Scamlines 40: Another Fortune Lost in Nigerian 419er

Canadian family pay out $150k, while others’ small losses build up to huge hauls

It’s disheartening to have to start this week’s round-up of the scam headlines with another tale of family heartbreak revolving around a non-existent inheritance, the so called the 419 or Nigerian scam.

But we do so because it’s clear people are still falling for this evil trick and we want to do all we can to help put a stop to it and prevent more misery.

We also have news of a couple of very widespread scams — low level credit card charges and a piece of malware believed to have infected more than 3 million computers.

There’s a new type of ID theft attack targeting seniors, a malware warning for BlackBerry users and a report of a clever business scam in which a conman convinced firms to buy rubbish metal from him.

Then there’s our sting-in-the-tail — literally. It’s the story of the lobster and the crab.

1. Family forks out $150,000 to Nigerian 419 scammers

The scam: Yet another tragic tale of woe, in which a victim loses a lot of money — in this case $150,000 — at the hands of Nigerian 419 scammers.

A young man in Leamington, Ontario, gets one of those familiar emails from a “lawyer” telling him that someone died, leaving $12.8m with a request it should be passed to a person with the same last name. He falls for it.

First there’s a $2,500 bill for the supposed transfer, then $5,000 for documentation, then $10,000 for something else. And on and on until the victim is borrowing tens of thousands of dollars from family members, flying to London, England, and handing over yet more cash for a suitcase that turns out to be full of worthless paper.

The solution: There is so little we can say that hasn’t already been said. Clearly, there are still people who’ve never heard about this wicked scam that often involves money supposedly belonging to a recently deceased person.

It’s never, ever true, and we urge all subscribers and readers to make sure their family, friends and colleagues know. Subscribing to is one good step. 🙂

But why do people fall for this trick? Read our thoughts on why so many people fall for Nigerian scams in this article. Plus, more on Nigerian 419 scams here.


2. Millions hit by bogus $30 security fix

The scam: Millions of PCs are believed to have become infected with the so-called “Conflicker” worm, which sparks bogus security alerts on victims’ machines and then offers a fake fix for $30.

Infection comes through email attachments, links to bogus and hijacked websites, network sharing and even compromised USB devices.

Research by Internet security firm F-Secure, suggests up to 3.5 million machines are infected.

The solution: As always, beware of attachments, links and hardware whose background or history you don’t know. Protect home networks with a firewall and keep your Internet security up to date — that will usually do the trick.

We have 10 tips to help you avoid fake anti-virus software here.

3. Small charges add up to fortune for card scammer

The scam: We reported recently on a trick where scammers test stolen credit card numbers, to see if they’re still active, by charging a tiny amount and checking if it gets paid.

Now it seems another crook is actually using the technique to repeatedly withdraw 25 cents a time from card accounts, hoping users won’t notice such a small amount.

He’s not after big money, just the repeat payments, which, multiplied by the huge number of card details he has, add up to a tidy sum.

The solution: The item appears as a charge in favor of a company called Adele Services, supposedly (but not) registered in New York State. Always scrutinize your credit card bills and contest with the card company anything you haven’t legitimately charged, no matter how small.

4. Seniors targeted in Internet info trick

The scam: A phone caller tells seniors in Laurens County, SC, that confidential information about them has been posted on the Internet and offers to get it removed.

Strangely, the scammer doesn’t offer to do this for a fee, which would seem the obvious route, but instead asks the victims to confirm their Social Security number, date of birth and bank account details.

Clearly, it’s an ID theft attempt.

The solution: If anyone asks you to confirm personal, confidential information, ask them to give you the information they have instead. That’ll usually scare them off but even if they do have the right info, don’t confirm it; ask for a phone number and check them out independently.

More on this type of crime at our ID Theft Information Center.

5. Job ad fronts credit monitoring come-on

The scam: Scambusters supporter Greg tells us about a phony job ad that caught his eye on Craigslist.

“Seemed like a legit job ad and application form until it required me to sign up for a ($20 a month) credit monitoring service and provide my (credit) score… Then, when I looked deeper, I saw all sorts of cracks appear,” he writes.

Indeed, the website is still up, full of badly worded language and with links that now lead nowhere.

The solution: Never pay to get a job and never disclose financial information about yourself to someone you don’t know unless you’re 100% sure of their identity and their need.

There are all sorts of job-related scams out there. For example, check out more on the financial representative job scam here.

6. Berry scam leaves sour taste for thousands

The scam: Is the acai berry the miracle cure-all that some would have us believe? We don’t know and we’re not entering into the debate. But we do want to warn you about a scam connected with the product.

In Boca Raton, FL, a company making the most incredible claims about the berry’s effectiveness leaves thousands of customers feeling more than a little off-color by charging their credit cards when they thought they were getting a free trial.

The local Better Business Bureau receives more than 2,000 complaints but no one answers the company’s phone and their registered business address appears deserted.

The solution: It’s not unusual for a company to ask for credit card details as part of a deal that includes a free trial offer. You usually get the option to cancel within the trial period and then not be charged — but this isn’t what happened here.

It underlines the importance of checking out the credibility and reputation of a firm before dealing with them. In this case, a check with the local BBB would have revealed the firm had an “F” rating.

Free trials followed by recurring payments are also commonly used for credit reporting services (see also our Item #6 above). Check out this article on free credit reports for more.

7. Bogus subscription try-on spoofs caller ID

The scam: The caller ID on a Bakersfield, CA, phone says it’s from the local newspaper and, sure enough, the caller is soliciting subscriptions to the newspaper and wants a credit card number.

Fortunately, the target is suspicious because her number is actually unlisted, yet the caller seems to know not only the number but also her name. She hangs up.

The solution: It’s easy to spoof a caller ID so never rely on it when you’re asked to disclose confidential information.

Learn more about caller ID spoofing in this article.

8. Bogus Exxon buyer was really a shady seller

The scam: Welding firms in Houston receive a call from a supposed Exxon buyer urgently seeking a hard-to-find type of welding wire.

When they fail to find it, the conman calls again and names a firm he says he believes has it in stock; the victim firms then place an order.

Trouble is, the firm is owned by the conman who then supplies them with inferior wire dressed up as the real thing. Police say he bilked at least eight companies out of thousands of dollars.

The solution: Well, if the supposed Exxon guy claimed he knew where to get the wire, we wonder why the target firms didn’t tell him just to place the order directly! At the very least, it should have aroused suspicions.

9. The tasty tale of the lobster and the crab

The scam: An interesting variation on the trick where a customer tries to return a bogus item for a store refund: In Montgomery County, NY, a shopper returns a lobster tail he bought, claiming it was bad and asking for some crab legs as a replacement.

As the swap is made, the store clerk realizes the lobster shell is empty but the man runs off with his haul of crab legs. When police finally catch him, the crab legs too are empty!

The solution: Store clerks are supposed to inspect returned goods before making refunds or swaps. They almost did in this case – but not quite!

One of the key lessons of this week’s roundup of the scam headlines is how small crimes, or initially small sums of money, soon accumulate into hefty takings for the con artists.

Whether it’s a 25 cent charge on your credit card, a first payment towards a non-existent inheritance or taking thousands of customers for a cheap ride they thought was free, the haul can add up to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The lesson is to question and review every payment you make, no matter how small, and to ask yourself: Where is this leading?