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Get Rich Quick - and Die?

Internet Scams a Danger - But There's Help!


by Jim Bray

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

That's old advice, but never has it been more timely than in today's online world, where predators try to exploit unwitting people for their nefarious ends.

The latest online scam to hit my e-mail inbox supposedly came from Africa, as a cry for help from the Deputy Security Officer of the Central Bank of Sierra Leone.

The e-mail spun the heart rending tale of this person having witnessed the diversion of millions of dollars by Sierra Leone officials during the bloody civil war there. My "benefactor" also claimed to have absconded with US$20 million while taking a cache of cash to a neighboring country to buy arms and other military supplies.

This made me wonder what made him think he was better than the corrupt officials he was complaining about, but common sense doesn't appear to be in the vocabulary of these crooks…

Anyway, the upshot was that he wasn't going back to Sierra Leone and he wanted to put this twenty megabucks into my personal bank account so he could get it out of Africa safely and invest it in "my country." For my kind participation I would get a 30 per cent commission.

Not bad for no work, eh?

The e-mail was badly written, all in upper case, in broken English - all of which somehow made it seem more authentic than if it had come from a really slick and professional organization.

Still, a 30 per cent commission for allowing some supposedly altruistic stranger to use my bank account seemed a marvelous income generating opportunity, so I immediately jumped in with both feet.


Actually, it's been a couple of years since I fell off the cabbage truck (though my kids would disagree), so I started digging for information.

A Web search brought me to NASPA, the National Australian Security Providers Association, where there's an extremely enlightening page on Scam Letters and Frauds (you can find it at

My supposed benefactor's letter wasn't listed among the scams, but there was another Sierra Leone swindle that was close enough. Not only that, but the site has a fairly long list of similar letters, but purporting to be from Nigeria. Each one's different, but similar enough that you can tell they're either related to or inspired by each other.

They add up to a pretty scary group of scenarios, especially when you consider some other information I discovered.

You see, a friend had also heard of such the Nigerian scam and did some background research of his own. Apparently, this little adventure has netted its share of victims, including lawyers, real estate agents and other professionals proving once and for all that schooling and position in life is no indication of how smart you are in the real world.

In some cases, the victim eventually gives them his or her bank account details and authority to conduct transactions. In other cases they give their credit card info, supposedly to facilitate the transfer of the millions of dollars.

The deception really gets serious when the victims actually cough up cash advances to cover unexpected expenses (legal fees, bribes, etc.). By this time the victim is past the point of no return, and pays. Not surprisingly, his or her bank account ends up emptied.

But it can get worse. The criminals have apparently also been known to ask their victim to visit them, to consummate the deal and are brought into the foreign country via bribes without a proper visa. Upon arrival, not surprisingly, "problems" rear their ugly heads. The flim flammers supposedly tell the victims that a government official wants a bribe, or the bank requires a transfer fee, and so on. Since the victims are in the country clandestinely, and anxious to go home, they pay.

Not only that, but I heard that if the victims try to back out they're threatened with "police intervention" because of their illegal presence in the country and I've even heard there've been murders.

Nice bunch of people with whom to get involved…

One of the links from the NASPA page includes a series of e-mails between the scammers and a "scamee" (before he caught on) and it's very educational; I highly recommend it.

So remember those famous words: "Let the Buyer Beware."

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006