Tag Archives: Advance Fee Fraud

Things the FTC doesn’t do: hold sweepstakes and give away cash prizes

Scammers are really getting meta- these days; it seems people have received phone calls, allegedly from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), informing them that they have won a large cash prize in a sweepstakes.

Among other duties, the FTC normally tries to protect consumers from scams. I guess the victims are supposed to think, “Well, surely if this call’s from the FTC, it’s legitimate.” Never mind the years of warnings that all begin with, “No matter who a caller claims to be…”

Naturally, the victim is told they have to pay taxes and fees up front by wiring between $1,000 and $10,000 to someone. So it’s a standard-issue sweepstakes scheme.

Folks, you can argue about whether different government agencies waste money or not until you’re blue in the face, but I can assure you of a couple things:

  1. The FTC isn’t running a sweepstakes and does not give away cash prizes.
  2. The FTC has never given away cash prizes (unless “giving away cash prizes” actually means “nailing rogue debt collection agencies to the wall” in some obscure regional dialect, which it doesn’t).
  3. The FTC is never going to run a sweepstakes. Or give away (say it with me) cash prizes.
  4. Whenever you do hear about a government agency giving a person or organization money for something, those aren’t sweepstakes prizes, and it’s not a random selection process. Those are grants, and the recipients had to apply for them. It’s a vastly different thing.

Also, you’d do well to remember this little nugget: it doesn’t matter if a caller claims to be from the FTC, the FBI, the ATF, Microsoft, Canada, or your Aunt Tilly, if they’re saying you won a sweepstakes you never entered and asking you to pay money up front before receiving the prize, they’re running a scam.

I haven’t run into an exception to that rule yet.

Nigerian 419 Scam: “Your Bank Draft”

Often, phishing emails are tricky because they contain an offer that many people would find tempting. This one I received over the weekend does not have that problem:

From: Dr Lawrence Burns <test@mir-grp.com>
To: ss@yahoo.com
Subject: YOUR BANK DRAFT

Dear Friend,

It is my pleasure to let you know about my success in getting those fund transferred under the cooperation of a new Partner from Greece. I didn’t forget your past efforts to assist me in transferring those funds.

Now contact my secretary Mr. Goodluck Okeke his email is (good_okeke@w.cn) ask him to send you the total $3.2 certified bank draft which I raised for your compensation so feel free and get in touched with him and give him your Address such as Full name Home address direct phone number where to send the draft.

Let me know immediately you receive it for us to share the joy. I am very busy here with investment projects which I am having at hand, finally, I left instruction to the secretary on your behalf, so feel free to get in touch with him.

Best regards,
Dr Lawrence Burns

$3.2? As in three dollars and twenty cents?

I don’t want to come off as some kinda spoiled, complacent jerkface here, Doctor Larry, but that seems like an awful lot of work for $3.20.

Obviously, they left out the word “million” and I’m just being snarky here, but there are some interesting things. We’ve got the usual email-address-salad going on here, with the mysterious “mir-grp.com” domain, the China-based “w.cn,” and someone at yahoo.com. We’ve also got a mention of someone named “Goodluck,” which is apparently a popular first name in (wait for it…) Nigeria.

In other words, all the evidence of a Nigerian 419 scam is present and accounted for.

Who Initiated Contact?

When it comes to recognizing and avoiding scams, one question that can be helpful is, “Who initiated this contact?” In many situations, the answer can be the difference between a legitimate transaction and fraud.

Scammers are proactive if nothing else—they usually don’t set up shop then wait around for people find them. There is often a “sales” element to a scam, in which the con artist has to actively approach a victim in order to offer the bait.

In other words, if the other party initiated contact, your chances of falling for a scam are increased. Let’s look at a few scenarios.

Scenario #1: Home Repairs

Think about what usually happens when your home needs repairs. You, the resident, usually start out by noticing that something needs to be fixed. You assess what needs to be done, and then make a decision as to whether you’re going to perform the repairs yourself. If you choose the DIY route, you go out and purchase materials and tools, but if the work is beyond your abilities, you’ll call a contractor, roofer, plumber or other service provider.

Now look at a home repair scam: it starts with a knock on your front door. When you answer, a stranger informs you that your gutters need cleaning, your driveway needs to be repaved, or that your siding needs fixed. You weren’t even aware there was a problem. From here, the scam takes one of a variety of paths: they may start with a minor repair for a reasonable-sounding price, then start adding on tasks (never completed) until you’re stuck with a bill for thousands of dollars. In other versions, they’ll talk you into a major repair job, collect a large down payment for the service, and then never show up to perform the work.

