Scamlines 35: ‘Lost Relative’ Nigerian Scam Rip-Off Costs Victim a Record $400,000

Nigerian scams, tax con and bogus car warranties prove old tricks still work best

Even after recently running our Scambusters article about the latest Nigerian-type scams, we were amazed this week to come across yet two more heart-breaking stories in which victims lost a small fortune, $400,000 in one case — and probably a good deal of their dignity and self-esteem.

The villains will stop at nothing and just keep asking for more and more money, as the first two stories in our round-up of the latest scam headlines show.

We also have the lowdown on a cheap drugs scam that delivers a double blow to victims and new outbreaks of familiar frauds — the economic stimulus check and the auto warranty tricks.

And if you’ve received a tempting offer of cut-price tickets for January’s Presidential inaugural bash, we’ve got news for you — they’re free. If you can get them.

1. Savings, mortgage and car loan blown in ‘lost-relative’ scam

The scam: It must be a contender for the biggest, single Nigerian scam of all time — a Sweet Home, OR, woman falls for the line that a long-lost relative in Africa will give her a fortune if she’ll just help the relative out of a short-term cash shortage.

She starts by sending $100, then a couple of hundred, then a few thousand, with the scammer ratcheting up the bait, promising a payback of more than $26 million. The victim is hooked, her doubts cast aside by phony letters supposedly from the FBI and the presidents of Nigeria and the US.

Eventually, she parts with $400,000 — yes $400,000 — after wiping out her husband’s retirement savings, mortgaging the family home and taking out a loan on her car! At this point, the Oregon Department of Justice is alerted about a $144,000 money-wire transfer to Nigeria, steps in and breaks the bad news.

The solution: The victim was an intelligent lady, with a responsible job in the health care industry. You’d have said she was no fool — yet she fell for this terrible, cruel trick, strung along by a series of plausible tales.

We don’t think Scambusters readers would be taken in, but we do urge you to pass on this story to others you know. It’s alarming to think there are still people who don’t know about this.

The bottom line: Never, ever send money to people you don’t know on the promise of a big and easy return.

More on Nigerian scams here.

2. Lonely heart senior falls for phony hospital and airfare ruse

The scam: Another tale of woe out of Africa — a lonely, housebound UK senior puts an ad in a lonely hearts column and receives a reply from a woman in Ghana saying she’s looking for a long term relationship.

But she claims to have hospital bills to pay. And then there’s the airfare so she can fly out to meet him. He borrows thousands from his bank and on his credit card, wires it to Ghana and, well, you can guess the rest.

The solution: Desperation can drive us to do things that, in the cold light of day, seem crazy. That’s what happened here. As in the case above, the four signals this victim didn’t spot: Africa, a person he didn’t know, wiring money and, unfortunately, a promise that was always too good to be true.

We covered dating scams and online dating scams here.

3. Double blow to ‘cheap drugs’ victims

The scam: Looking for cheap alternatives to prescription drugs, people are lured — by phone or online — into wiring money to the Dominican Republic.

The pills never arrive but the victims then get calls from people claiming to be special agents of the FDA (the US Food and Drugs Administration). They’re told they have broken the law and are being fined — again via money wired to the Caribbean. If they don’t pay up, they’ll go to jail.

The solution: Scammed twice! That’s not such a cheap solution to the problem of expensive drugs. The money-wire is the real giveaway here. The FDA says the scheme most likely began with the theft of personal information from consumers who previously purchased drugs via the Internet or telephone or who were victims of credit card fraud.

You can read more about cheap prescription drugs in this Scambusters article.

4. Don’t pay! Presidential tickets are free — if you can get them

The scam: Ever ready to exploit an opportunity, scammers are believed to be lining up a ticket fraud for no less than the 56th Presidential Inauguration Ceremony in Washington DC on January 20.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has issued a warning about public ticket availability, pointing out tickets are free and distributed only through Congress members.

“Any website or ticket broker claiming that they have inaugural tickets is simply not telling the truth,” says the Committee.

The solution: If you want tickets, contact your member of Congress or US Senator. But, probably, you shouldn’t hold your breath in anticipation!

Don’t get caught in a cheap ticket scam — find out how to avoid them here.

5. Nice to have, but more stimulus checks aren’t on the way

The scam: The economy’s in bad trouble and there’s been talk of yet another check from the IRS to help kick-start things again. That’d be nice but talk is all it is for now.

But that hasn’t stopped con artists from phishing for New Hampshire and Colorado residents’ personal financial details, via an email, supposedly from the Internal Revenue promising the money will soon be on its way.

The message asks victims to supply bank and social security information, which is then used for identity theft.

The solution: Well, first, as we said, there’s no such plan at the moment. And second, even if there was, the IRS does not do business over the Internet this way.

This is just one of many types of IRS or tax related scams. For more examples, check out these articles.

6. Car warranty tricksters try their luck in Canada

The scam: An old favorite — the auto warranty scam — has been showing up during the past few weeks in several parts of Canada.

Letters warn that your car factory warranty is about to expire. The letter looks official, with sets of numbers and auto images, and invites victims to call a 1-800 number, where they’re offered a five-year warranty for a knockdown price.

Of course, payment is by credit card, so the scammer gets both your cash and your card number. Oh, and there’s no warranty.

The solution: This trick works because, by blitzing mailboxes with the letter, the scammers reach a number of owners whose warranties actually are about to expire, so that makes victims think the offer is legit.

If your warranty is expiring, talk to your dealer.

7. Watch out for this sneaky Windows activation con

The scam: You’re running Windows XP on your computer when a window pops up notifying you that the product needs to be activated. It looks like a genuine Microsoft notification and even contains the registration key of your operating system.

Funny, but you thought you’d already done that. Still, no harm, in going through the motions again. But, what’s this? Microsoft supposedly wants your credit card details for security purposes.

If you give these, there’s a short delay as your card number is “verified”, then you’re asked for your date of birth and social security number. That’s all an ID thief needs.

The solution: This is a new version of a 2007 trojan, known as Kardphisher, that can be unwittingly downloaded from phony websites or email links. Microsoft activation does not work this way — and you should never disclose your social security number to anyone claiming to be them.

Find more information on fake antivirus and fake software scams here.

8. The proceeds of crime — now it’s payback time

The news: If you want proof of how lucrative a life of scamming can be, consider this story from Gloucestershire, England, where a court has just confiscated the haul of a family who made a living out of conning elderly people.

They confiscated items included jewelry, luxury cars, works of art and a cool £150,000 (about $250,000) of cash stashed in a garden shed. In fact, police said the family — a man (now deceased) his wife, their son and a cousin, got away with more than £1.5 million (about $2.25 million) from old folk.

Happily, they’re now “out of business” and have been ordered to pay back their victims every penny. The deceased husband is presumably paying his penance elsewhere. 😉