to recover their losses by actually travelling to Nigeria to track down the scammers, with disastrous consequences.
Between 1994 and 1997, scammers are believed to have murdered at least 15 people of various nationalities during this time. Here are just two examples from a later period:
In October 2013, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) revealed that it received almost 84,000 complaints about scams during 2012 and this is really the tip of the iceberg. Just the fake scams netted more than $93 million out of gullible Australians and most of the people who were stung did not report these crimes, so the scammers probably made more than $300 million just from that swindle alone. In any case, Australian police cannot do anything because the scammers are literally all out of Australian jurisdiction.
In South Australia, in an operation called Operation Disrepair, police identified South Australians who lost $2.1 million to overseas online scammers in 4261 transactions in 2013. More than 1000 potential targets had been identified and 70% of the 650 people contacted had stopped sending money. What this obviously means is that the 30% who kept sending money to scammers after they had been warned by police, around 195 idiots, deserved to lose their money.
In the first six months of 2015, it was reported that Australians were fleeced of $45 million. If it is considered that less than 10% of scammed people are too embarrassed to report that they had been defrauded, it has been estimated that Australians were probably scammed out of $500 in that six months, or around $1 BILLION per year on average. It is sad to think that so many Australians who have access to education and news about scams, would be so completely stupid and gullible as to be ripped off by African scammers sitting in Internet cafés.
The most lucrative scam was the good old advance fee scam. Around 27,000 people reported being conned by this swindle, but again, many more of them would have been unreported, because most of these scams rely on the suckers being willing to participate in what appears to be obtaining money by deception. In fact if they report it, they are confessing to committing a crime, so again, the 27,000 people who were conned by this advance fee scam are only the tip of the iceberg.
There's a few good sayings that reveal the truth about this sort of Internet scam, but the most obvious and true statement is "A fool and his money are soon parted." I do my best to educate people about Internet and other scams, but it is a losing battle. There are just too many gullible fools out there.
Internet scammers who purport to be bank officers, government officials, barristers, lawyers, oil company executives and other officials send out scam emails all the time, however the one big thing that virtually all of them have in common is that they do their dirty work using free email accounts.
The fact is that scammers obviously cannot access official email accounts of the organisations for which they pretend to work, so apart from recognising the most obvious scams, such as the money transfer scam, the lottery win scam, the dying widow scam and others, the quickest way to ascertain whether the email you receive is a scam is to see how it was sent and to where a reply will go.
Obviously if an email is sent from firstname.lastname@example.org and you check the email header and see that it actually was sent from that account and not forged, then you can safely assume that Fred Bloggs works at HSBC Bank, but in any case, you should never send money to the sender via Western Union, MoneyGram or any other cash transfer services because you will not be able to reverse the transaction. And if any email asks you to send such a cash transfer to any African nation, it's guaranteed to be a scam, however bear in mind that some scammers have set up people to receive and launder those cash transfers in other nations for them, such as the USA, Britain and even Australia.
A very important thing to keep in mind is that the sender's address in an email is easily forged. So if you receive an email from email@example.com, it may look like it has come from Fred Bloggs who really does work at HSBC and has a real HSBC email account, but this can easily be checked by examining the email header and seeing the return path that a reply to the email will take.
To check email headers, in Hotmail, you can right-click on the email and select "View Message Source" from the drop-down menu and look for "Reply-To" and see the email address where your reply will be sent. In Google Gmail, click on the box at the top of the email with the "Down" symbol and select "Show Original" and look for "Return-Path" and see the email address where your reply will be sent. In Microsoft Outlook, open the email in its own window, click on "File" in the menu and click on "Properties" in the following screen. The "Properties" box will open and you can check the "Return-Path" in the Internet Headers section. Most other email programs work in the same way. Most times, merely hitting the "Reply" button will reveal the return email address and that will give the game away if it is different from the sending address.
But you can still check on the bona fides of the sender by sending an email back to that address and see what happens. So in the case of Fred Bloggs, if you really want to go to the trouble, you can go to the website of the company where Fred says he works and actually phone the company on the official listed number on that website and ask for Fred Bloggs and speak to him. By the way, if Fred is a legitimate bank employee, there is no way that he is going to transfer millions of dollars to a total stranger.
If you get an email from Fred Bloggs, who says he works at HSBC and wants to transfer millions of dollars into your bank account, but uses firstname.lastname@example.org or similar, he is a scammer - guaranteed. You can always have some fun with a scammer by demanding that he re-send you his email from his alleged employer, such as a bank and see how he tries to worm out of doing that, simply because he cannot do it. A scammer cannot access an official email account at a bank or company. Replying to the scammer and saying that you will phone HSBC on their official listed number and ask for Fred Bloggs usually sees the scammer trying to prevent this from happening with a series of lame and implausible excuses.
So if you receive emails that come from free email accounts offering you amazing deals, then treat them with the greatest of suspicion. You can literally guarantee that the emails are from scammers. Some email suffixes may actually look convincing, such as @lawyer.com, @london.com, @consultant.com and @europe.com, but those domains are just free email portals that can be used by scammers who open up free email accounts with them. Always remember - if it sounds too good to be true, it is a scam.
African scammers usually do not have a good grasp of English and often they cobble together scam emails by copying and pasting bits and pieces of a few emails into one masterpiece, not realising how idiotic they sound. For example, here is one of these stupid scam emails.
A person with any modicum of intelligence who receives this email will immediately notice that the scammer first states that there are undisclosed funds in a metal truck weighing 12kg. But in the very next paragraph, this metal trunk suddenly becomes an ATM card. because "the contents of the ATM VISA CARD was not properly declared by the consignee". Then a demand is made for the receiver of this nonsense to apply for alleged approval documents from Benin, that hotbed of advance fee scams and those documents will cost $100 each. The fees would be paid to a "Barrister", of course being the scammer sitting near a Western Union agency and ready to collect the loot from any idiot who falls for this mistake-riddled absolute piece of garbage.
Some scammers will send their targets fake documents to try and support their phoney identities. For instance, here is a very obvious forged passport.
Right away, you can see that the name "George Cole" and "London" are in a completely different font from the official passport font that the British use. The photo has been Photoshopped to cover the original photo and you can tell that by the background on the left of the head is different to the background on the passport page. It is quite amazing that many people will receive such a badly forged passport and think that the sender is legitimate. But there is a sucker born every minute and the scammers prosper because people are so stupid.
Then there is this ridiculous ID card from an African idiot who purported to be the Inspector General of the Benin Police.
How anybody could believe that this ID card is real is simply astonishing. But this particular scammer has been using it for years and most recipients would not even bother to get on the Internet and check to see if Anthony Zongo was with the Benin Police or not. In fact, a quick Google search on "Anthony Zongo" immediately brings up a raft of anti-scam websites that would tell any searcher that the email he received with this phoney ID card was a scam. This is the big problem with scam targets, that most of them they will not take the most basic or rudimentary steps to check to see if the people sending those emails are legitimate or not. But if the email comes from Africa and wants the recipient to send a fee to Africa, then it's a scam, pure and simple.
The notorious Nigerian 419 Oil Scam, named after Section 419 of the Nigerian legal code, has been operating for many years, with seemingly no limit to the number of suckers taken in by it. Essentially it starts with an email sent to prospective mugs, saying that a government official or an executive of a large oil company in Nigeria has over-invoiced a client and needs to put tens of millions of surplus dollars into the mug's account, with a reward for this service to the tune of millions of dollars paid to the mug.
There is only one requirement that this company needs to make the prospective sucker rich as Midas and that is, not surprisingly, a small amount of money deposited with them as a sign of good faith or as a processing fee to expedite the transfer of funds. That small amount is the first of a number of ever-increasing payments the mug eventually is asked or forced to make, but obviously a drop in the ocean compared with the millions of dollars supposedly waiting to be released to him.
Reports by police have indicated that many millions of dollars have already been paid by Australians to the scam artists or money has been transferred without authority, once the scammers were given the details of the accounts of the suckers. Notwithstanding the fact that warnings have been extensively promulgated, many people are still responding to variations of the Nigerian Oil Scam and are still making scammers very rich.
Has anybody ever heard of a company that has too much money or nowhere to put it except into a stranger's account? Just this idiotic claim alone should be enough to make any sane person beware but apparently many well-to-do but obviously greedy people have been lured by this offer and have sent irrevocable bank drafts to nothing more than a post box in Nigeria on the strength of it. The scammers have moved their preference from bank drafts to Western Union or MoneyGram electronic fund transfers, because once they are made, they are irrevocable and the scammed people have no hope of recovering their money.
There have been cases where some very gullible folk have actually travelled to Nigeria to meet with these scam artists, only to find themselves cleaned out of everything they own. The slick salesmanship of the scam artists and good old human nature and avarice were enough to ensure that the mugs were taken to the cleaners. If they tried to kick up a fuss, they found themselves in all sorts of trouble in a foreign country where the officials were in cahoots with the scammers. In fact, one unfortunate American was killed when he attempted to seek redress, so this particular con is not quite as benign as many other scams.
Some years ago, I was the recipient of many of these scamming emails, for instance one from a "Dr" Chris Chukwu, who informed me that because the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had US$30 million that had been somehow over-invoiced, I had been selected, presumably because of my impeccable honesty and integrity, to receive 30% of this amount merely for giving "Dr" Chukwu my bank details and then hanging around to have this incredible sum transferred into my account in Australia.
Needless to say, after toying with the good "Dr" Chukwu for a while, I told him that I knew all about his scam and I sent him packing. However the Nigerians still keep sending e-mails to me, presumably hoping that I will somehow change my mind about receiving their $30 million. Unfortunately there still seem to be plenty of avaricious fools out there to keep those Nigerians rolling in money, as this scam is apparently the third-largest money earner in that country.
Unfortunately, even after so many years of this Nigerian Oil Scam running and all the publicity it has received in the media, there are still many people sending millions of dollars per year to the scammers. In May 2008, Queensland Police warned that they saw more money leaving Australian shores every day. Detective Superintendent Brian Hay, operations commander of the Fraud and Corporate Crime Group stated, "Just last week, I was on the phone to a person who had sent $585,000, believing he was involved with a pipeline business venture with Nigerian government officials. This was an intelligent, articulate man who was successfully self-employed, yet I had difficulty persuading him not to send any more money."
The incredible part of this is that the businessman could have picked up the telephone and called the particular Nigerian government department to ascertain if they knew the deal that he was involved in. Within one minute, he could have found out that he was being scammed. This is what he should have done before any money changed hands. The price of a phone call could have saved him over half a million dollars.
It is hard to have sympathy for such a gullible fool and all one can say about him is that he really deserved to lose his money if he was so stupid as to hand it over without checking where it was going and to continue handing it over, even after being told about the scam by Fraud Squad police.
