Scams, Schemes, and Scum: Advanced Fee Frauds

“Greetings!  I am the executor of the estate of the Nigerian Prince Iam Notreal.  I am looking for someone who can help transfer the money from his estate into the United States.  In return for your help in conducting this transfer, you will receive a substantial reward, equal to 45,029,387 US dollars.  I just need a few thousand dollars to pay the accounting expenses.  Please respond with your bank account information and relevant passwords at your earliest convenience.”  Sound like a tempting offer?  Think again!

The Scheme

Chances are, you’ve encountered emails saying something similar to this during your  time online, particularly if you don’t have a very effective spam filter on your email system.  The scam is hopefully very obvious; if you give up your financial information (or send money in advance as a ‘processing fee’, or something similar), you’ll end up losing your money and never see a penny in return.  By holding out the possibility of huge returns on your ‘investment’, the scammer hopes to make you blind to the reality that the offer is a fake, and to get money or financial information out of you.

Historical Advance Fee Frauds

Spanish Prisoner: A classic advance fee fraud, dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century.  The fraudster convinces the victim that there is a rich man being held in a Spanish prison, and if some money can be provided to secure his release (in the form of bribes), then the victim will be richly rewarded when the man is released.  Of course, such a reward will never come.
Nigerian (419) Scam: The modern scam with which most of us are familiar, featuring emails sent from untraceable accounts (frequently originating in Nigeria, hence the name of the scam), trying to get money from victims.  They can either focus on getting victims to send them money voluntarily (usually through a wire transfer, making the money untraceable and unrecoverable) or on getting financial information from the victim in order to defraud them.

An Example Scheme

I decide that, after a whole week spent scamming my way to a small fortune, to use my email skills to make money.  I create an elaborate scenario, where I claim to be an employee at a bank who knows of a rich, elderly client who is about to die with nobody to inherit his vast fortune.  Now of course, I can’t simply keep all his money for myself; being an employee, I would be too suspicious.  Instead, I offer to transfer the money into the account of the email recipient, in exchange for an ‘advance fee’ to cover the legal fees of the transfer.

What the average 'Nigerian Prince' actually looks like
What the average 'Nigerian Prince' actually looks like

Realizing that there are few people who would fall for such a scheme, I decide to contact thousands, even millions of people at once.  Luckily for me, I can use the power of technology to reach them via email and other technological means to reach those people with minimal effort on my part.  So what if only one in a million people will fall for my scheme; if I contact ten or twenty million, I’ll still have a steady supply of people responding.  Once they do, I can follow up with the next part of plan, to get the people who respond to give me access to their accounts or to send me money through a wire transfer, whatever my diabolical mind can determine.  All I need is an opening.

How to Protect Yourself

Be Skeptical – I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but nobody, with the possible exception of your parents, will give you great amounts of money for nothing.  If you get any offers for free money, there’s going to be some kind of catch. There’s always a price when you receive money, such as having to do something you’d prefer not to do with your time in exchange for money (also known as ‘work’).  Don’t expect to get money for nothing, and you’ll reduce your risk of being scammed significantly.

Take Care When Sending Money to Strangers – You shouldn’t send money to people who try to contact you online.  If you do need to send money to someone online, for a legitimate item sold on an auction site, for example, stick to methods that offer you some protection, such as PayPal or other online payment services, rather than using wire transfers.  There are legitimate sources of goods and services online, but avoiding scams requires diligence and care.

Don’t Give Out Financial Information – The best way to protect yourself is to ensure that nobody other than you has access to your financial info.  If you do get embroiled in a scam, sending money via a wire transfer or other method will be bad, but at least your losses will be limited to what you actually send; the scammers won’t get any more money from you (at least, as long as you don’t take their comments about ‘needing more money for additional fees’ seriously).  While losing money is never fun, having your life savings depleted because a scammer got into your accounts is even worse.

Follow these steps, and you’ll find yourself much safer from advanced fee frauds.  Just don’t worry the next time someone from Nigeria tries to give you some money, and delete the email right off the bat.

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