Monday, August 13, 2007

Dateline NBC: Talk About High Tailing It


By the year 2007, most Americans with email accounts have received at least one emailed letter from a foreign banker, lawyer or relative of a deceased Third World ruler that requests your assistance in moving a huge sum of money. Sometimes the letter asks that the money be moved into your account; others request that you assist in moving the sum to another account. Most of us delete these messages but there are the hopeful few—and greedy—that believe that this message is their ticket to riches. Maybe it’s the belief that this person from the Third World is just so unsophisticated, trusting or desperate that this must be a genuine cry for help. Don’t believe that an African mailing address spells s-t-u-p-i-d. These email scammers are banking on the buckshot theory that they’ll connect with some greedy or naïve person from the thousands of emails they send weekly.

This column covered this subject four years ago. Apparently, there are so many Americans getting swindled that Dateline NBC had to cover it. The August 12, 2007 Sunday edition featured a segment called to catch_a con man. Chris Hansen was the investigative reporter and TV presenter. The segment included copies of emailed request, interviews with FBI agents and undercover filming of emailing scam cyber centers.
In classic 60 Minutes style, Dateline NBC showed meetings with three email scammers wherein the scammers are told the truth about the meetings; the reporter reveals his true identity and the camera crew comes out of hiding. In one instance, the exposed scammer literally high tails it from the meeting place. Imagine a grown man running down the street despite the fact that his face has been filmed. The other two men maintained some semblance of dignity by returning the money and walking from the meeting place.
This particular type of email scam has become the specialty of certain Nigerian men to a point that the FBI calls them “Nigerian scams.” Africa receives minimal coverage in American media. Interested people must use a search engine to find the websites that contain news stories from and about the African continent. When the continent makes network news it tends to be about civil unrest or famine. Maybe there should an email campaign from America directed at these men to consider national (Nigeria) and ethnic (African / African American) pride and quit the scamming.

Joking aside, the scam is financially hurting people. There are online resources for those who’ve been scammed and for those who want to avoid being scammed. Looks Too Good To Be True, http://www.lookstogoodtobetrue.com/ gives basic advice for avoiding online predators. The site also has a Fraud Risk test. The FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center collaborate to operate the Internet Crime Complaint website, http://www.ic3.gov/. Besides describing the various scams existing on websites and email, this website is the place to file a complaint.

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