Even worse is that some people are stupid enough to put themselves into the clutches of these Nigerian Oil Scam crooks. I know of one person who was murdered when he went to Nigeria to try and recover money that he had lost to the scam, however some people are lucky to escape with their lives. For instance, 71-year-old Australian citizen Justin Liebig was seized on 01 February 2009, after being lured to Gambia by the scammers and held in the town of Kololi, 15 kilometres west of the capital Banjul.
Gambian police said that the gang tied Liebig up in a toilet and covered his mouth before demanding €5000 from his family for his release. However, Liebig was fortunate because seven people, including six Nigerians, had been arrested and charged with crimes, including conspiracy, kidnapping and obtaining money by false pretences. Most of the ransom money paid by Liebig's relatives has been recovered. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it provided assistance to Liebig and hoped the incident served as a warning to others about the dangers of internet scams. But many stupid people who do the same thing are not so lucky as Liebig and lose their lives.
It is mindblowing to think that so many people will happily send money to scammers who offer them instant wealth in emails from free webmail accounts that anybody can open. They are told that if they invest in gold and silver mines that do not exist, they will be rich beyond their wildest dreams for doing nothing more than sending money to the scammers, who send them fancy documents and ID cards and whatever the scammers think will impress their targets. What these gullible dopes do not understand is that fake documents and certificates can be produced almost instantaneously on a computer and colour printer. But these scams work, as this example shows.
Western Australian man Peter Kleinig refused to believe that he had fallen victim to an elaborate scam despite losing millions of dollars. He was so convinced that his "investment" in a fake West African company was above-board, that authorities in WA had to legally prevent him from sending his, or anyone else’s, money to the bogus investors.
Kleinig, 65, had sent at least $3 million to the West African nations of Togo and Ghana since 2007, refusing to believe warnings from police and consumer authorities that his money was going to fake investment schemes. Consumer Protection officials had to obtain an enforceable undertaking with Kleinig that restricted him from soliciting or accepting money from others to give to scammers who pretend to run an investment scheme.
Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard said that officers took the step after failing to convince Kleinig that all his money had been going to a bogus gold and silver company. "It's extremely sad that Peter Kleinig has lost his life savings and refuses to accept that he is at the centre of an investment fraud," Hillyard said. "However, when the actions of a victim present a financial risk to other members of the community, authorities have a responsibility to step in to protect the public."
Consumer Protection officials say that Kleinig had solicited money from from people across WA to invest in the fake company since 2009, promising them that they would be repaid their original investment plus a reward. Police in Ghana made nine arrests in 2015 in relation to the defrauding of Kleinig and his friend Fred Williams, who had invested $2 million. But Hillyard said that even news of the arrests did not deter Kleinig from continuing to solicit money from others to send overseas. "Anyone wanting to invest money should not give it to Peter Kleinig, or anyone like him who is not licensed or qualified to deal with other people’s money," he said.
This sort of story is repeated often, with people refusing to believe that they are being scammed, even when hard evidence is shown to them by police and others. This sort of stupid denial leads people like Peter Kleinig to catastrophe and often suicide. Short of tying them up and physically preventing them from continuing to feed money to scammers, it is very hard to rescue gullible fools from their false dreams of riches, when in reality, they will wind up with absolutely nothing.
For instance, just in the first three months of 2016, Australians squandered $15 million on dodgy investment schemes and frauds with more than 20,000 cases reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). From "get rich quick" strategies, which end up making only the person devising the strategy rich, to dating cons when people find out the man or woman of their dreams is a money-draining scammer, gullible fools continue to have the wool pulled over their eyes and the savings pulled out of their bank accounts.
There are many variations of the Nigerian 419 Advance Fee Scam, but they generally all operate in the same manner. One variation is the loan offer, where an email offers very cheap and completely unsecured loans with around 2% to 3% interest. Firstly, this immediately screams SCAM because no legitimate lender is going to offer tens of thousands of dollars to anybody at 2% interest when he can get 5% or more on a legitimate business loan to a secured borrower whose credentials show that he is capable of paying back the loan and interest and has assets that can be sold if he defaults.
Of course what happens is that the sucker is always granted this fictitious loan, however certain fees have to be paid to the lender in advance to "establish" the loan and these fees are to be sent via Western Union or MoneyGram, so they cannot be reversed or stopped. Very obviously, the sucker is either asked for more so-called fees to be sent because of some alleged unforeseen issue, or he never hears from the scammer again.
Another variation is the Gold Mine Scam, where an email informs the receiver that a gold dealer or a village of gold miners has gold dust for sale, usually far below the current gold market price. For instance, in March 2012, the world gold price was over $51,000 per kilogram, yet the gold scammers were offering their alluvial gold dust for around $35 to $50 per kilogram.
Obviously if this was for real, these gold miners would be rushed off their feet by gold traders buying every speck of gold from them at a price around 1400 times cheaper than market value. Of course the first question that one should ask oneself is - why are these people not just selling the gold on the market and realising $51,000 per kilogram and not $35 per kilogram? This alone should ring massive alarm bells in the heads of any person who receives such emails.
If the sucker is stupid enough to ignore all the alarm bells and actually places an order, he is asked to send money, usually by irrevocable Western Union or MoneyGram transfer. If the scammer thinks that the sucker needs a little more encouragement to fall for the scam, he will even send him a small sample of "gold" that turns out to be ground-up brass. It is hard to believe, but most idiots who fall for this scam are too stupid to even perform a simple test to ascertain that the sample really is gold. Otherwise the sucker never hears from the scammer again.
There are clever scams. There are very ordinary scams. And there are some dumb scams. All of them suck in stupid people and the scammers make a lot of money. But the guy who devised the following scam would win awards for the most preposterously ridiculous scam email of them all. Read this and try not to choke yourself to death laughing at it.
This really is one insane scam, but the worst thing about it is that there will be people who will actually believe this pile of steaming bullshit and send money to the scammers. There is no limit to the stupidity and greed of some people and that is why Australians alone lose over $1 BILLION annually to scammers. That is how many gullible fools we have in our nation.
With the massive use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many other social media websites, scammers have found lucrative ways to fleece people by blackmailing them. These scammers pretend to be good looking young women and getting lonely men and even boys to become romantically besotted with them. They trick these men and boys to send intimate photos or videos of themselves or perform sexual acts upon themselves via video messenger services such as Skype, where the scammers record these acts.
Once the scammers have this compromising and very embarrassing material, they throw away all pretence and start demanding money from the targets. In many cases, the targets pay up, but the problem with blackmailers is that once they get their hooks into a person, they seldom stop and the demands for money keep coming until the target either runs out of money completely and cannot get more, or he commits suicide. Here is one such story.
Nigerian scammers tricked this Northern Irish teenager into taking an intimate photo of himself then threatened to send it to his Facebook friends unless he paid up. Just three days later, Ronan Hughes was dead. He took his own life after the scammers carried out their threat, despite knowing he was just 17 years old. His heartbroken parents explained that Ronan had been fooled into sending the pictures after receiving revealing photos from a girl from a fake Facebook account.
They said that the scammers demanded that their son pay them £3,300 pounds. It was at this point that Ronan came to them in despair. "He came to me and said 'I'm in trouble here',' Mrs Hughes said. "He gave me his phone. They were looking for more than £3,000 for an image he had posted and told him they were going to show it to all his friends. They had sent him a list of all his Facebook friends. He texted them back to say that he was only 17 years old.
Three days later, on 05 June 2015, the teenager took his own life, hours after he was contacted by one of his friends who said she had received a link containing images. "His biggest worry was that his friends would see these images," said his father.
When the Hughes family went to police, they were told to ignore it. "A policeman said to us there was very little they could do as he was there on his own that night," Mr Hughes said. "He scribbled down a few notes and told us to ignore the blackmail. He told us to come back the next morning. I knew Ronan was looking for help and I told him that all my son wanted is for these images not to be posted. He told us that he couldn't guarantee that. For Ronan, it was totally dismissive."
Mr Hughes said that if the police had given Ronan an assurance that they would close the site down, he would still be here today. The next day they returned to the police station and officers took Ronan's phone. Mr Hughes said that he heard nothing more from the police, but the following day, Ronan heard from his friend who saw the compromising photos. He phoned his mother who then contacted her husband, who then left work early to check on their son.
When Mr Hughes arrived home he found notes on the kitchen table then went outside. It was then he found his son's body in a field behind their home. "The biggest point we want to get across is how naive parents are in relation to social media,” Mr Hughes said. "There's no point in a parent taking a phone off a child when they don't know what they are doing themselves or how to access the technology themselves."
What needs to be noted here is that police in places like Northern Ireland or in fact just about any other country, cannot do a thing about taking down a website that is located somewhere out of their jurisdiction. So Mr Hughes, not knowing how the Internet really worked, was trying to get an assurance from police that they would close the website down, when the police had no hope of doing so.
The problem always goes back to the target of the scams. If Ronan Hughes had not been so naive and stupid as to have fallen for the scammers who were posing as a pretty girl and even worse, if he had not taken and sent the scammers those compromising and embarrassing photos, he could not have been blackmailed at all and then he would still be alive today. The truth is that people like Ronan Hughes are only victims of their own stupidity.
One of the oldest and most prevalent scams is also known as the Come and Carry Scam, where the prospective sucker receives an email purporting to be from a bank manager, auditor or other bank official. The email states that this bank official has discovered an abandoned fund or the account of a deceased bank client and that this banking official wants to present the sucker as the next of kin of the deceased client in order to get this fund transferred to him.
Here is a typical dead bank customer scam email, complete with bad grammar:
The really mind-blowing thing about these dead bank customer scams is that so many idiots fall for them without even thinking it through. Firstly, can you imagine if this was for real, that a senior bank executive would state to a total stranger that he wants to embezzle millions of dollars from his bank by putting the stranger up as the dead customer's next of kin? No real banker would be crazy enough to do this, simply because the receiver of that email could just forward it to the bank's head office and that bank official would be dragged off to jail in chains that same day. So that is the first indication that it is a scam.
The second indication of the dead bank customer scam is that this banker wants to present the sucker as the next of kin to the deceased client in order to claim the funds. But that is not how deceased estates are administered. No bank can hand over funds from a dead customer's account to anybody who purports to be a representative or the next of kin. A deceased estate is administered by an executor, whether it be a person nominated by the deceased in his will, or a court of law in some cases. The executor will distribute the assets, including monetary funds to the beneficiaries according to the will and assume control of any bank accounts connected to the estate. Only the executor of the estate can operate the bank account of a deceased person. So no bank can ever hand out money to somebody claiming to be a representative or the next of kin of the deceased person and that's all there is to it.
Furthermore, if it was a real situation and the sucker did falsely present himself to a bank as the next of kin to a deceased client in order to receive funds to which he was not entitled, he would be committing a very serious crime. In other words, after being scammed, the sucker could not really go to police and admit that he willingly participated in a scheme to embezzle millions of dollars from a bank. This is why most scammers get away with this fraud, because their targets cannot actually complain about being scammed when they thought that they were participants in serious crimes themselves.
