Thursday, February 9, 2012

419 scams and how to spot them

Have you have ever received an email from a Nigerian prince or a barrister located somewhere in Africa?

Maybe you have been notified about some lost Nazi gold hidden in an unclaimed bank account or have been given an exclusive offer to buy gold direct from African gold mines?

These are some of the many Internet gold scams, and although the details vary, they tend to follow the same pattern.

They are called 419 scams because of the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code (part of Chapter 38: "Obtaining Property by false pretences; Cheating")

They are also known as "Advanced Fee Fraud", these are confidence tricks in which the target is persuaded to part with money upfront in order to gain more money later.

The scam always begins with an email that appears to be sent personally to you but in fact has been blind carbon copied and sent to millions of recipients. Only a small percentage will fall for it but given the millions of emails sent out daily, a surprisingly large number will be taken in by often imaginative scam story.

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The amounts of money that you are promised are usually in the millions of dollars and typically you are offered between 10 and 40% for helping the scammer.

The details vary. One story is that a person knows of a large amount of unclaimed money or gold which he cannot access directly.

It could be someone linked to a deposed African leader with a secret stash of riches, a bank employee who knows a terminally ill millionaire and needs help in accessing the money, a deathbed confession of lost Nazi gold or any number of imaginative scenarios.

Then the victim is sent official looking documentation, which looks convincing, and contains the sting. The victim will be asked to pay a fee for insurance and shipping upfront by western union or similar untraceable money wiring service.

The scammer takes the money and disappears.

This may sound unbelievable  but it has had disastrous. Some people have actually been lured over to Africa purportedly for business meetings and have been kidnapped, ransomed or even murdered.