Notice who initiated contact in both of these examples: in the first, you called a contractor. Of course, there are shady contractors, but in general you’re going to get the service you paid for. In the second, they contacted you, and it turned out to be a scam.

Scenario #2: Lottery Scams

Here’s how a legal, legitimate lottery works: you visit the nearest convenience store, grocery store or gas station, where you purchase a lottery ticket. You wait for the little TV segment with the big tumblers full of ping-pong balls, and check your numbers against the ones drawn on television. Then you throw the ticket away, because you probably didn’t win a dime.

During a lottery scam, however, you are suddenly informed via email that you have won some lottery in the U.K., Canada, Australia or South Africa that you didn’t purchase a ticket for. If you respond to this message, you will be told that you have to pay taxes and fees before you can claim the prize. You wire a few thousand dollars overseas and never hear from them again. You’ll always lose in this situation.

Once again, the question of who initiates contact is a strong indicator of the legitimacy of an offer.

Scenario #3: Employment Scams

When you’re looking for a genuine job offer, you research local employers who are hiring, update your resume, write cover letters and send these out. If they’re interested in hiring you, they call you in for an interview (or several), and they make a decision based on your qualifications.

Employment scams work the other way around: you just check your email one day, and there’s an offer for a high-paying, work-at-home style job waiting for you, from some company you’ve never heard of. If you jump on this out-of-the-blue job offer, you’ll eventually be asked to cash a fraudulent check and wire the funds out of the country, leaving you with a loss of thousands.

“Who initiated contact?” isn’t always a foolproof method, and it doesn’t apply to every situation, but it’s a good idea to keep the question in the back of your mind. You might be glad you did one day.

Thank the scammers

Remember the good old days when a cashier’s check was beyond repute?

If somebody paid you with one of these documents, you could take it to your bank or credit union, present it to a teller, and walk away with cash in your pocket. It usually didn’t even matter how large the check was.

Not anymore. At an increasing number of financial institutions, holds are placed on cashier’s checks now, even the ones for moderate amounts. Do you find that annoying or inconvenient?

Thank a con artist. Because of rampant lottery scams, secret shopper scams and advance fee fraud (not to mention people just creating their own fake cashier’s checks and taking them to the bank), many financial institutions no longer treat these items as cash. You’ll have to wait for that check to be verified as legitimate—sometimes five or more days, and possibly even longer for large amounts.

How about ATM deposits?

ATMs were the banking of the future, remember? You could make all your deposits and withdrawals electronically. It didn’t matter if the lobby was open, it didn’t matter if it was the middle of the night; you could do your banking on your time, at your convenience. It was so convenient and futuristic that if you made your deposits at the ATM, you’d get instant availability!

Watch for that to start disappearing, too. We recently stopped taking ATM deposits altogether because of fraud losses. Look for more financial institutions to follow suit, or to at least drastically modify how ATM deposits are handled.

Sure, I’d argue that making ATM deposits available same day was folly on the part of the financial services industry from the get-go, but a lot of people (who weren’t depositing empty envelopes and fraudulent checks) liked this service. It will disappear soon enough. If you find that inconvenient, thank a scammer.

How about that neighborhood bank or credit union you’ve been going to for 20 years? They know you, and they know whom you work for. Your payroll check has come from the same company that whole time (it still looks exactly the same, for that matter). All of a sudden, they tell you there will be a hold on your check.

Why? Because of skyrocketing fraud losses, watch for financial institutions to start treating every customer/member as a stranger, and treating every check like it’s the first time they’ve seen one. Sure, you can get mad and close your account, but you’ll get the same treatment at the place down the street.

Thank a crook for all these inconveniences. They’re the ones who are making it all possible.

I’m sure the financial industry will find a way to restore some services (electronic checks and direct deposit will play a major role). Right now, though, we’re all playing catch-up with the scammers. I always tell you to “stay vigilant,” but that goes for us, too: we have to adapt to the changes, or risk going gentle into that not-so-good night.

Overpayment Scams

Burn this into your memory:

“Cash this check, then wire money back to me” always equals scam.

I’ve said it a million times before when discussing secret shopper and lottery scams, but the actual context just does not matter. Anyone who gives you a check to cash so you can wire cash back to them is a con artist.

 It’s pretty easy to remember that when you’re looking at a letter from a Nigerian Prince, or an email that says you won the “Microsoft Lottery” or something, but there are versions of the overpayment scam that target businesses, too.