The third indicator of the scam is the fact that the scammer will use either a free webmail address or a hijacked email account and tell the sucker that although this purported transfer of funds is completely legal, it must be kept secret. So it proves that the scammer has no access to a real bank email account and his statement that the deal is legal is obviously a lie, because if such a deal was real and legal, then there would be no need for secrecy.
If the sucker falls for this scam, he will be asked to provide all his details to the scammer, who will eventually demand an advance fee for some bogus certificate or clearance authority to release the funds. Another method used is where the scammer will tell the sucker that he has to open a local bank account and deposit an initial sum into it, which amazingly never gets deposited by direct bank transfer, but always has to be sent by irrevocable Western Union transfer. Or the scammer may demand an account opening fee or some other bogus banking fee that is never paid directly to the bank.
So there are more than enough indicators in these emails that scream that they are blatant and often really stupid scams, but idiots all around the world are conned out of many millions of dollars by them. What is amazing is that most of the suckers who do lose money to the dead bank customer scam could easily phone the relevant bank and quickly find out that they are being conned, but they don't seem to have the brains to do even that.
A variation on the dead bank customer scam is when a target of this particular swindle receives an email from a scammer purporting to be a dying cancer patient, a widow who just happens to be very rich. because her deceased husband had left her a fortune. The scammer asks the target to accept a transfer of millions of dollars that has to be used for various charities. The scammer asks the target for personal and bank details and states that the information will be passed onto the scammer's bank, in order to make the target the next of kin to the scammer's phoney fortune. Of course this is ludicrous, because if a person is still alive, the money can be transferred without anybody needing to be a next of kin.
If the target is stupid enough to go along with this nonsense, the scammer, pretending to be a bank manager, contacts the target and states that yes, the money is there and it will be transferred to the target's bank - as soon as the target pays a transfer fee. Again, this is nonsense because anybody who has transferred money bank to bank will know that transfer or currency exchange fees - if any - are paid by the sender, not the receiver. But that is the basis of the scam, to con the target into sending this bogus transfer fee. The scammer will try and milk the target for more fees for government certificates, foreign funds transfer clearance fees and other invented pretexts until the target either wakes up to the scam or runs out of money. It is amazing how many idiots fall for this ridiculous scam.
Yet another variation of the advance fee scam is the compensation swindle and it works much the same way as the other advance fee scams. The target is told that he has won a lot of money in a lottery that he never entered, or that he is being compensated for being swindled before or other such stories. The sum mentioned is usually millions of dollars and the scammer offers to pay him by cheque, direct bank transfer or ATM card.
The scam relies on the sucker being asked to pay for the delivery of the non-existent funds. Often, the scammer will offer these methods of delivery and quote really stupid prices and claim that in the case of cheques or ATM cards, they have to be delivered by courier or even by a diplomatic agent, if there is such a thing. Any person who is not a complete imbecile knows that cheques and ATM cards are never delivered by courier, let alone a diplomat, as they are always sent by regular mail. Bank-to-bank transfers generally do not cost anything except for a currency conversion fee of a few dollars if that is applicable.
What is rather funny about this scam is that payment is always demanded by irrevocable Western Union or MoneyGram funds transfer, whereas a real bank fee is paid directly to a bank or is deducted out of the principal sum during the transfer and it is amazing how many people do not realise this. The sucker, if he swallows this pile of bullshit, will transfer the alleged delivery fee and never hear from the scammer again, unless the scammer is ambitious and realises that he has a gullible idiot in his sights and asks for further fees to expedite this alleged delivery.
The target will receive an email from somebody purporting to represent a company conducting surveys using mystery shoppers. After he responds with his details, he will receive an "evaluation package" containing the address of major store in his area, let's say a Walmart store in the USA and the address of the nearest Western Union office. Also contained in the "evaluation package" will be a cheque for some thousands of dollars. Another email is sent to the target, informing him that he is to receive a cheque, which by this time he has already received.
The evaluation instructions attached to the email will say something like this:
The scam relies on the fact that the target receives a cheque for a certain reasonably large sum of money and is asked to deposit the cheque, then perform the "evaluation" of the Walmart store and then "test" the Western Union office within 48 hours by sending a large amount of his own money by irrevocable money transfer. Of course the cheque is bogus and will bounce, but the scammer relies on the target sending the money by Western Union before the cheque bounces and by then, it is far too late and the scammer has received his money by irrevocable transfer. To add insult to injury, the target will be liable for bank fees for the bounced cheque as well.
One of the most prevalent scams is the Phishing Scam. The word "Phishing" is merely a variation of the word "Fishing" because that is exactly what the Phishing scammers do. They fish for the confidential information of email recipients and steal those details so that they can hijack email accounts or even perform identity theft.
The most common variations of this scam are the emails stating that the recipients should click on a link to take them to a website where they have to log in with their email usernames and passwords to view a payment receipt or a sales order. Anybody who actually does this is a stupid fool, because it is very obvious that a person's confidential email username and even more confidential password cannot be used to log into any other website except for their email account.
Some Phishing scams are ridiculously blatant to the extent that the scammers don't even set up links to fake websites, but merely ask for the confidential information. Here is one example.
How utterly stupid could somebody be to reply and hand over their bank account on-line username and password, giving the scammer full access to their account? Of course the next thing that would happen is that they would find a zero balance on their bank account in a matter of minutes, as the scammer had made a payment to himself by Western Union or MoneyGram, making the funds completely unrecoverable. This scam must be working, because I have received this email many times for a few years.
It is really surprising how many people fall for the Phishing scam in all its varieties. Why do the scammers do this? Very simply, once they get access to the email accounts of the suckers who hand them their confidential email log-on details, they hijack the accounts and use them to send out more spam or in a more insidious way, send emails containing malware to all the people on the contact lists of the email account holders, or send their fake distress scam emails.
People are gullible. When they receive emails from people on their contact list, they do not tend to consider that those email accounts may have been compromised. So they blithely click on the links in those emails and immediately find that their computers have been hijacked and held to ransom by scammers who will only unlock them and the data they contain for a ransom payment. Or their computers are enrolled as zombie computers in botnets that are used for Distributed Denial Of Service (DDOS) attacks or spam distribution computers.
Even worse, some people are more stupid than the stupidest African scammer. For instance in August 2015, I received a phishing email as follows:
Obviously the scammer does not know who his targets are, but the worst thing is that there will be plenty of ignorant fools out there who will see "Costormer Savice" and still give the scammer their email usernames and passwords. These idiots are literally beyond help because of their ignorance and stupidity, so the only winner is the scammer.
Every computer user has to understand that their email log-on details are confidential and are only good for accessing their email accounts and no other sites. They also have to realise that if they get emails from friends that have links in them, they should always treat them with utter suspicion and never click on them until they have verified that they are legitimate. Just as important, people should never reveal their bank account on-line usernames and passwords to anybody. That is a breach of the Terms of Service of every bank account and generally results in banks not compensating those who have done this and have had their accounts cleaned out by scammers.
One of the easiest ways that scammers can obtain personal information is to hack into the computers of people on the Internet. This is usually done by conning users into clicking on links in emails, which then result in viruses and Trojan horse malware being loaded onto their computers. This malware can do a lot of damage, such as making every file available to the scammers, including personal and banking information, turning the computer into a zombie machine that is remotely used for spamming others and also logging every keystroke of the users, so the scammers can obtain usernames and passwords to bank accounts.
Scammers rely on the fact that most people are either stupid, gullible or both. They rely on social engineering ploys to trick people into infecting their own computers with malware. The Macro Scam is a very prevalent way that scammers compromise computers. For example, macros in Microsoft’s Word are disabled by default to reduce the risk of attackers exploiting them to install malware. A typical method to convince people to undo that protection is by creating a document with a blurred image and instructions that tell the recipient the image was blurred for their protection and that to view it requires enabling macros.
Dridex banking malware, as measured by message volume, was ten times greater than the next most common malware. Despite efforts by law enforcement to take down Dridex’s infrastructure, the botnet emerged as one of the key sources of malware infections. Nearly all Dridex campaigns rely on Word documents laced with a malicious macro that installs malware designed to steals banking credentials via a man-in-the-browser attack. The same infection method has been used to spread the Locky ransomware, suggesting that Dridex was expanding from stealing banking credentials to holding data at ransom through file encryption software.
Another method is the fake anti-spyware ploy, where a person goes to a website and all of a sudden, a very convincing window pops up that looks for all the world like the warning window of a virus scanner. This window, with a title such as "AntiSpyware 2011 or similar, states that the user's computer is infected with viruses and other malware and it can be removed by clicking on the removal button. Of course this is completely bogus, but if the user does click on that button, his computer is immediately hijacked and locked up and nothing works until that user clicks on the only link that does operate, which asks him to pay a fee to unlock his computer.
This disgusting Trojan horse program that kidnaps somebody's computer is usually called ransomware. Users can easily identify this, because the fake antivirus window is not from a computer program, but is just a browser window. Obviously if the user has not installed an antivirus program with the name of the one in that browser window, then it has to be a scam. The best way to deal with this is to never ever click on anything on that fake antivirus page, but to close that window immediately and take a note of which website triggered that scam and never go there again.
This is yet another scam that is so stupid that no rational people should ever fall for it, but indeed there are plenty of fools who do get sucked into it. This is how the Anti-Breeze Banknote Scam works, although there are some variations. A person emails you to ask for your help with his dilemma. He tells you that he has a trunk full of cash that has been painted black or white to keep dishonest people from carting it off, or the alleged money is expired currency that can be resurrected and spent. You are the only person in the whole wide Internet email world that he trusts with his story.
This person says that he needs your cash to purchase the special washing chemical needed to clean this large quantity of bills and make them useable again. He claims that he knows where to purchase the chemical and will happily forward onto you their email address, which will just happen to be a free webmail address, not a legitimate chemical company email account. Now you are supposed to send your cash to the chemical company via Western Union or MoneyGram to purchase this washing chemical. Shipping charges, costs, fees, bribes, expenses, duties all need to be paid by you, in cash via Western Union or MoneyGram.
If you have been stupid enough to go along with this scam so far, you may be asked to fly to another country to bring home the trunk box of cash, where you will be met at the airport by associates of this scammer. They will keep you company - in other words, you will be at their mercy - until all the money that they can squeeze out of you is paid in cash via Western Union or MoneyGram sent by your relatives back home, or they force you to clean out your bank accounts and hand over the money to them.
It is hard to believe that people actually fall for this scam, but they certainly do. In October 2013, a West Australian man lost more than $2 million to online scammers after being caught up in an international cash washing scam. Western Australian police said that the man, who wanted only to be known as Bryan from Boyanup in the state's south-west, was conned over four years by claims that he could make up to $53.77 million in the Anti-Breeze Banknote Scam or as it is also known, the Wash-Wash Scam.
