The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Getting Scammed May Be Easier Than You Think
Scammers have been around long before the Internet even existed, with con-men going into people’s homes with a sob story about a long lost relative, a charity, or any organization that needed a little money up front in return for a lot of money to given at a promised later date. Some of them would even go into banks and get a large loan from the bank without any intent of ever paying it back. As the Internet came about, scammers simply moved their operations and collecting emails addresses became huge business. For every million emails, there is most likely one person to fall for the scam — and that’s all it takes — for the scam to work and for someone to receive a payday.
There was a case in which one unlucky woman fell for the Nigerian scandal, in which she was emailed about a long-lost relative or a war-torn country in which funds needed to be shuffled around, and she would receive $20 million in return for her troubles. She ended up sending more and more money and they promised a bigger return that she would get. She ended up letting her greed get the best of her, and in the end, she ended up with nothing. These cases are known as 419 scams, confidence tricks, Fifo’s Fraud, or black money scams in which a person provides an advance-fee up front through Western Union or a Moneygram, which are almost always untraceable and irreversible when sent internationally. Some more severe cases reported have led 419 scammers to lure their victim to the country, extort them, and even murder them.
At the time of this writing, I received three emails, one from the “Bank of Nigeria”, the other from the “United Nations”, and a third from a sick woman writing her email in bed. In the first one, they go over claiming the money. In the second email they are actually going to pay me for being a scam victim of Nigerian fraud. So if I follow through with the first email and then follow through in the second email, than I should lose all my money and then get it back? Irony anyone? As for the third email, a woman shares too much information about her situation including the fact that she is “barren”, her husband died in a plane crash, while writing to me from her death bed.
The second one is very similar as well, but instead of being from Nigeria, is from the United Nations.
In this third email, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to give me, a stranger, money. Everyone in my life always wants to take it away, whether its the government, the IRS, the bank, or the student loan companies. So her email is just too good to be true.. but I’m not really interested in contacting her lawyer, either.
The first two emails came about 2 hours apart from each other. Of course, they probably came from the same person, or two men sitting next to each other at a computer center in Nigeria or another country. Nigeria is known for this type of activity and it becomes very hard to trace, as computer centers are a dime a dozen in Nigeria, so perpetrators can move freely from computer center to computer center, setting up new email addresses each time, different fake bank accounts each time, etc. This is their profession, their life, their job, their career, and they spend all day, everyday sending emails. They may get paid a small amount of money to do this by a larger businessman who cannot be detected, and the bigger payout actually goes to the businessman. However, this is pure speculation, and the scammers sending the email may work alone or with a group of men to accomplish their task of scamming someone into sending them hundreds to thousands of dollars.
There are plenty of new techniques and old ones still being used to scam people. From stories of lost relatives, to the lottery, to government payouts, there is always at least one sucker who will fall for the story, end up handing over a name, address, and even possibly a driver’s license, passport, or bank account information — sometimes even a social security number. Once you hand over any of this personal information about yourself that reveals your personal identity, you have begun a long process in your life and you are probably never going to fully be able to recover your stolen identity.
Your identity is the most important thing you have. It is like air and once you lose it, your life will no longer be the same, ever again. You will become very paranoid and frustrated. You will feel very vulnerable and it will take many years to recover and feel secure again. You will curse out the individuals responsible for stealing your identity, but they will probably never be caught. They are in the business of stealing identities. It is their profession and how they make a living, so they know what they are doing, and they do not care how you are doing. You are money to them, nothing more. If you have mail with any personal information on it, including your address, be sure to invest in a paper shredder. While you think your garbage is safe, it is the easiest place for someone to find and steal your identity. Your reputation of a good or perfect credit score is over. Your ability to obtain credit or even fix credit will become very hard to do. So protect your identity with your life because it is your life.
There are many legit companies that have sprung up over the past two decades, and it has become big business for them, charging around one hundred dollars a year to monitor your credit history, your credit cards, and anything to ensure that they are not being used irresponsibly. Some of these companies will even help you get your life back on track if your identity has been stolen and used by another individual other than you.
The most important thing you can do for yourself is to prevent yourself from being scammed. If you ever receive a call from anyone claiming to be from your bank and they ask for personal information, hang up immediately. Call back an official 800 number provided by your bank and speak to a representative about the incident. They will ensure you that they do not make personal calls. If they do, they will email you and ask you to call them. No bank, no government, and even your job should never call you and ask for any personal information, especially over the phone.
If you are applying for a job on Craigslist and they send you an official W4 form to fill out, ensure that you do your research about the company before you hand over any personal information. If the company does not have an official 800 number, than you may want to consider personally visiting them onsite to make sure they are legit. While Craigslist has its own employees and people to report issues like this, it cannot monitor every single post put up in and catch it in time to stop the scam. It mostly relies on people reporting the post in order for it to be brought down and stopped. Ebay is another paradise for scammers, who are often after buying technical equipment with stolen credit cards, purchase it for a much higher price than anticipated, and then the credit card eventually gets reported stolen, Paypal freezes the account, and you’ve sent your item — which is received by the recipient, while you get no money in the end. Of course, both Ebay and Paypal also have protection measures in place to attempt to stop this and even reimburse the sender, but there are plenty of cases that go through the cracks and the original seller is out of luck.
