There's at least one important reason people still get e-mails promising financial reward for help in getting money out of Africa.
The scam, which has shown up recently on some Juneau e-mail in-boxes, still works, said Sgt. Curt Harris, who heads Alaska State Trooper investigations into crimes involving computers and financial institutions.
Successful scams aren't just urban legend, said the founder of the Web site www.quatloos.com, which bills itself as a "cyber museum of scams and frauds."
"We get someone writing in every two weeks saying they've been caught in it," said financial advisor and best-selling author Jay Adkisson, from his Liguna Niguel, Calif., home Friday. "Greed is the most powerful of motivators."
The site highlights some of the absurdities of Internet fraud and reprints the e-mail that recently went to some people in Juneau. One writer claims to be from "the oil-rich Niger-delta of Nigeria" with a $12 million inheritance. Getting that money out of his unstable country requires help.
http://www.fbi.gov/cyberinvest/escams.htm - provides warnings and fraud alerts from the FBI.
http://www.ic3.gov - where people can file complaints if they have been the victim of an Internet hoax.
http://www.quatloos.com - founded in 1998 to educate the public on financial scams and frauds; it includes efforts private citizens have made to fight scammers and includes a discussion forum.
Fraudulent schemes come and go. They develop into other scams that go beyond the Nigerian prince who needs help from an American to recover his millions of dollars from limbo.
A dating scam often preys on people in chat rooms, Adkisson said. It can end up with a woman promising to visit after receiving the exit fee Nigeria will charge her to leave.
Another hits people selling cars in classified ads - arranging the deal and overpaying due to a stated misunderstanding of American money. Refund the difference, but keep part of it for your trouble, the scammer will say. Adkisson said by the time the overpayment check, possibly even what seems to be a cashier's check, is discovered to be worthless, the seller of the car has been taken.
The Internet makes scamming easier, especially when someone can hit 500,000 people with just a few minutes at the keyboard. It doesn't take many of those to make big money.
Even Americans have a piece of the action, according to FBI reports. Some even seem to have U.S. government stamps of authenticity.
The agency is warning people to beware of e-mails that appear to be from the Internal Revenue Service. It promises the possibility of $571.94, but is set up to steal information from people, said. Eric Gonzalez, spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said from Anchorage.
The e-mail usually comes with the title "IRS Tax Refund" and claims to be from firstname.lastname@example.org - seemingly the official IRS Web site. The FBI warns that when people click to fill out the form needed to get the refund, they are redirected to a different site that seeks personal information that can be used for identity theft.
"People want to believe there is free money," Gonzalez said.
The FBI also is warning people about e-mails that purport to come from the FBI. They tell recipients the FBI has been monitoring their computer their Internet use and have found them accessing illegal Web sites. A demand for people to explain their actions entices them to open an attachment that contains a virus.
Harris said people should have heard that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It's advice they should listen to, he added.
"The Nigerian scam," Harris said, works often enough that is continues in e-mail form, long after it arrived at people's fax machines and, before that, via what people now call "snail mail."
Harris said he has no idea how many people in Alaska are being taken. Often people are too embarrassed to report being victims of such crimes. It can be difficult to do anything about the crimes when people send money to Nigeria, which isn't cooperative in helping Americans get it back.
While many have come to ignore the Nigerian-scam e-mails, Adkisson said others have made a hobby out of trying to make life more difficult for the senders.
At his Web site, a page is dedicated to exchanges a Phoenix man has had with the senders, never fronting them the money or codes that will access the money sought, but always seeming to have fun while leading them on and wasting their time.
"Now we have hundreds, if not thousands of people (doing the same thing)," he said. And the scammers don't like it.
"We get lots of hate mail from Nigeria," he added.
Tony Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
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