Bryan met the fraudsters in Kuala Lumpur and Dubai where they demonstrated a method involving expired bank notes coated in a white substance which would be turned into useable currency after being washed in chemicals. He was initially asked to invest US$80,000 to buy the special chemicals needed to complete the process and the conmen then continued to fleece Bryan of everything he owned.
Bryan, who was preparing to retire, stated that he may lose his home as a result of the loss. "I can only blame myself for being so blind and the more I got into it, the blinder I got. I decided I needed to get out of it and wake up. I hope that by telling my story, people will become aware and not get caught like I have," Bryan said. The truth is that Bryan wasn't blind. He was stupid and he was greedy and his stupidity and greed cost him his life savings.
Project Sunbird, a joint operation between Consumer Protection and WA Police, flagged the fraud and alerted the 56-year-old mine worker. "This particular fraud was supported by sophisticated fake websites replicating legitimate investment banking companies and a bogus account gave the victim the impression that he had control of his funds when he did not," said Detective Senior Sergeant Dom Blackshaw of the WA's Major Fraud Squad. Blackshaw said that the fraudsters had covered their electronic tracks, making them very hard to catch.
It is just astounding that people can be conned in this manner, but their stupidity and greed makes it very difficult to feel sorry for them, even when they lose their life's work and assets. In this particular case, Bryan did not have the sense to even check up on the Internet and read about the Anti-Breeze Banknote Scam, as it is very well-documented. On top of that, Bryan willingly participated in what would have been a crime, had it been for real.
This is how most Internet fraudsters get away with their scams, because they rely on the suckers thinking that they are trying to get money to which they are not entitled, such as the Nigerian oil scam, the fake inheritance scam, the fake money transfer scam and many other varieties, all of which would be serious crimes of there really was money to be gained. So the targets of those scams find it very difficult and embarrassing to report to authorities that they had been fleeced because they participated in a scheme that involved them allegedly receiving money to which they had no right. But of course there is a sucker born every minute.
Online dating scammers prey on the emotions of lonely people looking for romance and companionship, which leaves them very vulnerable to be fleeced. In fact, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), 4900 gullible fools have lost almost $52 million to online dating scams since 2009. More than 400 people told the ACCC that they had lost at least $10,000 in 2013, with 64 saying their losses exceeded $100,000.
Online dating scams often had a conversion rate of more than 50%, which meant that more than half of the people targeted on romance websites ended up losing money, often to international syndicates. Fake romance scammers are among the most successful con artists in the business, which shows that people who are desperate for love are easy prey for the most blatantly transparent scams.
In fact in 2014, gullible Australians forked out more than $23 million to fraudsters running online dating scams, which accounted for 74% of scam reports in just four months to December 2014. Scammers targeted both men and woman, with fraudsters getting more tech savvy in targeting prospective victims. Fraudsters, many based in West Africa, often used stories about inheritances, gemstone dealings, gold bullion "or other unexplained wealth". Between August and December 2014, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission stated that it had confirmed 50 victims who had each lost about $34,000 each.
Most criminal gangs use a variation of the same scam to entrap those seeking romance online. Scammers spend time grooming their targets with techniques such as professing their emotional commitment or love and sharing false personal stories. The targets may be specifically targeted and vulnerable when making their personal details readily available.
Once the scammers gain the target's trust, they usually organise a meeting before claiming a last-minute death, sickness or accident and asking for financial details or the transfer of money via a wiring service. The scammers often steal images from modelling agency websites, while organised crime gangs were believed to be based in Nigeria, Ghana, Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.
Of course the best way to avoid being scammed by online romance scammers is to not get involved with any of them. Even if those dating websites are squeaky clean, they still attract scammers with fake profiles who prey on vulnerable people. As soon as a person from a dating website asks for money, no matter how heart-wrenching their story may sound, it can be guaranteed that it is a scam. There is no quick fix for this scam except for people to never ever send money to people via Western Union or any other funds transfer methods.
In the USA, Florida senior Catherine Short was swindled out of an eye-watering US$185,000 after falling prey to an online dating scam. The 71-year-old was conned out of the hefty chunk of cash after signing up to the ChristianMingle.com dating site. Short found a match and felt like they’d hit it off, with her new beau saying that he’d eventually want to get married. He also promised to buy her a gold ring with her name spelled out in diamonds.
But after several months of communication, her online lover, who she never actually met, started demanding that she buy him expensive gadgets. They were for underprivileged kids, he claimed. He also asked for money so that he could pay a hospital bill in Panama.
Family members of the victim, including her son, warned the retiree that she was being scammed. But she refused to believe it. "I am a trusting person and it takes a lot for me to see that someone could hurt somebody at my age," she said.
Short eventually ended up selling her Largo, Pinellas County, home before wiring her sweetheart $185,000. It was all the money she had. She said that she never heard from her online lover again and police admit that they may never be able to track him down. After selling her home, Short is now desperately trying to find a job "to make ends meet."
In December 2013, a Canadian woman who joined an online dating site looking for a companion instead lost $1.3 million to a fraudster she had never met in person. Revealing the scam under the pseudonym "Ellen", she shared her embarrassing tale on condition of anonymity. Ellen signed up to Match.com in 2010 thinking it would be "fun just to banter back and forth with someone.
It was there that the retiree from British Columbia, who was 65 at the time, met "Dave Field". His profile picture showed a somewhat handsome, balding middle-aged man. They chatted online and over the phone: He told her he was of Swedish descent but living in Los Angeles. She was intrigued. Things escalated when Ellen suggested the pair meet in LA: "He didn't balk at that," she recalled.
But things changed when she booked her flight. He suddenly claimed he was busy, or that he had appointments. She cancelled that reservation and tried again a few weeks later. He continued to dodge her. So then she put it on the line and said, "What's up with this? Why are we playing games?'" Ellen recalled, "He said, "It's not a game." And what was the excuse? He was trying to unravel his father's estate.
Dave told Ellen that he had been left a large inheritance offshore, but because of a lawyer's incompetence, he had to clear some debts before he could sell the assets. "I am of the nature that I would help anybody,” Ellen stated. "I don't like the idea of not being able to help somebody if I can."
She began transferring money to Dave, or people claiming to act for him, via MoneyGram, first C$945, then tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time. Gradually, her retirement savings were funnelled into accounts in Hong Kong, Greece, Singapore and even Nigeria. Documentation showed transfers totalling roughly C$1.3 million in US dollars, euros and British pounds.
Whenever she became reluctant to send more, "It was, 'You've already sent me this money - how am I supposed to pay you back if we don't go to the next step?'" Ellen said. Dave would also sweeten his shakedowns with endearments like "baby," "honey" and "sweetheart". Ellen finally came to her senses when a relative told her point-blank that she was being conned. She was still at a loss to explain how she was reeled in so far. Her advice to other would-be romantics: "Never make a payment. Never. That first payment is the hook. I wish I could shake people."
It is hard to understand how people like Ellen could be so stupid and gullible. Ellen's big failing was that she prided herself of having the nature to help anybody. The problem is that predators and scammers rely on this sort of idiotic human nature to fleece stupid people like Ellen and they are wildly successful. People who send money on the basis of emails from people they have never even met deserve no sympathy at all. The scammer who ripped Ellen off became a millionaire for nothing more than cultivating her via email for a few months.
For one gullible sucker called Susie, it began with a scammer calling himself Rafael, sending the following line, "People around me tell me I'm handsome. I want to believe that the art of love is largely an act of persistence so here I am in search of a true friendship and hope it turns to be true love. It is sad that most people are scared of falling in love but deep down, we remain human, very human and have all the desires to love and be loved by one person."
Two years passed since that pile of utter drivel was sent by Rafael then and Susie was almost $100,000 poorer because of it. She stated, "That's how much I lost. I borrowed from kids, my parents, I broke into my super fund and got money that way." She can't bring herself to tell her children, who repeatedly warned her not to send any money to Rafael.
Rafael needed a loan to pay off debt, buy plane tickets to come and see her, a very common request from romance fraudsters and he had some extraordinarily bad luck, the usual sob story to use on suckers. He told Susie that he had been robbed. Another excuse was that he was he had lost his employee's wages and the flow of money only stopped when she ran out of cash. Susie was there for him each time, giving him money because she wanted to help the man she was falling in love with.
The 50-year-old Susie thought that Rafael would fly to Australia from South Africa and be with her. She was so mesmerised by him that she couldn't wait to get home and read his messages. "It just took over. I lived and breathed talking to him and he was all over me like a rash." She told herself that she was doing the right thing because that way he would be on the plane and here sooner.
In hindsight, Susie can't believe the words that once had her so spellbound were so obviously false. She thinks that Rafael had generic messages prepared, because nobody can write things like that so quickly.
Another woman, 65-year-old Judy attempted suicide twice but battled back from those dark days to help counsel other romance fraud targets. Her story is similar to that of Susie's because romance fraudsters have a simple modus operandi. They court their targets for the first few days and then hit them with questions such as where they live and who with, their job, what holidays they are planning, what they like to buy, anything that will give the scammers an idea of how much money their targets have. Then they say they're falling in love with the targets of their scams.
The scammer called Edward told Judy exactly what she wanted to hear. He was going to come back to Australia for her and she wouldn't be alone anymore. He just needed her to pay for his ticket. He told her that he was in Ghana, a country to where a number of other actual fraudsters have been traced. In a short five months, Judy lost $48,000 to a man she never met.
The amounts Edward asked for varied and there was always some urgent need for funds, for instance his luggage had been stolen, for example — that Judy would help him with. For five years he promised: "I'll be seeing you soon". Judy believed him. "He was going to marry me when he came back." By the time she realised the trap she'd fallen into, it was too late. "I woke up one morning and thought, Oh, I think I've been conned.”
Judy tried to get hold of Edward, but unsurprisingly couldn't get in touch with him for three weeks. When they finally did speak, he continued the charade, insisting that he would leave Ghana, where he was working and come to live with her. Five years passed since then and Judy knows that she will never see the money again. The impact was not just financial. The relationship with her children was strained because, they couldn't understand how she could be such a fool and she twice attempted suicide.
Looking back now, Judy can hardly believe it. It has left her doubting everyone she meets and she hates that. "My trust in my fellow man is no longer. You're left feeling even more vulnerable and gullible."
Jill Ambrose is a member of a romance scam targets support group and has learnt through her own bitter experience what it's like to lose everything. She lost more than $300,000 over four years when she was conned by a man she believed was a health commissioner in Nigeria. An interior designer, he asked her for help in renovating hospitals. Or so she thought. "The scammers are so professional they know how to place you when capturing your interest and must hang onto everything you tell them to improve their chances to extract every cent from you."
No-one could convince her she was being scammed, not even the police. "That is one thing that all the victims agree on; that we would not listen to any advice, we were so convinced that our experience was real and we were different."
African fake romance scammers have a field day with gullible Australian women, who seem to lose all common sense and logic when their hormones take over their thinking processes. Bundaberg resident Tracee Douglas fell for the old US soldier in Afghanistan scam via an on-line dating website. If she had any sense, she would have immediately searched the Internet to see if her prospective partner was indeed a real US soldier or whether he was one of the many scammers preying upon credulous women who were desperate for romance.