Let’s say you’ve got a property for rent. You get a call from someone who seems really interested in the space. They agree to send you a deposit to hold the property for them. You tell them it’s $800 (I’ve never been in this business, so I don’t know if that’s a realistic number or not).

A couple days later you get a cashier’s check for $3,000. You call the renter about the overpayment, who tells you to just wire the difference back to him. The check will turn out to be counterfeit.

And there it is; you are about to fall for the same old scam, just in a new context.

The same thing happens on Craigslist and online classified sites. You’re selling an item. Somebody contacts you with the intent to buy, so you agree on a price of $500. You get a check for $3,000, with instructions to wire the excess back. Exact same story.

Think about this: would you send a extra couple thousand dollars to an online seller, and trust this stranger to give you back your change? Online classifieds are risky enough without handing over four times the cost of the item you’re hoping to receive. My online classified rule is: whether buying or selling, if you can’t meet in person, you’re not interested. The short version (and homage to the Surf Punks) is: Locals Only!

There are versions of this scam that target business owners, too. The details just do not matter—those checks are always going to turn out to be counterfeit, and you’re always going to end up losing money.

Shoppers Sweepstakes Lottery: haven’t we been here before?

It looks like another lottery scam is making the rounds in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. This time, people are receiving letters that tell them they’ve won $125,000 in something called the “Shoppers Sweepstakes Lottery.”

There’s a cashier’s check enclosed, naturally, for $3,875, drawn off Evansville Teachers FCU.

The instructions are (say it with me, now) to cash the check and wire $2,875 back to the company, which in this case is “Dominion Investment Securities, Inc.”

To me, this is all déjà vu, that feeling you’ve been somewhere before. This is probably because this lottery scam is exactly like countless others I’ve seen over the past couple years.

Just make sure you don’t go all jamais vu if you get one of these letters. That’s the opposite of déjà vu—you’ve seen something a million times, but you feel like it’s the first time you’ve ever been there.

Tell your friends, tell your neighbors: please don’t feed the con artists.

There are ways to earn money online; start by ignoring almost everything on the Internet

It’s easy to get bogged down in all the negatives when you’re writing article after article about scam and fraud prevention. “Here’s how not to get taken,” you tell people, and leave it at that.

However, the truth is that not everyone on the Internet is trying to steal from you.

Okay, most, but not everyone. The key is to be able to tell the difference.

I read a nice article from CBS News today (Work at Home and Make Money – REALLY!) that not only gives great tips on avoiding work-at-home scams, but actually offers suggestions of legitimate companies that can help you earn money from home. I’ve never really seen that before.

One of the things you’ll immediately notice is that none of these companies scream about anyone making $5,000 per week. In some cases, you have to have some pretty good knowledge of a topic, or even certification. In others, you’re basically selling your stuff on eBay (if it’s just old stuff) or Etsy (if it’s something vintage or handmade).

Nobody is getting rich off these systems. If it’s fabulous wealth you’re after, you’re going to have to be a lot more inventive. But if your goal is simply to supplement your income, there might be something useful in the article.

How to Avoid Lottery Scams

Below is the text of my column for The Chronicle that appeared in the August 25, 2010 edition.

Q: I got a letter that said I won the lottery in the United Kingdom. It included a cashier’s check to cover taxes and fees. Is this for real?

A: Not even a little bit. Sorry.

What you have is a Lottery Scam letter. These have been circulating for years, and thousands of people have lost incredible amounts of money.

It usually works like this: you receive a letter than informs you that you have won a foreign lottery in which “no tickets were sold.” The lottery is most often based in the United Kingdom, but South Africa, Australia and other countries have been used as well.

The letter further states that, to claim your prize money, you have to pay some sort of taxes or fees up front. The cashier’s check included is supposed to cover this amount. You are instructed to cash the check at your bank or credit union, then take the cash to Western Union and wire it back to the sender.

A few days later, your financial institution informs you that the check was counterfeit, and that you’re now on the hook for the amount you cashed it for – usually in the $3,000-$4,000 range. The problem is that you have already wired this money out of the country. Once you make a wire transfer, you cannot get that money back.

Some people are under the impression that the financial institution that appears on the check will cover the loss, but that is not how it works. They did not issue the check – they had nothing to do with it at all. If someone made fake checks with your name on it, would you feel responsible to cover them?

Others believe their own financial institution will cover the loss, but once again, that is just not the way it works. From their perspective, all that happened was that you came in, you presented a monetary instrument, you received cash in exchange for it, and that check turned out to be counterfeit. They have no way to verify where it came from – you could have printed it yourself. They handed the cash to you. You are the one who has to pay it back.

