NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2009
Email Scams
By Vinny La Bash, Regular Contributor,
Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group, Inc., Florida

vlabash (at) comcast.net (click to email author)

This article has been obtained from APCUG with the author’s permission for publication by APCUG member groups; all other uses require the permission of the author (see e-mail address above).

There are at least two dozen people in Nigeria that want to give me twelve million dollars. Imagine that! People are vigorously competing with each other to make me rich. You would think that after all the publicity over the last dozen years everyone would know about the Nigerian scam. Headhunters in New Guinea know about the Nigerian scheme. Lost tribes in the Amazon know about the Nigerian scheme. So why do the scammers keep doing it? Because people keep falling for it. Some folks want to believe, and nothing will stop them no matter what evidence sits in front of them.

Email scams like the one that keeps flowing out of Nigeria can be downright dangerous. Not only have people been scammed out of money, but in a few instances have actually lost their lives. That is a high price to pay for credulity.

Most unsolicited commercial messages (SPAM) may be annoying, but they do little more than eat up some bandwidth. The originators don’t want to harm you, just entice you to buy something. It’s sometimes called online advertising.

As the Internet evolves, so do the scammers. They have become more sophisticated at attempting to trick us out of our money, hand over personal information, reveal passwords, frighten us or make us believe in something that isn’t true.

For example, our current polarized political system has generated distrust of government in some places. A band of swindlers has used these sentiments to construct an email that “warns” you that the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI believe that you are involved in either money laundering activities or somehow complicit in terrorist activity. Information like that, even if false, can make people uneasy.

Fortunately, the scammers have a solution. For the small sum of $370 the Economic Financial Crimes Commission Chairman will send documentation certifying you as a proper upstanding citizen, thereby avoiding a messy prosecution and jail time. How could anyone pass that up? These government agencies must be terribly busy, and isn’t it a great comfort to know that they can resolve important matters by email if you’re willing to send them only a few hundred dollars?

Congratulations! You’ve won the lottery! There are many variations to this theme, but they all involve filling out a form before you can claim your prize. Don’t forget to include your social security number since they need to inform the IRS. What makes this scam so devious is that legitimate lotteries really do need this information. One thing that should puzzle you is how could you possibly win a lottery you haven’t entered?

Suppose you really did enter the contest or bought a lottery ticket, what then? Legitimate enterprises are aware of these scams and will almost always provide you with an alternate way of supplying the information. In other words, never be careless with personal information.

You receive an email informing you of a “problem” with your bank account. Strange, you don’t recall doing business with the bank. All you have to do to resolve the “problem” is click on the provided link and supply information that the bank already knows if you are a customer.

Tens of thousands of people receive these messages. A few may actually be customers of the bank. Some believing the email is real, click on the link, and are taken to a bogus site. Any information provided won’t be used to resolve any “problems”, but instead be used to clean out your bank account.

There are so many scams out there perpetrated by email it makes you want to give up in disgust. That would be understandable if there were no way to protect yourself, but many people forget the obvious: Use Common Sense.

When you get an email that asks you to be part of a plot to move large amounts of money offshore to your bank account by doing business with people you don’t know from a foreign country thousand of miles away, shouldn’t that arouse your suspicions?

Any text message that turns out to be an image should be suspect. The only purpose for turning text into images is to defeat spam filters. Be on your guard.

The bad guys are very creative and always seem to be one step ahead of everyone else. The FBI provides a service for citizens to receive the latest information about online scams. For more information on e-scams, please visit the FBI's New E-Scams and Warnings webpage at http://www.fbi.gov/cyberinvest/escams.htm. Visit the site at least once a month to be aware of new and exciting ways scammers have to separate you from your money.

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