Unfortunately Tracee failed to take one single step to check up on this sort of scam and she fell for "Robert Sigrid". She did not even suspect why this person never managed to connect with her via Skype video, although he had no problem chatting to her via voice link or telephone. He played her like a fish, even setting up a private Facebook page for both of them and even sent her a fake diamond ring. She did not have the sense to even take it to a local jeweller to ascertain if it was real - that's how trusting she was of a person who always had an excuse as to why he could not chat to her via Skype video, obviously because that would have immediately given the game away.
This fake US soldier claimed that he had six 25 kilogram gold bars that he was going to send to Australia for Tracee and him to set up a new life. This is one of the oldest scams around and yet Tracee still made no effort to check this out. The current price of gold in 2014 was around $1,430 per troy ounce, being a whopping $46,000 per kilogram. So this scammer claimed that he owned 150 kilograms of gold, worth nearly $7 million. Now why would any sensible person believe that an American grunt in Afghanistan had all that gold, especially when the Internet is crammed with reports of scammers claiming to be soldiers who had found gold and needed a willing partner (sucker) to receive this loot?
As per the usual scam, "Sigfrid" claimed that he was short of cash. His first request for money was small - only $783 - after they'd been talking for about two months, but the figures rapidly started to climb. In the end, she transferred about $80,000 to "Robert Sigfrid", borrowing from her family to meet his increasing demands, only stopping when he made the wild claim that he needed money to feed his starving troops. Yes, Tracee Douglas sent that amount of money to a person who turned out to be a 22-year-old Nigerian kid. Even then, the scammer tried everything to keep her talking. He asked her to help him scam older men. He gloated by sending photos of the house and the car he had bought using her money. He threatened to use her intimate photos, which she describes as the type "only those in love" send to each other; some are still circulating on dating sites, luring in other male targets of romance scams.
Of course the photos of "Robert Sigfrid" that the scammer used had been stolen from a real US soldier with the same surname. Fraudsters steal the surname because it is embroidered just above the heart on army uniforms and then use a different first name. So after Tracee had finally acquired some sense, she investigated and found 16 other victims, all fooled by the same scammer. These women had lost as much as $1 million in total. By comparing notes, bank accounts and routing numbers, Tracee concluded that the criminal was a professional. His written and spoken English were sophisticated, sometimes equal to hers, he had been to college in Nigeria and he had studied English in the USA.
Many people who encounter these scams may laugh at them, but this case merely proves that a slick fraudster can earn a lot of money conning stupid and gullible lovelorn women via dating sites and even those ridiculous scam emails. This fake "Robert Sigfrid" earned at least $1 million for doing nothing more than conducting fake romances with silly women who made no effort to check him out, but just sent money - lots of money, more money in a year than most people earn in 20 years of hard work.
In 2014, A US woman called Sarah revealed that she had lost $1.4 million to a man she had not even met in person. She said that she first encountered a man calling himself Chris Olsen 18 months ago on an online dating service. Chris, claiming to be a businessman working in Africa, soon declared his love for the twice-divorced Sarah, referring to her as his “flower” and “Mrs Olsen”. But the path to happiness proved rocky, as Chris claimed that he was arrested numerous times and prevented from returning home after running into trouble with the government in the African nation of Benin.
Determined to help her new love, Sarah sold her apartment for $500,000 and wired the money to Chris to pay his bail. Despite the story reading like a warning in the “How to Avoid a Dating Scam” handbook, Sarah remained 95% sure that Chris was telling the truth. “He assured me that when he gets home he's going to pay me back every dime,” she stated.
Sarah said that she was flattered by the attention. "I thought, wow, this guy is really handsome, I can't believe he's talking to me. Chris has a way with words. He'll say 'how is my queen doing today'. He's very poetic when he talks to me."
The pair talked almost every day on the phone although Sarah admitted that during the time she had known Chris, his voice has changed. He sounded Italian when they first spoke, but she believed that his voice changed because he had spent so much time with locals in Benin. She stated, "I still believe in love."
Sarah is a classic example of a fake romance scam sucker, where a lonely, usually divorced woman will fall for somebody on a dating website and then become besotted and an easy target for the scammer. Even when every indication screamed that Sarah was being scammed, she simply refused to believe it. Unfortunately, Sarah was a twice-divorced, obese and very unattractive female and she was too stupid to understand that she was being suckered as soon as the first request for money was made. What is more pathetic is that after Sarah was told that she had been scammed, she still believed that the scammer was 95% genuine and that he loved her and that is how idiotic many of the fake romance scam targets are.
It is hard to feel sorry for these women, simply because the scams that they fell for were so blatantly and obviously false. Why would any 24-year-old man want to marry a 65-year-old granny in Australia in the first place? Why would a US soldier be in possession of $7 million in gold? And the slick lines that these fraudsters come up with are not theirs - they are carefully crafted responses that will sound so wonderful to the silly women who read them or hear them on the phone.
Of course the big giveaway is the request for money, almost always to be sent by cash transfer means such as Western Union or MoneyGram, so that the transfers cannot be reversed for any reason. As soon as any of these women were asked for money, or handed sob stories by these scammers, the alarm bells in their heads should have deafened them. Unfortunately, these women were gullible fools and deserve no sympathy for not just not realising what scammers were doing to them, but not listening to their relatives and friends who warned them about what was happening to them and even worse, not listening to police warning them of this. Thus they deserved to lose every cent, because there is no cure for stupidity.
Melbourne writer and advocate for scam victims Jan Marshall lost more than $260,000 to a man she met on an online dating site in 2012. He was handsome and successful. His messages came from around the world as he travelled for business. He said he was willing to go anywhere to be with the right person. Within a month she had become infatuated and she agreed to marry him.
Soon after, he began to speak about "difficulties" he was having in business. He began asking for money, always under the proviso that he would repay her as soon as possible. He even provided bank statements showing a balance of more than £1 million. More than $160,000 of the money Marshall sent came from a self-managed superannuation fund that she accessed and the Tax Office is still pursuing her for $46,000 tax on that money. "You just feel so ashamed, so stupid, so idiotic," she said. "Even today I am reluctant to go out and meet new people."
How the hell could Marshall have forked out over quarter of a million dollars to a person that she had never met? One can only marvel at the gullibility of a person who could do that and it's hard to feel sorry for somebody who is apparently well educated, living in a prosperous first-world nation who would fall for such ridiculously transparent scams. But there are a litany of case histories on Romance Scam Survivor of silly people who fell for slick con artists.
In 2015, the identity of a man who was dying from cancer was stolen by con artists and used to rip off at least three Australian women of more than $350,000 in an online love scam. The Western Australia Police Major Fraud Squad and Consumer Protection uncovered the scam after it was revealed that the state was losing more than $1.5 million per month in internet scams operated from West Africa.
The scam involved a fake interior designer calling himself Allan McCarty, who tricked women across three Australian states into each sending him tens of thousands of dollars. Among the hardest hit victims was a Perth woman who was defrauded of $300,000. The scammers used Facebook pages, along with a bogus business website, to create a belief that a man called Allan McCarty, an interior designer originally from Scotland but now residing in Australia, existed and was looking for love online.
One Western Australian woman sent $300,000 to the overseas scammers after being convinced that she was in a relationship with Allan McCarty who needed money for his business. Police also located women in New South Wales, including one who sent $50,000 and another woman in Tasmania. All thought that they were romantically involved with the same person who did not actually exist. The real man in the photographs used in the scam had been identified but attempts to contact him had been unsuccessful.
The man in the photographs lived in California and had low security and privacy settings on his Facebook profile, making it easy for scammers to steal his pictures. Police stated, "In real life, this man appears to have been battling cancer and we suspect the fraudsters have picked him for that reason - they can potentially use as an excuse not to meet the victims in person and to seek financial assistance." Although some of the defrauded money went to the United States or Dubai, where Allan McCarty was supposedly working, funds are understood to have been funnelled through money mule accounts to West Africa.
This fake romance scam shows how stupid and gullible people can be, that they would blindly send hundreds of thousands of dollars to somebody whom they had never met, on the basis of a tricked-up sob story. Since 2011, West Australians have sent more than $37 million to overseas criminals pretending to offer romance or investment opportunities. More than 3500 letters were sent by Western Australian Police in 2015 to people whose financial transactions indicated they were supplying money to fraudsters in West African countries.
Project Sunbird, run by the Western Australian Police, began in May 2012 to investigate whether transfer of funds from Western Australia to West Africa were as a result of "Request For Money" scams. Police figures show that African scammers fleeced West Australians of more than $6.5 million between May and August 2012, which is more than $1.5 million per month. Virtually all were advance fee scams that involved fraudsters convincing people to send money to get a benefit, which claimed to be financial or, in many cases, related to personal relationships. But the sad truth is that these defrauded people were not victims of anything except their own stupidity.
Lonely men looking for love have been fleeced by the very prevalent credit-for-sex scam, which is common in the USA and countries including China and Singapore. It involves scammers convincing men to purchase cards or online shopping credits on the promise of sexual favours. The scammers, who pose as prostitutes or students in need of money, befriend their victims through popular social media applications such as WeChat and iAround.
The victim is then requested to pay in advance by purchasing the cards, such as iTunes vouchers and sending through images of the receipts and PIN numbers. The scammer then redeems and onsells the voucher.
WeChat, which has over 500 million monthly active users, has grown in popularity in Australia in recent years with the influx of Chinese-speaking students. Users can see a list of nearby contacts, making it popular with sex workers to advertise. They start talking to other people, claiming to be students from China, Singapore or Taiwan. As the conversations go on, eventually they will say they really need money. Here is the story of one Chinese target.
David fell for the scam after being propositioned with sex by an attractive girl on WeChat, who claimed to be a fellow student. "The girl said $200 for two hours, so I thought, why not give it a shot? I had just finished my exam and had nothing to do," he stated.
He arranged to meet the girl at a 7-Eleven store in a Canberra suburb, but when he arrived, he was called by a man speaking Mandarin, who claimed to be the boss. "Some Chinese guy called me and said I can't give the girl cash, I had to go to the gas station, buy some iTunes cards, take a picture and send it to the girl," he said. "I really should have stopped there but I wasn't thinking straight. I was thinking with my penis and decided to do what he said."
After sending through $200 worth of cards, the man called again and asked for another $500 as a "safety deposit". “I was reluctant to do that, but I was already $200 down, so I did what he said anyway,” David said. They request gift cards such as iTunes vouchers instead of cash. David sent the picture to the girl, who said she was on her way, but then the Chinese man called again asking for another $500 deposit as he was a new customer.