The above is sort of the “classic” version of a Lottery Scam. Like most fraudulent activity, this scam has been adapted to new technologies. While some people still receive Lottery Scam postal mail that includes a counterfeit check, e-mail has become the main channel for this crime.

It starts the same way – you get an email that informs you that you have won the lottery in a foreign country. Since they cannot send you a check through e-mail, crooks will attempt to convince you to call a “claims agent” for further instructions, or to e-mail personal details back to the sender.

Next, they either mail you a counterfeit check with the same instructions as before – cash it and wire it back – or they will simply attempt to get you to wire money directly to them, skipping the check altogether. This second scenario often turns out much worse; while the counterfeit check usually nets the crook around $3,000 one time from each victim, if they can string you along and get you to keep wiring more cash, they can bilk you out of much more. There are people who have lost tens of thousands of dollars to this scam – victims’ entire life savings wiped out before they realize they have been had.

Like so many forms of fraud, this scam can be avoided by just remembering a few simple facts. First, you have to play the lottery to win the lottery. They do not just draw random names or e-mail addresses out of a giant hat.

Second, any time someone sends you a check and tells you to cash it and wire the money back to them, you are looking at a scam. There is no scenario in which this is a legitimate request.

Finally, if a stranger is offering you large amounts of money for free, do not trust them. What seems like the answer to your prayers could turn out to be the start of a financial nightmare.

Ridiculous Spam Friday the 13th

How’s that for timing? The thirteenth installment of Ridiculous Spam Friday falls on an actual Friday the 13th. I love it when a plan comes together.

Let’s get to the garbage…

From: Dick Glock <[removed]@amadorcoe.k12.ca.us>
Date: Sunday, August 01, 2010 11:30 AM
To: info@lotto.co.uk
Subject: Final Notification!!!?

Dear e-MAIL Winner,
Your email address won £850,000.00 GBP in this month NATIONAL LOTTERY E-mail online drew.
To file for your claim, contact our agent Mr.Albert Nelson.  with
the details below(Full Names, Contact Address, Country, Age, Sex, Occupation &
Telephone numbers) to this Email: uknldepartment2010@discuz.org  Phone Number: Tel:+44 7024027755

MODE OF PAYMENT !!!

Option (1)  Via Courier Delivery

Option (2)  Via Bank Wire Transfer

Note: This is an automatic message do not click on your reply button send all details to the below  Email:  uknldepartment2010@discuz.org  

Yours Sincerely,
Dick Glock

I removed the email address under “From” because it is apparently the legitimate address of an administrator for a school district out in California. Where do spammers get the legit addresses from?

At any rate, since it’s just another lottery scam message, you don’t even have to wonder why a school admin would be telling you about a lottery, since you already know it’s a scam. The incredulous punctuation in the subject line (“!!!?”) is cute, though.

From: Zoosk Request Notification <noreply@dipfishesnet.com>
Date: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 12:09 PM
To: [correct address]
Subject: Facebook Notification – Zoosk dating app

-Someone is searching for you on a Facebook application called Zoosk-     
      
Press here to see who wants to make a connection with you:     
http://dipfishesnet.com/c/ejAvaGhF7140LFFvOEtFKA.html?0      

—–      
             
To not receive this message again please visit this page:     
http://dipfishesnet.com/c/ejAvaGhF7140LFFvOEtFKA.html?1     
      
or write to:     
      
Zoosk Inc. 475 Sansome Street., 10th Floor,     
San Francisco, CA 94111     
To remove yourself from this list,
click here http://dipfishesnet.com/u/ejAvaGhF7140LFFvOEtFKA.html
or write to us at:
PO Box 85073
Richmond, VA 23285-5073

And how, pray tell, would an application on Facebook (I thought Zoosk was its own site) be trying to find me at my work email address? That’s not the one I use there.

This one serves as a good reminder: never click the “unsubscribe” link in a spam message. All you’re doing is confirming that your address is good. I wonder what happens if you write to the P.O. Box, though. I’d imagine putting your email address, full name and home address into the hands of these people could be even worse. Ten bucks says that P.O. Box is just a drop site that is set up to forward everything to Russia.

From: [removed]
Date: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 10:29 AM
To: [removed]
Subject: Hello!

Hello!
How are you recently?
I bought a laptop from a website:   www.laosm.info/ Last week, i  have got the product, its quality is very good and the price is  competitive. They also sell phones, TV, psp, motor and so on, by the  way, they import products from Korea and sell new and original  products, they have good reputation and have many good feedbacks. If  you need these products, look at this website will be a clever choice.
I am sure you will get many surprise and benefits.
Greetings!Hello!

