We reside in a hyperactive and connected system, where one person from a rural town in Japan can send an email, delivered instantly to another person in Spain. It once took weeks if not months, to get a message across the globe, but nowadays using electronic mail technology, anything and everything can be sent and received in the blink of an eye. Such hyper technology opens a gate for scammers, fraudulent individuals that would go great lengths to squeeze money out of those whom are gullible enough to blindly walk into a mouse trap.
There are many variants of internet fraud, but all center around the idea of milking as much money from naïve victims before suspicion arises. These types of fraud are collectively known as ‘419 Scams’, with the number 419 referring to the Nigerian Criminal Code for Fraud. Albeit the hundreds of variants of scams out there, two of them are the most notorious: The Nigerian Prince and Black Money scams.
Although originating some 200 years ago, the Nigerian Prince scam is still considered one of the most infamous of scams. The spam email starts with a polite introduction by the sender claiming he is either a wealthy diplomat or a member of a foreign royal family. Later, the sender pleas for the receiver to help him move millions of dollars from his homeland into the receiver’s bank account, followed by a promise of a large sum of money. The sender then states that he requires an advanced payment to be made, ranging from $5,000 to up to $100,000. If the receiver makes the advanced payment, the sender either states that more payments need to be made, or simply disappears with the money in hand. The following are a few examples of Nigerian Prince Email scams:
Then comes the Black Money scam, a sophisticated and seemingly legitimate form of fraud. In brief, the scam revolves around the scammer providing (fake) money covered in black ink to the victim, and stating that there is a form of chemical that can remove the black ink on the money. Let’s start from the beginning: the scammer starts by sending out thousands, if not millions, of emails to random e-mail addresses in hopes of a few naïve victims to respond. When contact is made, communication ensues. In the beginning, the receiver must pay various unrealistic taxes to the sender, such as fake government taxes, travel expenses, and etc. It is then required that both parties meet in an undisclosed location. The scammer reveals a suitcase full of money covered in black ink, claiming that the ink is nearly unwashable but that there is a chemical that can do so. The conman proceeds to take out a vial full of washing liquid, takes an inked out note from the suitcase, performs a sleight-of-hand, switching the inked note with an already real washed one, and shows it to the victim. Afterwards, the scammer persuades the victim to pay more money for more washing chemicals to cleanse the whole suitcase, stating that, of course, the chemical is very expensive. When the victim takes the suitcase of false money, over time there will be several delays, with the fraudsters claiming that the victim can’t have his money yet and still must pay many fees. This will continue until the victims is milked, or refuses to pay more money. By the time the police are involved, the scammer and the money are long gone. The following is an example of the scam email involved:
“I am a lawyer in Belgium and I am charged with seeking the rightful heir to certain assets which were deposited many years ago with a security company here in Brussels by a man who died a few years ago. We have made extensive searches to find any living heirs, but with minimal success. A man with your name is named in the Will and Testament as being the only beneficiary of these assets. We believe that you may be the person entitled and are writing to enquire if you have any dead relatives or friends who may have named you as a beneficiary of these assets in their will and testament. If so please let us have their names and any other information so we can check if you are indeed the beneficiary. The amount of the assets is $150,000 and one large trunk, contents unknown. Please reply immediately”
The estimated total costs of these scams vary, since many people are too embarrassed to report and admit that they were gullible enough to fall for them. In 2006, the United States government report indicated that Americans lost a total of $200 million to internet fraud, averaging at about $5,200 per incident. In the same year, a report in the United Kingdom pointed out that the scams cost the economy £150 million, with the average victim losing about £31,000. Such scams cause emotional and psychological affects within victims, such as losing trust in people, or even cases of suicide. Such as that in which a man from Cambridgeshire, UK lit himself on fire realizing that the £1.2 million ‘internet lottery’ he won was a scam, or when a Chinese student at the University of Nottingham killed herself in 2007 when she discovered that she had fallen for a similar scam. Some of these scams even go to great lengths, with kidnapping and murder being a few cases. Such as one case when a Japanese businessman was lured to Johannesburg, South Africa and was kidnapped by scammers whom demanded a $5 million ransom. The international nature of the crime, added to the fact that many victims are to proud to admit they were pulled into illegal activity, has made tracking down the criminal scammers extremely difficult. But despite the odds, there were still cases in which such criminals were apprehended. Such as when in 2004, 52 suspects were arrested in Amsterdam after a police raid, after which no scams were reported in the area for an extended time.
In the end, it’s pretty easy to locate and avoid scams. No matter how legitimate an email seems, or how trustworthy an individual presents himself, its better not to take risks and avoid false prospects entirely.
“Nigerian scam“. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
Harris, Misty (June 21, 2012). “Nigerian email scams royally obvious for good reason, study says“. The Province. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
“Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act of 2004“. Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Nigeria). Retrieved November 20, 2014.
“Suicide of internet scam victim“. BBC News. January 30, 2004. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
“Nigeria scams ‘cost UK and US Millions’.”. BBC News. November 20, 2006. Retrieved November 22, 2014.