The most infamous Internet scam was one promising about a million U.S. dollars as fees to the recipient if he/she helped transfer funds of about 5 million USD. The email supposedly originated from Nigeria (or one of the African countries) and was sent by the wife/son/daughter of a slain military commander and hence it is sometimes also referred to as the Nigerian Letter Scam. FYI, the military commander was killed in a coup.
I first encountered this phishing attack in the year 2000 and had dumped it in the Deleted Items folder though I confess that I did go through it thoroughly – and it was an interesting read.
Further details can be found on the wikipedia web site – The Advance Fee Fraud or the Nigerian Scam or the 419 fraud.
Why was 419 Fraud phishing scam was so successful? Simple, it appealed to one’s greed. A million dollars just for helping a stranger transfer funds; few could resist that temptation.
Even though this scam has been described in detail on several television channels and newspapers, people still fall for it and have lost hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars.
The phishing email is quite long about 8-10 paragraphs and provides a detailed account of the problem faced by the sender which is the issue of transferring 4-5 million dollars accumulated by the slain military commander. The reward of the successful transfer would be 20 or 25% amounting to about a million USD.
The email would end with the contact details of the sender – a real email address and sometimes a real postal address too.
The scam begins once you contact the sender. The reply is generally prompt and you would be provided with a set of instructions that include transferring of a nominal sum needed to process bank documents required for initiating the transfer of funds.
Sometimes, the senders would follow up by sending you “important” documents over post that are meant to “prove their existence” and allay any fears you might have. Usually, the first request for money is followed by one for a larger amount. The scammers are smart enough to keep you abreast with the progress and keep the carrot hanging, as it were.
Over the years this phishing email has taken various forms – appealing to one’s greed, romance etc. Though the modus operandi of these variants might differ, their aim is one – to fleece the gullible recipient.
It’s surprising that even though this scam is common knowledge and has been detailed on television and newspapers people still fall in the trap. A few days ago as I lay in front of the T.V. with nothing better to do than switch channels, I landed on a program that was showcasing stories and interviews with recent fraud victims. One of them had lost about USD 7,000 and the other was in a worse situation with loses amounting to USD 30,000.
The Nigerian scam has lead to deaths, suicides, murders, kidnappings and even further frauds when the victims have themselves became conmen driven by greed, trying to reclaim the lost funds from the principal fraudsters.
Here are some real world examples of the Nigerian scam or the 419 fraud. They have been collected by email – unfortunately, some of these do slip past my spam filters.
IMDb.com started on Usenet as the "rec.arts.movies movie database" which consisted of four lists - Actors, Actresses, Directors and Dead Actors/Actresses - and unix shell scripts for searching those lists. [more...]