Citizens being hit by ongoing scams

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dear Editor:

The Barry County Sheriff's Office would like to remind the citizens of Barry County of an ongoing problem happening all over the country. We have recently received several new complaints regarding variations of the classic Nigerian scam.

Before the Internet became so prevalent, most of these scams were received by potential victims through the mail and by fax. With the speed and ease of mass mailings with e-mail, these crooks have switched methods and are using e-mail to lure in unsuspecting victims.

The way this usually works is that you will receive an e-mail from a person claiming to represent either a bank, oil company, attorney for a rich deceased client or something similar.

The crook will tell you that he needs a contact in the United States to represent his interest in some money held here. He'll offer to split the money with you just for using you as a U.S. contact. The amount varies, but the victim's share is usually in the millions.

What would happen if you participated in this scam is that you would reply to the e-mail, then the crook would start conversing with you and eventually he would Fed-Ex you a package containing either money orders or a cashier's check for expenses. (They use Fed-Ex or some other private delivery company to avoid federal mail fraud investiga-tions.)

He would then tell you to deposit the check into your account and then return a smaller portion of the money to him via Western Union or other wire transfer method. The amount you would return is usually less than $5,000 to keep the federal law enforcement agencies out of the investigation, which would come later.

Usually what happens is that when you deposit the money, they pressure you to send back the smaller portion to them as soon as possible. By doing this, you have withdrawn money from your account before the bogus check comes back to your bank as a fraud. You then end up owing your bank somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000.

If you fall for this scam, please don't expect your bank to be overly understanding and forgive this debt. You will be held financially responsible for this money.

Also, remember that if the money is sent overseas, (which is almost always is), then our law enforcement will not have any jurisdiction in foreign countries.

Most of these scams originate in the African country of Nigeria, but sometimes start in other African nations and sometimes in Europe.

It has been my experience that federal law enforcement agencies won't even look at these type of cases unless a substantial amount of money has been lost by the victim. On several cases I have worked, I've been told by federal law enforcement officers that the loss has to be $100,000 or greater. Most of these crooks know this and keep the amount well under that threshold.

Remember that there are people out there who do fall for these scams and the bad guys know how to mass mail them all over the country. If they send a million of these e-mails out and if only one percent fall for them, they have made a killing.

Another thing to remember is something that we've all heard many times before: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Be wary of someone sending you something for nothing. If you sell on E-bay or other Internet auction sites, watch out for someone who sends you too much money for an item. There is another variation of the scam that works in that manner.

If you have questions about payment someone sends you after an Internet transaction, please visit your local bank, law enforcement agency, or in the case of postal money orders, your post office.

The best thing you can do to prevent falling victim to these scam artist is to just delete the e-mails they send to you. The promise of loads of money for very little effort is tempting, but sit back and think about it. How often does someone you don't know and have never met offer to give you millions of dollars?

Don't become a victim of internet fraud.


Robert Evenson

Detective with the Barry County Sheriff's Department