Friday, November 16, 2012
Just when you think it is safe to open your email…
Last week I received an email from my good friend in Nigeria. We hadn’t spoken in quite sometime and she had written a lengthy email catching up. Unfortunately, she has a family member in dire financial need. What a technologically advanced world we live in that with just a simple cash deposit in the US, I could help someone an ocean away.
You’ll be relieved to know that I got a good laugh from the email and was not fleeced. My money is safe and secure in a can, buried in the backyard. What was so funny is that these Nigerian money schemes are still making the rounds. And that this may have been the first time I was pinged. I can’t remember having ever received a request through my personal email. Sure I received the many “great deals” through business emails because the guy in the fourth cubicle from the bathroom opened an infected file and the whole company got blasted, but never such a personal plea for my help.
The Nigerian letter (email) scheme is known as “advance fee fraud”. The victim is persuaded to send large amounts of money to the con artist in hopes of receiving a gain on their investment. The Nigerian variant evolved from the “Spanish Prisoner” originating in the 1800s. In the original, the victim is contacted with the hopes that their monetary contributions will help with the release of a wealthy person who has been imprisoned in Spain. Once the prisoner gains freedom, their assistance will be rewarded. The scheme gained association with Nigeria in the 1980s when the Nigerian economy declined and Nigerian students began running the scheme by sending out letters to other countries. The scheme was proliferated in the 1990s with the advent of email and the targeting of company email systems. The scheme surfaces from time to time through different mediums and with variants on the tale. However, the foundation of the scheme is the same.
Sometimes the tried and true systems work best. That is why we see so many of the schemes developed in the early 1900s still in use today. The scheme’s basic hook that draws in the victim still work today when they are adapted to modern times. Most notably on people’s minds is the Bernie Madoff case in which Madoff executed a Ponzi scheme. The Ponzi scheme is associated with Charles Ponzi who first ran his scam in the early 1900s.
As soon as there is disaster or human suffering, either on the local, national, or global stage, the con artists open shop. Nothing turns off our radar like pain and suffering. We are not promised great returns on our investments, just the satisfaction of helping our fellow man.
We see panhandlers at intersections in our daily travels. Not meaning to make you skeptical about panhandlers, but, while working in Baltimore, I once saw a man with crutches working the cars at a traffic signal. Another man approached, exchanged greetings and took the crutches from the man. The first man walked off appearing quite healthy. The second man assumed a posture of pain on the crutches and went to work. Shift change I thought. How enterprising.
Many people genuinely do need our help. Just use your basic, ingrained fraud alerts. Common sense and if it’s too good to be true, well…you know the rest.