Our parents’ generation has a love/hate relationship with computers and everything that goes along with them; like using a mouse, downloading pictures from digital cameras, that funny little thing called the interwebs, and, of course, email.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve reinstalled windows on my dad’s computer after bloatware and viruses slowed it down or crashed it altogether. After each fix, I always explain to them where viruses come from – email hoaxes, chain letters, and clicking on bad links.
They insist the only website they use is AOL to access email (yes, really – AOL, and that’s a whole other issue), but when I look at the browser history I see all sorts of stuff from websites about saving kittens, time shares, herbal supplement sales, and god knows what else. Thankfully, no porn. I don’t think I’d be able to live with the knowledge that my parents are watching internet porn.
Anyway, I thought I’d do a quick recap of some of the more popular email scams so my baby boomer readers know what to look out for, and to save my Gen-X readers from reinstalling Windows on their parents’ computers yet another time. After each scam and its definition, you’ll see my advice on how to avoid getting swindled out of your hard earned money.
Of course the chain mails aren’t dangerous, per se. Your computer wont crash if you follow the directions of an email from someone claiming to be Walt Disney Jr. who has partnered with Bill Gates to develop an email tracking program which will send you a dollar for everyone you forward the email to. But your computer could get hacked if you click on some bogus link and submit personal information, like bank accounts, social security numbers, or passwords.
What to do if you receive a Chain Mail Email: There’s an old joke about $1,000 falling out of Bill Gate’s wallet, but he doesn’t bend over to pick it up because he makes so much money per second actually stopping to pick it up would be a waste of his time…and money. Of course it’s just a joke, but know this – Bill Gates is not going to send you a dollar. If this chain mail letter makes it through your spam folder do yourself (and the family members to which you were planning to forward it) a favor and hit delete.
This is the old standard of email scams. You get a letter from someone in Nigeria claiming to have just lost his passport, or to be stuck in jail, and unable to access a bank account that has millions of dollars in it. But if you could just send him some money he’ll pay you back tenfold.
What to do if you receive a Nigerian 419 email: Do you really need instructions here? If you think someone in Nigeria is going to send you millions of dollars for helping them get out of jail email scams are not your real problem. Don’t be this guy, who lost $200,000 on the Nigerian 419 Email Scam.
These are the slow rolling long cons of the email scam world. You get a note that looks official, saying you have won the lottery of some foreign country and to obtain the money you need to contact a fiduciary agent in that country. They tell you how much you’ve won, and the amount usually seems plausible, like $500,000. Just small enough to be true, but big enough to pique interest. They don’t ask for any personal information upfront. No, these scam artists are too smart for that. They just ask you to make a phone call to the agent. But after that first contact is when they start getting chummy. Soon, you get another note; more pointed this time, asking for contact information and bank routing numbers so they can transfer the funds. And that’s when you lose your pants.
What to do if you receive a Lottery email: If you haven’t purchased any foreign lottery tickets then it’s probably safe to assume you haven’t won any foreign lottery drawings. But, if your family is anything like mine, and you get lottery tickets and scratch-off games as birthday presents, then there is a chance that someone purchased an entry for you. It’s impossible to call all your friends and family members to find out if they have been to this particular foreign country or if they just purchased the ticket online. That’s why I’ve developed a special procedure for these exact situations. Follow this procedure closely and you will avert crisis and financial disaster:
Step 1: Stop, collaborate and listen.
Step 2: Read the email to your spouse or close friend to make sure you both have the same understanding of the lottery rules and your eligibility to actually win the prize. Some lotteries only allow citizens of that country to collect money.
Step 3: Ask your spouse or that friend to punch you in the face, because you are an idiot. You didn’t win a foreign lottery.
Ok, so my advice may be a little tongue in cheek. Let me make it up to you. How about we take a look at a real scam phishing email I received just this morning, and I’ll break it down for you so you can see just how ridiculous these things are. This one is making the rounds now, and is a variation of the Nigerian 419 scam.
Hope you get this on time, I made a trip to Swansea, Wales and had my bag stolen from me with my passport and credit cards in it. The embassy is willing to help by letting me fly without my passport, I just have to pay for a ticket and settle Hotel bills. Unfortunately for me, I can’t have access to funds without my credit card, I’ve made contact with my bank but they need more time to come up with a new one. I was thinking of asking you to lend me some quick funds that I can give back as soon as I get in. I really need to be on the next available flight.
Western Union transfer is the best option to send money to me. Let me know if you need my details(Full names location) to make the transfer. You can reach me via email or the hotel’s desk phone the numbers are, +447031840825 or +44703836774.
I await your response
Let’s break it down in more detail. In this short two paragraph email, I see several things that alert me to the fact this is a scam. The five most obvious ones are:
- The location of this person’s trip is suspect, right from the start. The only good thing to come from Wales is hottie Catherine Zeta Jones (as a side note, it sounds really sexy if you say her name with a Sean Connery voice).
- There is no U.S. Embassy (or any other embassy) in Swansea, a simple Google Maps or wikipedia search will clue you into that.
- Embassies do not allow people to travel without a passport under any circumstances. If the situation is dire, you can apply for a temporary passport at the embassy after which you can fly home, but even then a thorough fact checking is in order.
- Everyone knows a bank can wire money to this person just like Western Union. The comments about his credit cards and bank accounts don’t make sense.
- Finally, the country code +44 denotes a phone exchange in England. Ok on that part, but the next digit “7″ denotes a cell phone. I don’t know too many hotels running front desk operations through a personal cell phone.
What to do if You are a Victim of Email Scams
So what’s your recourse if you find one of these bad boys in your mailbox, or worse, if you actually fall victim to an email scam?
Well, you could make a claim with the Internet Crime Compliant Center, which purports to be a partnership between the FBI and NWC3, but if you ask me, the website looks more like a scam than any email I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe this is what our tax dollars are paying for. Seriously, this is 2011, update your website people.
You can report it to the actual Federal Bureau of Investigation E-Scam alert page, or even the Federal Communications Commission, through their complaint assist page, but let’s be honest – has anyone every had any problem resolved by the FCC? Has anyone spoken to a real live person at the FCC? Other than this webpage, does the FCC really exist? If it did exist it surely would not have allowed me to go on with this post as long as I have. What does the FCC actually do? I don’t know.
I’m not an expert on internet crimes, but as far as I can tell, your best option is to search the internet for scams before sending any money anywhere. I am a fan of the website Hoax Slayer, which lists popular email scams and other fraudulent internet activity that has been corroborated or confirmed to some extent. It’s one of the more thorough sites out there, and much more informational than any of the governmental sites.
Information is your best defense agains a scam, and that’s why Daddy by Default wants to help. For a complete list of email and interweb scams you can send me a check for $19.95. You should make it out to “Cash” because I don’t trust banks, you know with that whole subprime crisis and all, and because “Cash” is my real name. Seriously, ask my mom.
Photo courtesy of: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
On a slightly more serious note, if you are interested in reading more about online security, checkout my post on Social Media Security Settings, which tells you how to see which applications have access to your information on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus, and how to keep your personal information safe by opting out of public sharing.