October 7, 2012
Risks low for Internet scammers
By Ian Robertson, QMI Agency
If you consider answering any of the constant tsunami of e-mails offering millions hidden in Africa or elsewhere, I have some fabulous Florida swampland available.
Addressed to “Beloved One,” “Dearest One,” or ever-popular “Undisclosed Recipient,” scammers promise riches in exchange for advance fees.
Once mailed, then faxed, “Nigerian Letter,” or “Nigerian advance fee” e-mail scams now swamp the Internet.
“They very much involve organized crime,” said Det.-Const. Michael Kelly, of the Toronto Police department’s financial crimes unit.
“Dollar amounts are too high and the risks are too low,” compared to robbing banks, he said, adding gangs often use overseas agents to cash victims’ funds and avoid police.
“At least $1 billion a year is lost to mass marketing fraud,” despite educational programs by police, RCMP and federal Competition Bureau staff at six Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre sites, OPP Det.-Const. John Schultz said.
But the CAFC staffer said even that is a a low estimate.
By comparing seized “sucker lists” with complaints to police, Schultz said analysts determined “only about 5% of the victims report to us.
“There are a number of reasons,” he said, including embarrassment and people believing police won’t help — especially over small amounts. “But a couple of hundred bucks multiplied by thousands of victims adds up.”
Promised $35 million in 1998, an indebted Toronto bookkeeper sent $2 million in company funds to Nigeria. He was charged. His firm failed.
After re-emerging in the 1980s, a century’s-old style of letter scam offering fortunes in exchange for advance fees went viral. Now, via the Internet, senders are based mostly in the U.S., UK, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, South Africa, Netherlands and Spain.
Most scam e-mailers offering exclusive partnerships include supposed princes, sheiks, ex-military officers, bureaucrats, preachers, lawyers, bankers, oil executives, surviving relatives — and even a purported dying widow who received a message from God to share her fortune. Identical scams flood cyberspace via address-harvesting and bulk e-mail-sending software.
Spelling flubs are common, including:
• “Milloners Club Casino” on a lottery scam script Toronto Police seized recently.
• Several people lost more then $100,000 in a recent Toronto caper that included a bogus $2.6-million cheque with both “Publisher Clearing House” and the correct name, “Publishers Clearing House” printed on the front.
Most people realize foreigners may not be fluent in a second language, but crooks avoid raising suspicions with proper wording, some selling scripts to future scammers without anyone understanding the text.
Photos are rarely legitimate.
Documents three recently-convicted Toronto fraudsters had included a bogus Ontario driver’s license bearing an Internet-scalped picture of actress Sarah Michelle Gellar.
While most recipients trash e-mail messages, Kelly said criminals “also do mass mailings,” offering lottery winnings, jokes, religious text, news, stock and crime alerts, and dating and marriage services. Despite many computers having spam-detectors, “phishing” messages seeking money, bank account, passport or credit card information to help supposed friends or relatives are constantly sent.
Even when cash promises crash, some victims reply to requests for more funds to overcome unforeseen problems.
Investigators traditionally regarded greed as a sucker’s failing, but Kelly said many victims “need to believe someone out there loves them” — especially with the leading plague of romance scams that cost Canadians more than $12 million last year.
“Victims also say they needed money so badly, to keep the lights on or pay debts,” he added.
Canada has long been home to “boiler-room” bases for targeting Americans, due to heftier U.S. penalties and crooks believing police wouldn’t cross borders.
But Schultz said co-operation and information-sharing increased and the penalties got tougher after President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Jean Chretien met in 1997.
The long arm of the law now has a longer reach and computer-tracing has improved, according to police.
Lastly, regardless of what is written or said, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
•People can report thefts or fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at antifraudcentre.ca or 1-888-495-8501.