I can’t believe the strange week I’ve been having! Right around the time I FINALLY win that over-seas lottery (that I can’t seem to remember entering), a good friend (that I don’t remember ever being friends with) opens up and confides that his uncle, the Most Exalted Muckity-Muck of BFE, needs help that only I can provide. If that weren’t bad enough, the government thinks I committed a crime that may put me in prison for life! My bank has decided to help prove that I’m innocent. They sent me an email saying they need me to give them some of the numbers on my debit card so they can release my information to the police and clear my name. I think I may have to send a dollar and the addresses of 10 of my loved ones to get 10,000.00 blessings. Maybe then life will be good again.
When I was young, it was chain letters. If I remember right, the letter would have a list of names and addresses on the top. I was instructed to take the first name off the list, replace it with my name, make 5 copies of the letter, and send them to 5 friends. Because I was taking someone’s name off the list, I should send them a dollar. The claim was that this would make me thousands in a few days.
Today, there are way more opportunities for crooks to screw me out of my money. Well, not me, they figure I’m hip to their game. Instead, they go after my parents (senior citizens), and you. They figure old people are trusting, have much moolah, and are gullible (possibly even senile). They figure you just don’t know any better.
Here are a couple of really popular scams that I’ve seen over the past. Keep in mind, some details may change, but the meat of the scam is the same.
— Nigerian Prince. This one boggles my mind that it ever works. You get a letter or email from someone who has an uncle that is a prince of some tiny village in Nigeria. There is a rebellion going on, and he needs to get his money out of Africa so he can have it when he goes into exile. He wants to send you some money to hold for him, and when he gets to a safe place, you will send him his money back, keep millions for yourself as a reward, and everyone wins. Doesn’t sound too good? Wait, it gets better.
You get another email a few days later, explaining that there is some sort of problem with the transfer. Since the prince is liquidating all of his assets, you need to pay the fee, bribe, whatever to complete the transfer. Once you send a few hundred (or thousand) dollars, the money will be returned the NEXT DAY. But wait, there’s more.
You get an email from the Nigerian government. You have been the victim of a scam. They can get your money back, but you need to send them a fee (less than you lost originally). Upon receipt of this fee, they can release the money back to you, with the apologies of the Nigerian government.
In this scam, they get you twice!
The moral here is simple: You don’t have a friend. If any other stranger asked you for money for no reason, would you give it to them?
So don’t do it here either!
— Over-seas MEGA Lottery. Congratulations, you win the lottery! You have won millions of dollars. They will be sending a check to you. There are only two rules: You can’t tell anybody about this until the lottery company can make an official announcement, and you have to pay a winner’s fee to claim your prize.
A great variation of this is when they actually send you a check with an “overpayment”, and then contact you to have you send them the difference.
The moral here: If you didn’t ENTER a contest, there is no way you won.
If you ever win a contest, and they ask for money to collect your winnings, instead offer that they send you the money, and keep the fee from that amount.
— Oops, I overpaid you. The great e-bay scam. People will bid and win on something you are auctioning. They will send you very real looking (but very fraudulent) postal money orders for way over what they owe you. When you contact them about the mistake, they tell you to just send them a check for the difference and everything works out. Oh, and by the way—the postal money order was either stolen or counterfeit. You lose your item you sent to them, and the money you sent them back.
— What a helpful bank!! Your bank will send you an email saying you are under investigation by the Federal government. They want to help you against the federales, so they ask you to enter some information into their ‘secure’ web site. The information they need? Your account number, PIN number, the numbers on the back of your card, or your bank routing number. If you refuse, they will threaten that you WILL go to PRISON!!
This scam is really bad, because they will often send you email from “spoofed” email addresses, provide a link that looks authentic to a website that may even have the bank brand. It may even provide a phone number for you to call to ‘verify the authenticity’ of the email.
Here’s the truth about all of these scams. People who fall for them look really stupid AFTER the fact. At the time, most of these will seem perfectly legitimate. That’s the hook. Criminals will prey on your fears, your dreams, your desperation, or anything else to part you from your money. This is not a comprehensive list of scams out there. There are new variations of these and others that come out every day.
SNOPES talks about some of these, as does RIP-OFF REPORT. Also, get to know your bank or credit union’s customer service numbers. One standard is they will never ask you to provide personal information in response to an email.