"I was like, Dude, fuck you, I have no money left," David said. "That's when he became really aggressive, saying he was a gang member with big business in Canberra and Melbourne. He said he was going to find out where I live, that he was going to pay my parents a visit. He said that he was going to get my picture and put up posters around where I live, saying I was looking for prostitutes. He said if I had kids, things were going to turn out really bad. He tried to call me five times, he left me three voice messages."
David's story is similar to many from overseas. The Singaporean government says that credit-for-sex is one of the top seven scams in the country and has created a dedicated website to warn people. One target said that he lost more than $2500 in the scam. "I'm not saying that I don't deserve it, I'm just foolish enough to fall for the scam," he wrote.
One Chinese student stated that using social media apps to find a "xiao san", Chinese slang for a mistress or younger woman, literally meaning "little third wheel", was extremely common. Many pose as students needing extra cash. "It's quite widely accepted. This is a thriving business, and where there's a thriving business, people are always going to find ways to scam," he said. "This guy was pretty naive to fall for it, but you'd be surprised how many do."
An ACCC spokeswoman said, "The ACCC advises people to be wary of using gift cards as an alternative form of currency. Reconsider if being asked to send a gift card. There is a market for unwanted gift cards where criminals are able to sell gift cards they receive, so asking for a gift card is not such an innocent request as it might appear and may indicate criminal behaviour." In the USA, the FBI issued an alert about gift card scams. "The online presence of the secondary gift card market has grown significantly in recent years," it said.
Some romance scammers are not out to fleece lonely women out of their money. They can be far more dangerous than this. It seems that lonely middle-aged women are very prone to believing anything that a potential lover will tell them without question and find themselves in trouble with the law. Sharon Armstrong was such a person.
In 2011 a lover that Sharon Armstrong met online asked her to transport a suitcase from Buenos Aires to London. Armstrong thought that she was guarding a highly lucrative contract, but it turned out to be cocaine. She was caught at the airport and spent the next 2½ years in an Argentinian prison, wondering how on earth this could have happened.
Armstrong was 53 years old when she signed up to a dating site. She been on there for nearly a month when a man contacted her. She fell hard and fast and built up what she felt was a very long relationship over a short period of time. He talked about their future together. There were daily phone calls, emails and texts. When her computer was later analysed, there were more than 7000 emails, but nothing visual. There was always an excuse for why he could not Skype. In fact, for those 5½ months, Armstrong was being carefully groomed through a number of tests, to see if she could be trusted.
The scammer told Armstrong that he was a civil engineer and that she could be his Executive Assistant and work with him. He said "I've secured this very lucrative contract for a job. Would you be keen to travel to South America to pick up the contract and bring it to me in London?" She Googled the company and they checked out. He said that the company would pay for Armstrong's return airfares. So she went to Buenos Aires and the suitcase which she thought held the contract was delivered to her hotel.
The scammer told Armstrong, "Leave your things behind and pack them in this new suitcase." She opened the suitcase but could not find the documents. The scammer told her that they were in the lining. He said that it was a large contract and there was lots of secrecy around it, but if Armstrong wanted to, she could lift up the lining and have a look, but she did not do so. She thought, "You’re being paranoid. You know what, I trust this man. He would never do this."
So she checked in at the airport, went through Customs and waited for her aircraft. Then her name was called out. She was asked to go to the gate and officials said that there was something unusual in her suitcase. She thought, "They’re going to find out it’s the papers." But they lifted up the lining and there were three long packages the length of the suitcase. The packages contained a white powder and Armstrong was told that the powder was cocaine.
Armstrong was immediately arrested and imprisoned and spent the next 2½ years locked up in Argentina in a prison where there were 60-70 other women who had been arrested as drug mules. There were a couple of other women who had been victims of scams like her. She was arrested in April 2011 and in February 2012, her case went before a judge. They found her guilty and they sentenced her to four years and 10 months. The judges said, "You're an articulate, intelligent woman with great family support. How could you be scammed?"
Her lawyers appealed that decision and the appeal court reduced her sentence and acknowledged that she had been used in a scam. But the court would never acquit her because it would set a legal precedent. The prosecution tried to appeal the Appeal Court’s decision, so her case went to the Supreme Court of Argentina. Armstrong's lawyers put in an application to Argentinian immigration, saying how unfair and unjust it would be to keep her locked up beyond her original sentence, so eventually she was deported.
But even scammers will verify that middle-aged women are the most vulnerable targets to exploit in on-line scams. Many of them who use dating websites are lonely, after marriage breakups. Their children have left home and the women long for romantic relationships and they seem immune to common-sense or logic and will believe virtually anything that romance scammers tell them.
Sharon Armstrong is a typical example of how a woman was groomed and set up to be a drug mule. She believed everything that the scammer told her and swallowed all his excuses about not being able to even provide a photo of himself or have a video chat via Skype. That should have set the alarm bells ringing in her head, but Armstrong was besotted with this fictional love affair and swallowed the scammer's lies without question. She checked the company that the scammer claimed was his employer, but she did not contact this company and enquire about the scammer or his bona-fides.
So Armstrong paid the penalty for her utter stupidity and refusal to undertake even the most cursory of checks to see if her "lover" was genuine or not. One quick phone call to the "lover's" alleged employer would have exposed the scam, but Armstrong was too overwhelmed with love of a person whose photo she had never seen to even do this. It is very difficult to have any sympathy for such negligence and foolhardiness.
Many people are tricked by various means into revealing their usernames and passwords to their email accounts by scammers who then send out emails claiming to be these people in trouble in foreign countries and asking for loans to pay hotels and airfares so they can get back home. One typical email coming from a friend's legitimate email account arrived on 20 August 2012 and stated:
The first thing that anybody should do after receiving such an email is to immediately contact the real person who purported to send it and tell them that their email account had been hijacked and most probably their personal details were in the hands of scammers. These days, with people putting so much personal information on social media sites such as Facebook, scammers who hijack email accounts for these purposes can compile a rather comprehensive dossier of the person whom they are impersonating.
The people whose details have been misused by scammers need to immediately change their passwords to stop the scammers sending out further emails from their accounts. They also should send out emails to all their contacts, warning them that the email with the fake story about being in trouble and needing money should be completely ignored.
However, the idea is to irritate and annoy such a scammer until he blows his cool and gives up, so here is a good way to do it.
Of course if the scammer says that brother Aloysius is there or back home or anywhere, then you know that it's a scam, as would be a positive response to the bracelet that does not exist and confirmation of Rover the pooch. But chances are that the scammer will ignore the questions and just keep asking that you send the money as soon as possible. So then you can badger the scammer with demands for answers to those questions and even more questions, while keeping him on the hook for the money that you are not going to send.
The most important thing is to NEVER EVER send money to anybody until you verify beyond any shadow of doubt that you are dealing with the right person and not an impostor.
The intended target will receive an email stating that the scammer has seen his products somewhere on the Internet, even if they are not there. The scammer says that he is interested in such products and wishes to buy copious quantities of them for large sums of money. The scammer then asks the person to go to a website, log in with his email username and password to see samples of these products.
This is what this scam is all about - nothing to do with products or buying, but merely getting the person to enter his email address and password into a website that is not connected to that email account. As soon as the target reveals his log-on details, the scammer will immediately hijack the target's email account, download the target's contacts and then send them the same email asking them to go to a website and enter their confidential email log-on details.
Once the scammer has control of the target's email account, he can send out emails purporting to be from the target and the recipients will probably think that these emails are genuine because they are coming from the accounts of friends. A lot of these emails will be the fake distress variety, where the scammer will pretend that he is the target and that he is stranded somewhere after being robbed and he needs you to send money to him so he can get home again.
Another variation of the fake purchasing scam is when an email tells the recipient that the sender is interested in importing his products to another nation. The scam relies on sucking in a person to pay to have his products certified by the government of this nation and pay other charges so that those products can be sold. Of course it's all a pack of lies and the sucker eventually finds that the government and trade organisations of that country know nothing about his products and take no responsibility for him paying a scammer for this fraud.
The intended target will receive an email stating that the scammer represents a government such as Nigeria or Ghana. The scammer invites the person to submit a tender for the supply of his products to this government. The email looks like this and this example is one that I received:
Has anybody ever heard of any government anywhere making an up-front payment for anything or paying a fee before shipping the goods? It just doesn't happen, so this alone indicates that the email is a scam. I decided to have some sport with these idiots, so I concocted a catalogue of completely fake products with illustrations, just to see if the scammers actually checked them out to see if these were for real:
Some of these scammers responded to my fake offer and ordered millions of dollars of these fictional products, which provided a good laugh. But the basis of the scam is to lure the prospective sucker into making the bogus tender application and paying the tendering fee up-front by Western Union or MoneyGram, so that the money can't be stopped or revoked. If the sucker does this, either he will never hear from the scammer again, or if the scammer senses that he has a real gullible mug, he will say that additional customs fees are required, needing another fee from the sucker. Of course all these emails from the scammers are sent from free webmail accounts and not from any official government email accounts.
All of these scams operate by tricking suckers into sending money by irrevocable transfer such as by Western Union or MoneyGram after promising them all sorts of benefits and wealth. Of course it is easy to promise anything via a free webmail account and most scammers actually have very sophisticated tools to harvest millions of email accounts from the Internet and send out their spam every day, literally because it costs them virtually nothing to do so.
Scammers know that virtually hardly anybody will fall for their scams, but if for instance a scammer sends out 1 million scam emails every day and only snares 3 gullible fools in every million and gets a lousy $100 from each, that's over $2000 per week for almost no outlay except time on the Internet sucking in the suckers. And earning $2000 per week in Nigeria, Ghana or any other African third-world nation is a fortune and many of these scammers are the wealthiest people in those nations.
One of the prevalent scams involves fraudulent car sales, in which a criminal advertises a car for sale at an attractive price, pretending to be desperate to sell before moving interstate or overseas and then seeking a deposit to hold the vehicle. In many cases, the scammer will even offer to pay for the delivery of the vehicle to the buyer for free. Of course if the buyer is silly enough to send the money, that is the last he will hear from the scammer.
Of course the vehicle does not exist and if the potential target happens to be in the same area as the scammer and asks to see the car, the scammer merely states that he has accepted another offer for this non-existent vehicle. This scam also applies to other goods and such fraudulent advertisements are often seen on eBay, Gumtree and other sales websites.
Another prevalent scam involves people who advertise goods for sale Gumtree and other sales portals, such as cars, furniture, musical instruments ant the like. The scammer will reply to an advertisement and state that he is working in a place where there is no telephone access, but he wants to buy the advertised goods and will not even haggle the price.
The scammer will inform the seller that he will pay for the item via PayPal and the seller does not have to arrange delivery, as the scammer has made arrangements with a courier company to come and pick up the item. The scammer will tell the seller that the payment will be made soon and then he leaves the seller to stew for a couple of days, to be softened up for the rest of the scam.
