No doubt, you have gotten at one time an e-mail claiming to be from a prince in Nigeria or some far-of country, stating that his father has died and left him a large sum of money and that this prince wants to share his wealth with you, a complete stranger…
This is merely a example of thousands of variations of an e-mail scam. Scams that people fall for every day. I recently did an e-mail interview with a member and moderator of the website www.419eater.com, dedicated to scamming scammers. Due to what these folks do (Scambaiting), for safety reasons, I won't divulge the real identity of this person I interviewed. I will say that they go by the screen name of Sheboppe on 419eater.com. Due to security reasons, my introduction will be vague and short.
Sheboppe is from the Western part of the United States. Their profession is in business and they are a moderator on the anti-scam site 419Eater, and a Scam Victim Support site www.scamwarners.com. Members of 419Eater are very active scam baiters, meaning that they bait scammers. They are the biggest anti-scam site in the world. At Scamwarners, They support victims of many kinds of scams, offering advice and help. Many victims come to them seeking support. Sheboppe is proud to be a moderator on such great sites, and glad to be part of the anti-scam world.
Now, the interview…
1) We always hear from friends and family and even now in a media push here in the States, warning us to not fall for email scams. But some people may not be able to tell what an email scam is or even what one looks like. I tell people "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is". In a nut shell, tells us what an email scam is, or more specifically, what are these "Nigerian" scams?
"An email scam is where the sender of the email is promising something for very little or nothing, merchandise at prices that are too good to be true, emails claiming to be from banks, PayPal, eBay or other places asking the recipient to update his personal information. These are known as "phishing" emails, and are used for the purpose of committing identity theft.
"Nigerian scams are actually any kind of scam. They are called "Nigerian Scams" because at the beginning, they originated from Nigeria. Scams are very widespread and currently originate from all over the world. The Nigeria scams are predominantly advance fee scams."
2) In your experience, what can someone look for so that they can shoot down even the most sincere and convincing emails scams? Are there keywords or key phrases one can look for?
"Some key words and key phrases are the words "free," "amazing," "100% risk free," and any other words or phrases that strongly try to get the recipient of the email to hand over their money by promising something that just simply is too good to be true, or is questionable. Most email offers are scams and I urge people to avoid them unless they are from a company that the recipient does business with. Any email that asks for money up front in any form should be avoided."
3) Are these scams only performed via email or can they be initiated through chat rooms and sites like MySpace? Is the approach different depending on the medium used to scam?
"These scams are initiated in all types of communication media such as chat rooms, social networking sites, IM messaging, and the telephone. The approach is basically the same after the scammer goes through the small chit-chat. Sometimes he will give a hard luck story to his intended victim to try to be more convincing. In telephone calls, the scammer usually pretends to be from the intended victim's bank and asks for personal information."
4) Why do you think so many people fall for a email scams like the ones we are discussing?
"There are many reasons so many people fall for email scams. Greed is one reason. If a person is convinced that they can get millions of dollars and the only things they have to do is help transfer it into their bank account, in their eyes, they are getting something for nothing.
"Hardship is another reason. Take the scenario of Beth, a widowed mother with three small children. Beth works two part-time jobs to make ends meet because there isn't any full-time work where she lives. One of her employers decides to retire and move to another state and closes his business. This leaves Beth with part-time income with full-time financial responsibilities. The rent and utilities are due, and the kids need new clothes. The youngest needs medical care and Beth doesn't have medical insurance. On top of all of this, the household food supply is low, and the car needs new tires to replace the bald tires that are currently on it.
"One night after putting the kids to bed, Beth opens her email to find this unbelievable offer of $20 million dollars if she will provide a bank account to transfer the funds of a poor, dying cancer patient in another country into her account. She reads the email, and it sounds very convincing. Beth considers her current situation, and has no idea how she is going to provide for her kids, and keep the household going. "Why not," she thinks to herself as she clicks the reply button. "I'll be helping all of us."
"The elderly also are very vulnerable. Many elderly people are lonely and on fixed incomes, and are more likely to fall for an email scam."
5) In a worst case scenario, what can happen if someone were to go through with communicating to the sender of an email scam? In other words, what is the final goal of the scammer and what would be the final outcome for one being scammed?
"The worst case scenario is the victim could be murdered. Victims of scams have been murdered when they traveled to meet with the scammer in person. There are rare cases when a scammer has shown up at a victim's home.
"Second worst case scenario is the victim is depleted of all funds, and is bankrupt from sending her money to the scammer. There are always more than one scammer involved in robbing a victim, it is a group effort. Many victims have lost their homes and everything they had because they believed in the scam and kept sending the scammer money. The final goal of the scammer is to deplete the victim of all of her monetary assets for his gain. The final outcome for the victim is heartache, financial ruin, and sometimes suicide."
6) Can these scammers be caught and brought to justice?
"Yes, they can be. It takes a lot of work to catch a scammer and bring them to justice. Many scammers have been caught but it can take years to locate and prosecute them. They use Internet cafes, and false names and other information. They work in gangs, so it is usually very difficult to catch them."
7) Where are these scammers emailing from? Are the governing officials in these countries doing anything to stop the scammers?
"These scammers are emailing from all over the world, even from the United States. The governing officials of some countries are doing what they can to stop the scammers, but it is a very difficult job because the scams are so far reaching, and run deep into the underground."
8 ) If their scams are so easy to spot, how do they make money? Do people still fall for these 'Nigerian' scams or do the scammers have other sources of income?
"These scams are easy to spot for the people that are educated on how to spot a scam. Not all scams are easy to spot, that is why so many people fall for clever scams like job offers, and work at home scams. The scammers make money by targeting potential victims hoping that they are not smart enough to figure out that they are being scammed. Some scammers have other income such as part-time work, but scamming is their primary source of income."
9) How do these scammers get our email addresses?
"From mailing lists or by harvesting them from the Internet in places such as guest books, websites, and many other online sources. Public records sometimes contain email addresses. If a person has ever signed up for anything online, or gave their email address, they could receive scam emails."
10) What can someone do if they get an email they believe to be a scam? Can they report them to anyone or is the best thing to do just to delete the email?
"Reporting the email will not do any good since a scam has not yet taken place. The best thing to do is to ignore and delete the email."
11) Is it dangerous for someone who gets a scammers email to try and "bait" the scammer?
"Yes, baiting scammers is a dangerous hobby. For someone that doesn't know how to properly bait a scammer, it can be very dangerous. Experienced baiters know how to keep out of danger."
Many, many thanks to Sheboppe for answering these questions. If you have ever been a victim of a scam, please visit www.scamwarners.com. If you want to hear some scammers getting tricked and "scam-baited", tune in to the online radio show called "Scam Busters" which is live every Sunday starting at 1:00 PM eastern time, but archives of the show can be downloaded for free any time.