Hello! This one came from a person I work with, although from their personal email address. Somehow it was used to forward this message to every one of her contacts. Greetings! She’s perfectly capable of using coherent English, so I could tell right away something was fishy.

I’m sure you’d get all kinds of “surprise” if you tried to follow that link and actually purchase electronics, and there’d be absolutely nowhere to give them any negative “feedbacks.” Hello! Greetings!

Valley of Ridiculous Spam Friday

It is unwise to linger overlong on doorsteps in these troubled times, so let’s just get to the spam, already…

From: MICROSOFT CORPORATIONS <[removed]@ufl.edu>
Date: Saturday, July 10, 2010 9:36 PM
To: microsft@alive.co.uk
Subject:

You have been awarded the sum of E1,625,000.00GBP in the MICROSOFT EMAIL PROMOTION AWARD 2010.Cont Mr Mark Anderson with your names,address,phone and Country to Email: microsft_loto2010@9.cn or call +4470-4573-9535 for moreinformation on this award.

If there really was a lottery of this type based in the United Kingdom (.uk), why would the email have been sent from the University of Florida (ufl.edu), and ask you to reply to a Chinese address (.cn)?

Of course, we both know this is a scam, you and me, so we’ll just move on, now, won’t we?

From: Mr. Albert Harry <albert.h@hungary.org>
Date: Monday, May 24, 2010 12:41 AM
To: yao.koos@9.cn
Subject: I Need Your Corporate Business Assistance!

Dear Sir/Madam,

It’s my great pleasure to seek your help and genuine co-operation to our mutual benefit and I believe that you will not betray me with the trust and confidence i’m about to bestow on you. I am Mr.Albert Harry, procurement manager to SJCM Solid Minerals England (UK). My GM normally send me to Malaysia to purchase a product called Borax Oil Lq, which is use in the purification/cleansing of Gold and Precious Stones Borax Oil Lq is very cheap in Asia Malaysia compare to US and Europe,per carton of the product cost $6,500 USD to $7,000 USD. While in Asia Malaysia it only cost $2,000 USD. per carton and  you will supply to my company at the rate of $3,500 USD Per carton.

Now,I am expecting a promotion to become a branch manager and my GM is mandating a person to represent the company. I do not want my colleague to know the source/actual cost prize of Borax Oil Lq in Malaysia which is $2,000 USD, this is why i am contacting you.I propose the percentage ratio sharing made i.e. $1,500 USD per cartons. 85% for you and 15% for me. Upon your devoted seriousness and willingness to handle this business without betraying me.

I will pass you the contact details of the Malaysian Supplier. You are to act as the main supplier of the Borax Oil Lq in Malaysia to my Company, and you will buy the product from the Malaysian supplier at $2,000 USD.per carton with your capital and re-sell to my Company representative at $3,500 USD.

If you wish to take up this offer, kindly mail me at your earliest time I will furnished you with the next level of proceedings/contact details of the Malaysian distributor as well as that of my company directors to give a quotation.

Please If this business proposition offends your moral and ethic values, do accept my sincere apology.

Best Regards
Mr. Albert Harry

You know what? It does offend me, Mr. Albert Harry, and I don’t accept your apology. Once again, the “9.cn” domain shows up.

From: Sr. Douglas Gregg <sr.douglasgregg@srdouglasgregg.com>
Sent: Monday, July 26, 2010 11:35 AM
To: [removed]
Subject: Your Advise Needed Urgently

I am Sr. Douglas Gregg,

I’m writing to inform you my desire for you to assist me contact a Cooperate Fiduciary Company in United-State, to assist me receive a shipment it contain funds ($31.9Million) in a shipment package.

It was shipped via a Shipping company based in Bern Switzerland to their affiliate vault in (US).

Please email me for more detail.

Awaiting your urgent response.
Regards,

Sr. Douglas Gregg.

sr.douglas.gregg@zoho.com

So now you’re trying to get me to believe a bog box o’ cash is waiting for me somewhere? I’m trying to figure out what the setup here is, but I have no doubt it would involve wiring money to Sr. Douglas.

What the heck does the “Sr.” mean when it comes before a name, anyway? Is it supposed to be “Sir?” I’ve never seen that before. I wasn’t aware of the need to abbreviate a three-letter word. I mean, it’s already pretty brief. I like how it’s part of the email address, too.

This concludes our latest batch of emails you should ignore. Not just these specific messages, but anything that looks even a little bit like them.