The scammer will then contact the seller and state that because of his remote location, he cannot pay the courier fee, so he will pay a few hundred dollars over and above the price of the item for sale and he will ask the seller to pay the courier company. The scammer will state that this courier company is in another nation such as China and that this courier does not accept payment by PayPal or credit card, but only by irrevocable funds transfer via Western Union or MoneyGram. Of couirse the courier company is the scammer himself.
This should immediately set off the alarm bells in the seller's head. When did any courier company operate without accepting credit card payments? It's like the unicorn - it does not exist. The scammer states that he can send payments via PayPal on the Internet, but cannot pay his courier company via money transfer on the Internet. That in itself is really stupid and illogical.
But that is the entire basis of the scam, to get the seller to pay this phoney courier by irrevocable money transfer before the seller sees the money for the item in his PayPal account. One would think that people would not be so gullible as to be caught, but many people have lost money to this ridiculous scam.
Literally all of the Internet scams rely on money transfer by Western Union or MoneyGram for the simple reason that these transfers are untraceable and irrevocable. Sending money with money transfer services is just like sending cash. Once the money is sent, it is gone and cannot be recovered for any reason, even if it was involved in a fraudulent transaction. Western Union and MoneyGram do not care if money is sent by stupid fools to scammers - it's none of their business.
This is essentially how the Nigerian Oil Scam and most other scams operate. Scammers promise extraordinary amounts of money to be transferred to the accounts of their targets or make large purchase orders, lead them on with fake ID documents to convince them of their bona fides, then allege that funds are ready to be transferred when a few minor fees are paid to various officials or to bribe certain people or as payment acceptance and tendering fees.
Of course this is all complete fiction and it is always the fact that those alleged fees and bribes are always to be sent by Western Union or MoneyGram, never by traceable or reversible bank transfers.
Many of the Nigerian 419 type scams will purport to come from Western Union or MoneyGram offices in Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast and other African nations. These scammers rely on potential targets not knowing that neither Western Union nor MoneyGram have offices in those nations. These companies simply use banks and other agencies. So any emails alleging to come from Western Union offices in Africa are completely bogus because those offices simply do not exist.
The reason that these scammers are very successful, with some of them becoming multi-millionaires from merely sending out emails, is that they rely on the greed and dishonesty of gullible fools. If a person receives an email promising an illicit transaction of millions of dollars and the sender doesn't even know the name of that person, obviously the whole thing stinks to high heaven. So if that person responds and offers to facilitate that illegal transfer of funds into his own bank account, he is already showing his greed and willingness to commit a criminal offence and the scammer knows it.
When the inevitable request for funds from the sucker arrives, it is only his greed that allows him to imagine that the payment of these bogus fees will result in him receiving millions of dollars, so he becomes more complicit in the criminal act by sending this money to the scammer. This is where the scammer knows that he really has a sucker at hand, ready to be taken to the cleaners. The scammer will then play the fool like a fish, stating that certain certificates have been obtained, but some people need to be bribed to allow the mythical millions of dollars to be released. This continues until the scammer has squeezed out every possible sum of money from the target.
The beauty of this scam is that the sucker does not have a leg to stand on if he complains. He has actually agreed to become a criminal by conspiring in a purported illegal financial transaction, so it is rather hard for him to go to police and tell them that he has been scammed because he tried to obtain millions of dollars that he was not entitled to receive. On top of that, the scammers are usually right out of the jurisdiction of the target's nation, so the authorities cannot do a thing to recover the scammed funds or to prosecute the scammer.
If anybody thinks that only idiots would be sucked into such a blatant scam, they are very wrong. Many highly-educated professional people, such as doctors and lawyers, have fallen for the Nigerian Oil scam. There are constant reports of people sending a lot of money every week to these scammers and even when some of them are made aware of the fact that they are being scammed, they refuse to believe it and keep sending money.
This just shows that the greed of people and their willingness to commit illegal acts is the one facet of human nature that is the greatest weapon in the arsenal of the scammers. If people were not willing to try and obtain money to which they were not entitled, those scammers would not stand a chance. But human nature being what it is, the crooks running operations such as the Nigerian Oil Scam will always prosper.
There is a marvellous website at Scam-O-Rama - Presents The Lads From Lagos that has mountains of hilarious examples of people baiting the scammers with the funniest and most preposterous routines. If every recipient of scam emails spent a little time responding to them and wasting the time of these swindlers, they would not have time to actually get to scam anybody. If you want to laugh your head off, check out the stories on Scam-O-Rama.
I decided to analyse the sort of emails that scammers send out and what they offer. In essence, this is what wound up in the Hotheads honeypot account in one 12-hour period in September 2011 out of a total of 68 spam emails.
This all happened in one overnight period after the spam inbox was cleared at 8:00pm in the evening and checked at 8:00am the next morning. This exercise shows the extent of the scamming and why the crooks rely on a very small percentage of people falling for these scams to make a very comfortable living. However, it must be noted that in the case of the advance fee scams, these would not work if it were not for the greed of people who reply to the scam emails and make themselves available to receive money to which they are not entitled, as well as displaying a willingness to break the law by conspiring to transfer funds illegally.
Another analysis was done on the morning of 02 November 2011, when in the space of just one single hour, the Hotheads honeypot email account received 20 emails. 5 of those emails were fake romance offers and fake purchase offers, similar to the above Ministry Procurement Service and Ministry of Finance of Ghana scam. The other 15 emails were straight-out classic Nigerian 419 scams offering a total of $187.2 million dollars to recipients who were stupid enough to believe them.
One can understand and feel sorry for lonely men being sucked into falling for emails purporting to come from females promising love and marriage, but it is very hard to feel sorry for people whose greed and willingness to commit crimes make them targets of Nigerian Oil and other Internet scams.
Just as an example of the prevalence of these scams, here is a collection of email addresses that sent their scams to the Hotheads honeypot email account in the space of just two hours on 04 October 2011. These do not include the various offers of romance from crooks purporting to be African women, or business offers and other assorted scams.
What is funny about this is that according to these emails when taken in total, if they are to be believed, there is more money locked up in bank accounts in Africa than in the entire world economy. And these generous individuals would like to transfer it all into the bank accounts of anybody who receives their bulk emails. This is apart from all those lottery winnings based not on people actually buying tickets in those alleged lotteries, but merely winning millions of dollars by virtue of their email addresses being selected at random, according to the emails.
How anybody could fall for this nonsense beggars belief. But they do - and those scammers make a very handsome living from gullible fools. Because the Nigerian Oil and similar scams are the third-largest industry in Nigeria, it is no wonder that the Nigerian government does little to stem the tide of these scammers. In fact it is almost certain that very high officials in the Nigerian government are complicit in these scams and receive large payoffs to turn a blind eye to them.
In virtually every instance of the Nigerian 419 scams, lottery scams and any scams involving the transfer of large sums of money, it is the greed and stupidity of the gullible fools that is the greatest asset to scammers. As a result of Operation Echo Track, Queensland's top fraud police investigator Brian Hay proved this when he stated, "The biggest losses were incurred in the Nigerian investment scams and only about 24% of the people we contacted and told they were participating in this scam believed us. So, 76% continued to send millions of dollars after we told them they were participating in a scam."
Many of the scammed people identified by Echo Track were educated, with those involved including doctors, lawyers, engineers and professors. The Queensland figures were estimated to be one-fifth of the national loss to such scams. None of the victims had received any money in return. Many had attempted suicide, lost their wealth, lost friends, became estranged from their family, deceived partners, suffered divorce or committed criminal offences to obtain more money.
One can only marvel at the fact that many of these fools were highly educated and successful professionals, but were tempted by the lure of obtaining millions of dollars by willingly participating in what was presented to them as outright criminal behaviour. Obviously if a person is told that there is $20 million lying in a dormant bank account in Nigeria belonging to a deceased person and he can get this money transferred into his own account by masquerading as the deceased person's next of kin, he would obviously be committing a crime by participating in a scheme to fraudulently embezzle such funds. Therefore the scammed person is not a victim by any means, but a person participating in a scam of obtaining money by deception. Even though the money does not exist, the target of the scam doesn't know that, but does know that he is trying to get money to which he is not entitled.
It's hard to feel sorry for idiots who participate in these advance fee scams, but even harder to sympathise with them when they are highly educated and allegedly intelligent people. And it's more difficult to feel any sort of sympathy for the three out of four people who continue to send money to scammers, even after they have been contacted by police and informed that they were participating in scams. If people are told by authorities that they are being fleeced and they willingly continue to allow themselves to be scammed, then they really deserve to lose everything.
It has been reliably reported that around $500,000 per month is being scammed from Queenslanders alone by Nigerian crooks. It is quite extraordinary that so many people could fall for such transparent nonsense, but they do. For instance, the case of one Queensland businessman, Graham Schoenfisch, is quite horrendous and hard to believe.
It was reported on TV program 60 Minutes that Schoenfisch and his wife Dot had been handing over money to Nigerian conmen for over 16 years to the tune of more than half a million dollars. Schoenfisch, who had two successful businesses has absolutely nothing to show for this and he and his wife are completely broke. They lost their businesses, the family home and their retirement property.
What was truly extraordinary was that even after Schoenfisch was warned that he was being scammed, he continued to send money to the scammers. He stated, "It became to me like if I didn't put it in, I wouldn't get anything - I would lose everything." Of course that is exactly what happened - Schoenfisch lost everything.
Detective Inspector Brian Hay, Queensland's top fraud police investigator said, "We've interviewed 133 people and collectively, those people have lost somewhere in the order of just over $80 million. Australia could be losing tens of millions of dollars every month, potentially."
Most of the Nigerian 419 scams are rather transparent and most people would recognise them as such. However, some of the scammers have set up very sophisticated operations that could fool most people.
For instance, a Queensland family was fleeced of more than $1.3 million in an elaborate variation of the Nigerian 419 scam. Steven Baker, a member of the Queensland family, was approached by a friend who believed her father, whom she had never met, had left a $US17 million ($20.38 million) estate when he passed away. He said that the woman had never met her father, but she knew his name and responded to a newspaper advertisement that had individually targeted her, mentioning both her and her father's name.
Fraudsters communicated with the woman through a solicitor from a Liberian legal firm offering her the "inheritance", however the woman could not afford the requested series of payments to cover supposed legal fees, administrative charges and local taxes to forward the funds to Australia. Baker was then approached to help.
During the scam, which lost the Baker family between $1.3 million and $1.5 million since early 2005, Baker travelled to Europe three times, where he was shown an elaborate ruse of fake government officialdom in Spain, Italy and Holland and was taken to a Spanish bank and shown a case of United States currency that was supposedly the inheritance. Baker came forward to police after viewing a TV current affairs program segment on Nigerian-style scams.
Police said that the scam in which the Baker family lost money was an especially elaborate version of the Nigerian-style scam, which can originate from any part of the world. "We can only theorise how they came to know the woman and I would suggest it would be from online chat rooms where she thinks she knows who she's talking to and people say a lot of things that they wouldn't tell others," Queensland Detective Brian Hay of the Fraud and Corporate Crime Group said.
