There are parts of the world where internet cafes are busy churning out scam emails promising untold riches to the gullible person on the receiving end of an irresistible offer.
As we all know, people are not who they seem on the internet, so keep your personal data secret and don't reply because then they know your email address is active and you're likely to be targeted by more fraudsters.
The 419 email Originating largely from Nigeria, The Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire), South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe and Malaysia, they beg the recipient for help to transfer millions of dollars into a foreign bank account, on the promise of a large share of a non-existent fortune which has been languishing in a foreign bank account for years.
They're called 419 scams by the international community as the fraud is mentioned in section 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code.
Bullying UK gets a dozen of these emails a day. Some of the senders cheerfully confess to corruption as the way they came by their ill-gotten gains. On one day alone our 'inheritance' totted-up to £25,000,000!!!
The common theme is:
- The untimely and unfortunate death of the money's owner, often in a plane crash, by murder or in a land dispute
- The donor is suffering from a fatal illness
- The donor is someone with a conscience working for a bank, or is a relative of a government minister, a civil servant or a barrister
- You are the only person they trust
- You must keep the transaction secret
- The sender wants your bank account details
- The transaction is 100% risk free
These emails often contain detailed accounts of the sender's address and phone number and add that the person is employed by a large corporation in a bid to gain credibility. Often they have British sounding names.
In other cases the person needing your help is the wife of a murdered government minister, a prince, a chief or the son of a military figure. Alternatively they may be a barrister or a doctor. They usually have access to cash which they want to transfer abroad and they ask you to be their 'next-of-kin'.
If you're interested in the deal with these new-found and generous adopting relatives, you may be asked to provide bank account details, letterheads and invoices. They insist that you hurry to take advantage of these dubious offers.
The idea is that the money is put through your account and then you get a large percentage of the proceeds.
Of course it has to be secret and the scamsters rely on greed to complete their dodgy deal. You're not going to tell anyone about something you think may be not quite on the right side of the law.
There's nearly always a sob story involved, apart from the unfortunate demise in a plane crash, torture and murder, other email hopefuls have had their land stolen or other reversals of fortune.
Religion also plays a part. Multiple blessings are promised to those foolish enough to go along with the scam.
How it works
Before the transaction can go ahead you are likely to be asked for money to cover various fees - and then for more money to cover unforeseen difficulties.
The reality is that if you part with your bank details your account will be emptied of money.
The senders of these emails use anonymous addresses like hotmail.com, yahoo.com and others. It isn't unusual to have similar emails in the names of different people as the scamsters forget who they are supposed to be.
It's difficult to know how many people have been taken in by these scams, embarrassment may prevent them being reported to the authorities.
Where to report the scamIn the UK, the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS)has taken action on these fraudsters and they are well known to council trading standards officers who issue regular warnings. Many police forces also have warnings about them. The Metropolitan Police have a particularly good account of how they work. www.met.police.uk/fraudalert/419.htm .
The NCIS say that if you receive one of these scam emails, print it out including the header and take it to your local police station, marked for the attention of the Fraud Squad. If you've lost money on the fraud contact the West African Organised Crime Section on 0207 238 8012.
The best claim we have seen with one of these scams is the assurance: "Honesty is the watchword in this transaction".
If you fall for one of these scams you'll be a loser, not a winner.
Often originating in Spain or Holland, these tell you that you've won a lottery you haven't even entered!. Bullying UK trustees have even received one from Liverpool using a genuine National Lottery logo!
The idea is either to get you to pay some fees up front (which you'll never see again) or for you to ring an expensive phone line where you have to listen to a long message, costing you pounds.
The prize doesn't exist and as with all these scams, if it sounds too good to be true then it is.
Hard luck stories
These pretend to come from parents in Russia or the US who need money to put food on the table or to heat their homes. Sometimes they come from 'students' who need funds to complete their studies.
The aim is the same as other scams, to extract money from kind people who believe they are genuine.
World tragedies like famines, war and tsunamis can also prompt a spate of bogus emails so if you ever receive one saying it's from a charity look the charity up on the Charity Commission website and check that they are doing an appeal and that the donation details are the same as those on the website. Better still, donate to someone like the Red Cross or Oxfam so that you know your money is going to a genuine cause.