Thursday, September 01, 2011

Monthly crime prevention tip: Avoid Internet scams.

By Dennis Nelson, Community Outreach and Policy Coordinator

"There's a sucker born every minute." Although this phrase is often credited to P. T. Barnum (1810-1891), an American showman, there is some doubt that he was actually the person to say it. Whomever actually said it, we all know it is generally taken to mean that there will always be many gullible people in the world. It was true in the 19th century and it is true today.

We have all heard about numerous scams over the years. They have been around for decades and even centuries. Scams are very much alive and well today; however, following the advent of the Internet, scams have become much more far-reaching. With the ease of electronic financial transfers and the confidence people have in the Internet, e-mail scams now flourish. Whether originating across town or across oceans, we must remain aware of scams.

Offers that involve transferring money for someone you don't know are nearly always a scam. If you are approached with a money transfer scam, you will be asked to transfer money for somebody using your own bank account or a bank account that you set up for this purpose. The approach could come in a number of ways: letters, e-mails and even in person. You may even receive an offer that sounds like a work-from-home opportunity that requires you to hand over bank account details to a stranger. The scams often offer you a commission simply for receiving money into your bank account and then transferring it out again. The commission can be as high as 15 percent or more of the amount transferred. Be aware that if you agree to take part, the scammer could use your account details to clean out your savings.

One scam that used to go around is apparently back. This scam attempts to squeeze money going out of well-meaning, trusting people. If you get a message like the (older) one below, simply delete it. Or if it's from the e-mail address of a friend, try contacting them by another means (preferably phone) to make sure they are actually safe and haven't been mugged. And make certain to let them know their email password may have been compromised.

Here is an actual e-mail received recently by a Milton resident:

How's everything on your end? This has had to come in a hurry and it has left me in a devastating state. I traveled to London, England for a Voluntary Training Program (VTP), and unfortunately for me all my money and cellphone was stolen at the hotel where I was staying by four armed robbers. The Embassy only cleared me of my traveling documents since I came in on unofficial purposes. The hotel telephone lines were disconnected during the robbery incident, so I have access to only emails.

My return flight back home is scheduled to leave in few hours from now but I've got to settle my bills before I'm allowed to leave....Now am freaked out....Please I need your help.

Thanks and Regards

Hope to hear from you soon.

This e-mail appeared to be from a good friend. Fortunately, the recipient became suspicious and asked a few open questions that both the friend and recipient would know (husband's name, their address, what they do for a living.) The person replied back with the correct answers, but the tone appeared more frantic and requested money be sent as quickly as possible.

Although the recipient was convinced at that point that this was not a scam, she wanted to talk with the friend. The friend then responded that her phone was taken, she could not use the phone at the public location she was at and stressed again that she needed money quickly. This time she included an address and asked for information about the Confirmation Number (MTCN) and other Western Union details used to send the money.

In an unusual coincidence, the recipient's husband was going to be in London so she said she would feel better if her husband handed her the cash rather than wiring it. When the scam artist saw this was not going his/her way that pretty much ended the e-mail conversation.

In this situation, the scammer probably obtained some brief personal information about the individual by doing some quick research on the Internet. Information about family names, line of work and home addresses can easily be obtained through a search.

Warning signs

You receive an offer that involves you receiving and sending money electronically.
The offer requests your account details so that money can be sent to your account.
There is a promise of employment simply by using your bank account, perhaps as an "account manager" or "transfer manager."
The scammer will suggest that they need an account in your country so they can conduct their business (e.g. trading shares).
Protect yourself from money transfer scams

Use your common sense; the offer may be a scam.
Never send money, or give credit card or online account details, to anyone you do not know and trust.
Establish random and non-specific code words with family members and close friends. Request this code word anytime you become suspicious of a possible scam.
Beware of products or schemes that claim to guarantee income or winnings.
Beware of job offers that require you to pay an up front fee.
Do not open suspicious or unsolicited emails (spam)-delete them.
Remember there are no get-rich-quick schemes-the only people who make money are the scammers.
Do not agree to transfer money for someone else.
Do your homework
If you have been approached by someone asking you to transfer money for them, delete the e-mail, throw away the letter or say no. Ask yourself this one question: Why would anyone want to pay someone that they do not know to transfer so much money?

These offers are almost always scams. You should also remember that transferring money for someone else could be money laundering. If you agree to help the scammer by letting them use your bank account, you could be getting yourself in serious trouble.

Go to the FBI Web site for information.

You should never give out your personal or bank account details to somebody you don't know and trust. Don't let the fact that an offer sounds enticing or genuine trick you. If the offer came in an e-mail, do not respond to the e-mail or try to unsubscribe from it. This will only confirm to the scammers that your e-mail address is valid.

If you still think the offer may be genuine, make sure you seek the advice of an independent professional (lawyer, accountant or financial planner) before providing any personal details.

Report them
If you have been approached about transferring money for someone else, or if you have provided your bank account or other personal details to someone and you now realize it is a scam, you can report it to the Milton Police Department and the following Web site(s): (Internet Crime Complaint Center) (Fight Identity Theft)

We hope that everyone will research this issue and not become involved in any scams. If you have recently set up a bank account, or given out your own bank account details in response to a possible scams, contact your bank or credit union immediately and do not transfer any more money. You should also spread the word to your friends, family and colleagues to protect them from scams.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What would we do without a Community Outreach and Policy Coordinator???