An overview of the main types of scam we deal with and the basics of how to avoid being a victim of a scam.
#1010 by ColinWarrins Mon Jul 30, 2007 7:02 pm
Author's note: Below is what I hope will be useful to victims in identifying a rough outline of how a scam works and provide some explanation from the bad guys' perspective. In addition, everyone should understand that it's not true that "only dumb people fall for these scams" or that "the greedy victims get what they deserve." Many people fall prey to the scammers because they are less able to fend them off (by reason of disability, age or inexperience). Some however, are experiencing a rough patch in their life, and need something to believe in -- and these emails seem to arrive at just the right moment. Others just want to help a needy orphan, an abandoned wife. Others still see a legitimate business opportunity being offered. Scammers succeed for the reason that they are determined, ruthless, conniving, and most importantly, organized.

Prologue

While scams will vary, the vast majority follow a basic set-up -- the reason for this is that it is proven to work. It moves fast and applies maximum pressure and confusion to keep the victim off-balance and compliant.

In some scams, you only deal with one person, start to finish. However, it is more typical to find a cast of characters devoted to speeding you toward financial ruin. Often you'll find this entire ensemble emanating from the imagination of just one person intent on stealing your money. Other times, the initial scammer who contacted you (the "catcher") will pass you up the food chain to his boss who will then "work the job" and get you to pay the funds. Key indicators of such a transfer will be a dramatic change in language, both in proficiency and terminology. Regardless, the song remains the same: get your money out of your hands and into theirs.

The Introduction

An email comes to you out of the blue offering a fantastic financial opportunity without any clear connection to who you are or anything you've actually done. "Hmm," you wonder, "maybe I did have a distant aunt in South Africa."

This email, and typically the next 3 or 4 that follow are known as "scripts" as the initial offerings were written by someone and then passed around to an ever-expanding network of scammers carefully designed to move you as fast as possible toward making your payment. This exact email (save for your email address) will be one of dozens or hundreds sent out that day to people around the globe. Hundreds more went yesterday; hundreds more tomorrow. The catcher only needs a small percentage to respond to make his efforts worthwhile. He is the ultimate cold-caller.

The Deal

Following your initial reply of interest, the scammer will start pumping out the aforementioned scripted replies as fast as he can -- sometimes ahead of your responses (a clear sign of an overeager scammer). As the responses are scripted, you should note that his responses have little to no relation to your email. Most of the scammers have too many scams going to take the time to carefully craft their replies to what you wrote. Unless you are clearly not interested or are diligent in asking fundamental questions, you are going to get Script Emails 2, 3 and 4.

New characters may be introduced at this point. Popular secondary characters include "the Barrister", "the Banker", "the Diplomat", the "Security Company" and "Payments Processor/Representative". These characters are used to add legitimacy to the scam, and to add another voice pressuring you to pay. Many victims are less likely to argue with these "professionals". In addition, these scammers will have stock forms (powers of attorney, tax certificates, and invoices to name just a few). [If you are ever wondering who you're dealing with, check the IP address and compare to the original invitation. Many times you'll find not only are the scammers different people, they're from different countries; continents even. Yes, while Africa deservedly gets a bad rap, scammers are everywhere, and you should not automatically assume they are less sophisticated than any other business.]

Filling out forms is an inevitability in life, and the scammers' operations are no different. Psychologically, people are reassured by paper bearing stamps and seals. It is not unheard of for victims to show up at police stations and banks bearing reams of paper, throwing the stacks at the bewildered police officer or banker as they continue to protest the possibility that the scam isn't legitimate -- "it says so right here!"

The Hard Sell

If you've gotten to this point, things are proceeding nicely from the scammer's point of view. By now, you are likely a week or more into the scam, and have exchanged 3, 4 10 emails. You are now a high priority and will be receiving not only emails, but a continual stream of phone calls pressuring you to move forward, to sign the documents, to deposit the checks. If you haven't doubted the scammers by now, they aren't going to give you the time to question what you're doing. Phone calls from 3 or 4 people will only add to the sense that you are dealing with a sophisticated and legitimate operation. You won't be getting much sleep at this point.

The Close

This is the moment of truth (so to speak). Will s/he or won't s/he pay the money? Will the victim wait for the check to clear or will the barrage of emails and phone calls keep the momentum going and force the victim to just go ahead and make that transfer from his/her bank account? Many victims will experience their first trip to the Western Union office -- sadly it won't be the last for some. Off your money goes -- as you eagerly await the big payoff -- bragging to your friends of the jobs you will quit, the boats you will buy.

Epilogue

A hearty round of thanks and congratulations by the scammers for completing the transaction is quickly followed by an urgent email or phone call -- "There's been a problem. An unanticipated tax problem has reared its ugly head," says the Barrister. "The funds must be placed in escrow until the anti-money laundering duty is paid," he explains. "Fortunately, I have a good relation with this escrow officer and my client has agreed to pay 50% of the fee, leaving you with only $2860 to pay within 2 days. Please hurry!"

They will not give up until you have lost every dollar/euro/pound in your possession. Pleas for mercy, for understanding, for re-payment will be lost upon these scammers. Many will insult you for questioning them and make it clear how awkward a position you are putting them for holding up the transaction.

But you've been to ScamWarners and know better. :wink:
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