Advance fee fraud: It looks real

Let’s talk about Nigerian “419” Letter Scams this week. To be socially correct and not specifically bash Nigeria or Nigerians, for a period of time these forms of frauds became known as”West African Scams.”

Eventually the name “Advanced Fee Fraud” became the current descriptive. It encompasses far more than just those frauds emanating from West Africa.

An advanced fee scam is any misrepresentation that induces the victim to pay an up front fee in order to get something on a promise. The most common form first delivers the fantastic news of a prize or inheritance of some sort — “You’ve won the Serbian Internet lottery” or “Your fourth cousin was killed in a plane crash in Kenya and he has bequeathed you $18.4 million dollars.”

Eventually, when the Internet was born (NOT by Al Gore), the game changed dramatically. No stamps were required, just phone lines. Thousands a day became millions a day. The scam was raking in millions and it spread plague-like around the globe. In every variation, and there were many, the “winner” needed only pay the processing fees or some silly tax before the bounty was sent.

The numbers were usually reasonable sounding enough that folks would fall victim and send the certified funds, all while they were choosing which model of brand new Porsche to purchase. Then word began to spread and most of the world became skeptical of such advance fee requirements.

With would-be victims unwilling to flush cash down the toilet in hopes of a future payoff, the perpetrators came up with a new approach. Along with the notification letter, they enclose a check to cover the necessary taxes or filing fees. “We don’t want you to have to pay any advance money, so we are sending you enough to cover these fees.

Please deposit this check for $6,345 in your bank account and as soon as you see that it has cleared, send certified checks of $4,000 to Tax Administrator Joe Smith and a second certified check for $2,345 to Alfred Bingbong for transaction fees.”

Victims have fallen for this one in droves, believing that if the $6,345 clears their account, well, it MUST be real. Sure enough, in the sad case of Joe and Jane America, the check actually cleared within 2-3 days of deposit, and they were instant believers.

On the way to the Porsche dealership to check out the colors, they stopped to get certified checks (after all, the funds were there) and sent them out overnight mail, as instructed. The faster they sent them, the faster they’d get their millions. Right?

What really happened to Joe and Jane? They’re notified a week or two later, by phone or mail, that the $6,345 was a bogus check.

The bank says the only reason it was credited to the account so fast was that Joe and Jane had enough money in their savings accounts, bonds, etc. to cover it.

The bank did them a “courtesy” — and assumes no responsibility beyond that. By this time, the $4,000 and $2,345 are long cashed … and Joe and Jane are in deep financial doo-doo.

Follow these rules and you won’t get hurt. 1. Understand that NOTHING is free. 2. Accept that you are NEVER going to win the Serbian lottery. 3. If you even think for one single second that a stranger is offering you something that’s too good to be true, it’s NOT REAL.