There is also another area of the Internet where websites are popping up asking for too much information, and if they do, you must use your best judgement. These websites are affiliates – sites that pay you to refer people to sign up on their website, or buy products from the company. While many of these websites are certainly legit, there is a danger in freely giving up personal information with anything you sign up for. These websites ask you for a required Tax ID number, also known as a Social Security Number (SSN), Employer Identification Number (EIN), Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions (ATIN), or a Preparer Taxpayer Identification Number (PTIN). Most people have a Social Security Number that is part of your identity, and there are plenty of people who are willing to give it up freely. Be very weary when signing up for these websites that ask for that information. I personally avoid them and only sign up for websites that will pay out via Paypal or Check.
Creating a way to be able to avoid filling out tons and tons of information on websites, Social Media did us all a favor with one-click logins. Social Media will now send all your information over to the website, but there is no Social Media Network that actually check to see if the site is legit and freely hands over a majority of your information. While this information is somewhat limited, even just having some information about you is the start to something. As a precaution, avoid signing up for websites with your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other Social Media accounts if you do not trust the source. In fact, you should create a “fake” email account to sign up for most websites to ensure that most of your privacy remains hidden. If the website has PageRank or is established, you probably should not worry too much, though there is always some concern.
Hackers are lurking everywhere and there are plenty of them – while many do good, there are still a few handfuls that live to do evil on the Internet. Any company or business that is on the Internet — banks, non-profits, government sites, healthcare websites, etc. — is a potential target to any hacker or disgruntled employee that wants such important information, or even see the company suffer. It may be as easy as figuring out a password, stealing a hard drive, or even sending an email. If a company’s information is stolen, there is always the possibility that your information has been stolen too.
Recently, Target, a massive retail company, admitted publicly that during November of 2013 to December of 2013, they were the subject of a massive data breach involving the theft of information from about 70 million individuals. The stolen information included customer names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, or e-mail addresses, encrypted PIN data, credit and debit card numbers as well as their expiration dates including the embedded code on the back of cards. While it is uncertain if Social Security Number information was stolen, a talented individual with criminal-like tendencies, whose life work is to steal the identity of people can hone in on any individual they want, seek out any information they can get on their target, including going through their garbage or any information they throw out, to possibly even becoming involved in their target’s life, and getting any information they need to steal an identity.
Be weary of everything on the Internet and everything you do on the Internet. Be weary of everything you do off the Internet. Religiously check any and all bank information to ensure that your banking activity is normal. If anything looks suspicious, report it immediately! Unfortunately, as much as we would like to think we live in a world where people are honest, hardworking, and friendly — the truth is, there are many people who are not and will do anything and everything to make a few extra bucks, regardless of who they hurt in the process. If something seems too good to be true and your intuition is telling you that it is wrong, you should probably listen to your intuition. It exists for a reason and while it may be wrong sometimes, you might be doing yourself a favor in the long run.
Here are a list of 10 things you can go over and remember before you do anything.
- No one gives away free money. Hardly anything in life is free and for most of us, there are no easy rides in life. Sorry.
- If it is not traceable, it is not legit.
- No company, bank, or government will ever email you or call you and ask for personal information. If they do, report them to the local authorities. A phone call to 911 or a police department telling them that a phone call received from this number is asking you for personal information can easily solve the situation and probably prevent issues in the future.
- Make sure you call an official 800 number, send a letter to a legit address, or send an email to a legit email address that is listed on a website or given to you by a legit representative of the company if you are giving personal information.
- If someone is asking you to put out money before giving you money, than you have no business to be sending them money. If they promise to give you double or a return on your money, especially if they are asking for help, chances are, they need help because they have no money. When it comes to money, you probably do not have any extra to give and if you do, on the right side of this page is a
- If you get sent a check beforehand and are told to send money, go to the bank and see if that check is actually legit. Even then, you probably should have no business receiving “free money” from anyone, except if your family or friends are giving you a gift.
- Do not hand over any personal information revealing yourself. If you have personal information listed on any of your Social Media Networks, it would be best if you removed it.
- Unless you have a family member living in another country that you send money to, you have no business sending money to another country at all. The United States government and any bank in the United States cannot protect you as they have no jurisdiction in other countries. Not even insurance companies can protect you and reimburse you for your lost property or wages if money is in another country.
- Use your brain. Use your smarts. Use your intelligence. Use your intuition. Use common sense. If something does not seem right, do not go along with it.
- Protect your identity at all costs. You only get one. Invest in a paper shredder and shred any mail with your name, address, phone number, or account numbers! With the advancement and acceptance of Social Media and other technology, we give so much personal information away for free, not realizing that anyone who is in the business of stealing personal information could easily have it already. Be careful and check your bank and credit card statements daily to ensure there are no extra or unauthorized charges!
Following these rules will protect you from any Nigerian email scams or phone calls that may come your way. You can read the email, laugh about it, but never respond to it with any information about yourself. Do not even respond to it to call the person out and tell them you know the email is fake. Delete it immediately. Have nothing to do with it! Get rid of it! Prevention is your best form of protection for yourself and your identity.
Matthew Gates is a freelance web designer and currently runs Confessions of the Professions.