Nigerian Astronaut Scam

We haven’t gotten a copy of this scam message yet ourselves, but news reports say that there’s a new type of African 419 scam in circulation: the Nigerian Astronaut Scam! (What will they think of next?)

The story is that a Nigerian astronaut is trapped in an old Soviet space capsule orbiting the earth, and if you’ll just help the scammer to bribe the Russians so he can come back home, you can have a percentage of the astronaut’s back pay, which is now in the millions!

It’s just another version of the old advance fee fraud, but still, it’s a clever one!

Email Scammers Use Victim to Smuggle Drugs

It’s easy to laugh at the wild claims that appear in email scam messages — rich deposed dictators who need your help, millionaire widows dying of cancer, hidden bank accounts that belonged to a long lost relative. But it’s important to remember that the people who send these messages in an organized way are real criminals.

A story this week from New Zealand reports on a man who was hooked by a regular email scammer, and after a very long period of contact, during which the man kept giving money to the scammer and still didn’t catch on, he was tricked by the scammer into smuggling a large quantity of illegal drugs into New Zealand.

The relationship between the scammer and this victim started in the usual way. “A ‘Daniel Tucker’ sent an email claiming to work for the United Nations in Nigeria. He told Mr Miranda that the UN had set aside US$8.5 million to repay the $100,000 and use the remaining balance to build an orphanage in New Zealand. The money never arrived.”

Eventually, the victim “was lured to Papua New Guinea on the promise of picking up US$8.5 million in cash. He returned empty-handed — except for some extra luggage, which a man who called himself ‘Daniel Tucker’ asked him to take.” When customs officials X-rayed the luggage they found “1.5kg of methamphetamine hidden in secret compartments in the padding.”

Fortunately in this case, the victim was able to cooperate with authorities and set up the real drug smugglers, who were eventually captured.

BBC Heir Hunters Scam

It’s important to understand that scammers often use the names of real people and real organizations in their messages, and this doesn’t mean those real people have anything to do with the scam. The scammers are just trying to make their frauds look legitimate by stealing the name of someone who is already known and respected. An example this week from the news in Great Britain: scammers are now sending messages that purport to come from the BBC television program Heir Hunters.

In this particular variation of the scam, an email claims that the recipient is being sought by the makers of Heir Hunters, a programme that follows the work of people who help members of the public claim their inheritance.

There are several tell-tale signs that the email is the work of scammers, though.

“I am writing you from Heir Hunters Company in the United kingdom , Heir Hunters probate detectives looking for distant relatives of people who have died without making a will, here is our websitepage on BBC TWO News [sic],” the email reads.

In addition to the poor punctuation and grammar, the message includes an email address that ends in @yahoo.com.hk.

“Why would the email address for a UK-based program be in Hong Kong?” asked Paul O Baccas of Sophos.

The Confidence Game

Despite their technological trappings, the millions of email scams that circulate on the Internet every year are really just old fashioned confidence tricks. They don’t depend upon cell phones and wifi connections for their success; they depend upon human psychology. The Internet is just the medium. The same games have been played for decades by fax, telephone, and regular old correspondence.

It should come as no surprise, then, to find that scammers keep up with the times, and craft their messages to appeal to people in the present day and age. While rich orphans and dying widows and corrupt officials are evergreen, some other issues are more trendy and more likely to be in the mind of the average reader who follows the daily news.

The Point of Law blog has just noted that some 419 messages are beginning to appear that are constructed around supposed environmental damage reparation claims. “Chevron/Texaco has given you a donation of $980,000.00 USD as a compensation for environmental hazards caused by our Product,” their example reads.

There will certainly be more to follow. Somewhere in a run down Internet cafe, even now, a scammer is perusing the latest headlines, looking for a new hook that will let him capture another unsuspecting victim — maybe even you.

Email Scams Work!

People sometimes wonder why so many scam messages from deposed dictators and corrupt bank presidents continue to appear in their mailboxes. Surely these are such transparent frauds that no one could be taken in by them.

But people are taken in. The only reason the messages keep coming is that sometimes they work.

A news report from Cedarpines Park, California, this week tells of a woman who was successfully scammed by someone from Jamaica who told her she had won $1.5 million.

The fraud continued for approximately two months, according to records obtained from Twin Peaks detectives, before the woman realized she had been scammed.

The case documents show the woman sent about $30,000 before she contacted deputies. She turned over some evidence in the case, including a check for $5,000 sent by the male caller who reportedly made numerous phone contacts with the woman.

It went on for two months!  The cost of sending junk email is close to zero. It doesn’t take many “hits” that bring in $30,000 to make the effort very worthwhile for the fraudsters.