Superintendent Hay stated, "I'd say they built up a profile and specifically targeted that person. This is a very elaborate, well-resourced and well-organised scam. The Baker family should feel no shame. They saw an opportunity, it seemed legitimate, they did a lot of research, a lot of the names of the companies and businesses all panned out to be legitimate with their cursory inquires." He warned that anyone who is asked to send money overseas for an investment or inheritance retrieval should contact the country's consulate in Australia first.
The level of sophistication of the scam that relieved the Baker family of around $1.5 million was elaborate, but nevertheless, when that amount of money is involved, a lot of research and verification is required, especially in the modern era, where complex legal documents that are fraudulent can be easily produced on a cheap computer.
Even the crudest and most ridiculous scams seem to pay off because of the utter gullibility, stupidity and greed of the people that they target. Some of the scam attempts are so badly formed that even a child could see that they are not genuine, yet adults, some of them very successful businessmen and professionals such as doctors, lawyers and engineers, are conned into sending lots of cash via irrevocable Western Union or MoneyGram money transfers.
For instance, an email was received in the Hotheads honeypot account that was so preposterously bad that it has been made available on the Downloads page- Scam Letter - Hilarious attempt that is riddled with the most stupid errors. The litany of the most fundamental mistakes clearly reveals that this scam letter, which came as an attachment to an email, was thrown together by some uneducated Nigerian scammer. Look at the really dumb errors in this letter that purports to come from an important British government department:
Those errors are so ludicrous that they really give the game away. As well, this letter has many grammatical errors and terrible phrases that would never have been written by anybody with a reasonable command of English, such as an official of a British government department.
So after reading this incredibly funny scam attempt, one really has to wonder how anybody would be fooled by it. But many people receive utter rubbish like this and promptly transfer money to Africans who are making a very comfortable living by doing nothing more than sitting in Internet cafés and sending out such laughable nonsense, between quick trips to their local Western Union or MoneyGram offices to pick up the loot sent by stupid people who fell for their scams.
Another scam email purported to come from the FBI in New York and it stated:
US COSTUME AUTHORITY? Can you imagine a real FBI document referring to US Customs as the US Costume Authority? Or the fact that "we have dully screened through this project" instead of "duly screened". And those "secrete sources" too. The third paragraph finally refers to the US Customs with the correct spelling, then talks about obtaining the Costume Clearance Certificate, being a Customs Clearance Certificate which is the basis of the scam - to get a sucker to pay an advance fee for a bogus document to clear a bogus consignment of money.
Another howler came from an idiot claiming to be the new director of the Fidelity Bank.
That is funny - "the Fidelity Bank Bored Director's". And all those other grammatical errors - "Mack it spam" - I presume that was supposed to be Mark it spam. Then there was - "making propel investigation". Imagine the director of a major bank writing to anybody like that. Would there be people who fell for such a ridiculous piece of crap? The sad answer is that there are countless ignorant fools, even in first-world nations who really are that stupid.
It is hard to believe that people fall for some of these scams, like this classic that claimed to be from the United Nations and talked about the President of the USA - "Barracks" Obama.
This email purports to come from a Mr Douglas Bryan of the UN, who, if he existed, would doubtless be an articulate and educated diplomat. Yet this clown refers to US President "Barracks" Obama and "complains" from security agencies in places such as Antarctica. Anybody who is fooled by such utter nonsense would have to be as dumb as a rock, yet scammers like this make a very nice living from suckers who send them money after receiving this garbage.
But emails with such preposterously crude errors that purport to come from English-speaking US government departments are received by fools who actually miss all those blatant errors and send money to the scammers. It is hard to have any sympathy for such idiots.
Even more ridiculous and stupid is the "Famous Person" scam, such as when the alleged wife of the President of the USA wishes to send the intended target a cheque for millions of dollars from the Benin Republic, where the chief industry seems to be scamming. This particular fraud is so badly crafted that only an imbecile could fall for it. There are so many blatant errors in it that I have highlighted them in red.
One has to wonder how anybody would believe that the above appallingly bad email could be written by the highly educated wife of the President of the USA and why she would even be personally involved with such a thing. Obviously the scam works because it has been running non-stop since Barack Obama has been in office. What is funny is that "Michelle Obama" wants to give somebody a cheque for $6 million, but then asks for the person's address and phone number. It is unimaginable that anybody would have such a large sum of money to hand over to somebody without knowing those details.
But that's the amazing and rather sad thing. For every thousand scam emails like this, one guillible idiot will send $98 to the scammer by Western Union. So if the scammer sends out 10,000 emails per day using a SMTP remailing service, he might receive over $500 per day, which is exellent money in Australia or the USA and an absolute fortune in places like Benin and Nigeria. Of course he will have to split the money with his accomplices in the scam gang, but the scammer will still be extremely wealthy when compared to a person on the average income of $750 per year.
Another funny one came from a scammer purporting to be Scott Portnoy of the World Bank Reconciliation Committee, which does not exist. Apart from all the shocking grammatical errors that even the dumbest native English speaker would never make, this wonderful line arrived in that email.
Any incontinence that the delay might have caused? So this alleged Scott Portnoy has no idea of the difference between incontinence and inconvenience. Nevertheless, this provided a damn good laugh.
Imagine an American official in the US embassy anywhere in the world writing the following garbage.
Here is an African idiot claiming to be the US ambassador to Benin, telling me about this fictional millions of dollars that he wants to send to me, along with his appalling lack of English skills. Diplomats are highly educated people and they certainly would not want to "inter-vain" in some inheritance funds "owning" to me in Africa. But even with such rubbish, these scammers still manage to suck money out of idiots all over the world.
Another typical African scammer claimed to be from Interpol in Benin, stationed at a famous airport. But not only did this idiot mis-spell the name of this airport, he placed it in Benin.
Heat-Throw Airport? There is a Heathrow Airport in London, but is there one in Benin? Not only that, this fool's email address was email@example.com. Would Interpol use a free Yahoo webmail address? Of course not, but amazingly, there are plenty of suckers out there that swallow such ignorant nonsense and send money to scammers on the basis of such ludicrous emails.
A scam email arrived, stating that the recipient's alleged inheritance was going to be given to a Patricia Gates unless the recipient paid a fee of some sort. Attached was this certificate.
The errors in this piece of utter garbage are so bad that any English-speaking person would see right through the scam. Check the errors:
It is mindblowing that any educated English speaker would receive this piece of rubbish and believe that it is authentic. But I had a good laugh when I got it.
A more insidious version of the Nigerian Oil Scam is the nasty email death threat. The scammer states that he is a hitman hired by somebody to kill him. This is a typical email from one of these scammers to me.
It is unfortunate that some people are intimidated into being blackmailed by such scammers because of their unfounded fear. These scammers are in no position to carry out those threats, so anybody who gets such emails should merely trash them on the spot. The response by me to this ridiculous and very hollow death threat was the usual one of daring the scammer to try and carry out his threat. Of course nothing ever happened.
The hitman scam occasionally pops up as a SMS on mobile phones. One particular version appeared in July 2012 and read:
Of course such crude attempts at extortion are just bluffs and any SMS like these should just be ignored and deleted on the spot.
In virtually every case, scammers in African and other parts of the world have no idea as to whom they send their scam emails, as they buy email lists that have been harvested from the Internet and send their scams to everybody on them. However it is a different story if the people fall for the scams and travel to meet the scammers on their home turf. There are countless reports of scam targets that have travelled to nations such as Nigeria and Ghana and been assaulted, robbed and even murdered by the scammers. Some have become so devastated by losing everything they had, that they committed suicide. Here are a few examples.
If you wonder how it is that you receive so many spam emails and why people's credit cards are so often compromised, here is one example of a crook offering to sell worldwide email lists and the tools required to send out millions of automated spam emails. He is also offering credit card details complete with the CCV - the security code that is on the back of them and on-line bank login usernames and passwords. He is also selling hacking software that scammers use to obtain ID and password details of potential victims.
Another facilitator sent me this email, offering a 50/50 split of the takings if I would partner with him.
This is a multi-billion-dollar criminal industry and is only going to get worse until people wise up and tighten up their own security and until financial institutions and merchants develop proper safeguards against scammers.
It is unfortunate that even when information about scammers is presented to Australian authorities, they are reluctant to act to apprehend these crooks. For instance, the Hotheads honeypot email account attracted one particular scammer who seemed like he might be a good candidate to string along, so I decided to do that and see what eventuated. It got to the point where the scammer was frequently ringing my mobile phone, trying to convince me to send money to release the mythical millions of dollars in the mythical trunk in Nigeria.
All of the calls were from overseas except for the final call on 14 September 2011, where I observed an Australian cellphone number on his Caller ID screen. I surmised that if the scammer was using an Australian cellphone number, he may have been in Australia and of course under Australian jurisdiction. So I immediately rang the Australian Federal Police and reported this information. I was advised to ring the government Scamwatch number.
So I duly rang Scamwatch, where I was told that this matter fell into the purview of Crimestoppers, so I rang them. Crimestoppers advised me that because the cellphone number could be located anywhere in Australia, the matter should be referred to the Federal Police. So I again rang the Australian Federal Police and spoke to somebody in their Computer Crime department, who advised me that even though I could provide all the details of the scam and even a local Australian mobile number that was being used to perpetrate this scam, the AFP had far too much on its plate and not enough resources to bother investigating this matter.
It seems that even when a golden opportunity arises to catch one of these Internet scammers when he may be within Australian legal jurisdiction, it is all too difficult for the authorities. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians lost over $1 billion dollars to scams and the authorities do little or nothing to prevent it or catch the perpetrators when they have the chance. This is a sad indictment of the police and is an abject disgrace.
Apart from the fake romance scams operating on Internet dating websites, virtually all Internet scammers use free webmail accounts or hijacked email accounts and money transfer companies. Nearly all of these scams could be stopped if certain service providers took measures to prevent scammers from availing themselves of their facilities, as follows:
Technologically speaking, such measures would not be difficult or expensive to implement. But if such measures were taken and users had the sense not to hand out their confidential passwords to scammers, the whole Internet scam business would grind to a halt. Unfortunately, stupid, greedy and gullible people drive this lucrative criminal industry and until they stop being sucked in by Internet scams, no amount of preventative measures by anybody will save them.
There is only one way for people to avoid being scammed and that is to recognise the methods used and to always be wary. If it sounds too good to be true, it's a scam. Remember that scammers are not your typical stereotyped criminal thugs. Scammers rely on being slick, convincing and above all, appearing honest, the exact opposite of what they really are. No conman is ever going to succeed by looking and sounding like a crook. The most successful scammers are people that look and act like saints and pillars of society. Here are some things to watch out for with scam emails.
There are many variations on the above scams, but they have one thing in common - they are all scams. Whenever you get such scam emails - delete them on the spot or if you are confident and want to have some fun that will only cost you some time, engage in some scambaiting and screw with these bastards.