A Short Guide to Fraud Spotting.
By Ellis Tyd, Chief Liaison, Editor and Record Keeper (C.L.E.R.K.)
Have you, or someone you love, been approached by complete strangers, who do not know anything about you?
Have these complete unknowns promised to deliver long-lost goods, mislaid ATM cards, lottery winnings from lotteries you don’t remember entering or inheritances from people who you don’t know, who may have died several times in the past ten years?
Have you never been to Africa carrying large sums of money?
Are you prone to misplacing large objects, precious jewels or several previous emails?
Do you own a pet rock?
Do you own a Snuggie?
Did the death of Billy Mays shatter your world?
Does “As seen on TV” influence your purchasing choices?
Are you still waiting for hope and change?
Do you believe that your elected officials are truly selfless and altruistic?
Do you believe that these same elected officials have your best interests at heart?
Do you believe that they force themselves to accept their salary, perks and absurdly generous retirement packages at great personal cost?
If you answered “Yes” to any or all of these questions, you may be exactly the person to whom this guide is addressed.
Over the past few days, we have presented, here at HowToSpotAFraud.com, many examples of what have become loosely known as Nigerian 419 frauds. We have tried to present a substantive analysis of each example in the hope that you might learn to spot the tell-tale signs which should lead you to the conclusion: “This is a Fraud.”
We would hope that armed with your newfound knowledge, you would be able to resist the temptations of these wily predators, with their glib language and extraordinary persuasive arguments. We would hope that.
The vast number of these letters in circulation led us to conclude, sadly, that there are still many who, despite the evidence, believe that they may in fact be the prodigal next of kin of oil company engineers, or that they must have misplaced their ticket to the Microsoft lottery, or that they are humanity’s last hope for charity organizations.
To help those needy individuals, who are not able to analyze the body of work thus far presented on their own, we humbly offer the following guideline questions which may be applied to incoming emails in order to sort the chaff from the grain, although it has been our experience to date that such emails are one hundred percent chaff.
Guideline Question Number One:
Do they know who you are?
The standard salutations in the bulk of these emails have two things in common. The first is that they come addressed to “undisclosed recipients”. The second is that they open with something similar to “Dear Sir/Madam:” These should be red flags to you.
Let’s examine the first of these flags. If need be, find your driver’s license, a similar photo id badge, or even a telephone or utility bill. Check the spot on your document of choice where your name appears. Study it. Remember it. Have it? Good. Now, remembering carefully, compare your name to “undisclosed recipients”. Done? Good. Now ask yourself, “Was my name spelled undisclosed recipients?” If it wasn’t then this should be a clue leading you to conclude that you might not have received a legitimate communication. On the other hand, if your name is Undisclosed Recipients, you have our deepest sympathies as your parents are or were very cruel people and you undoubtedly had a pitiful childhood.
The test for the second flag should be much easier. Remember, the email was also addressed to you as “Dear Sir/Madam”. With only rare exceptions, you are certainly one or the other. It doesn’t matter which. It doesn’t even matter if you have it wrong. Certainly anyone who knows you would have an unshakable opinion as to which you were. If you aren’t confident making this decision by yourself, call someone you trust; a friend, a co-worker, your parents, etc. Of course if your name is “Undisclosed Recipients” we would suggest not calling your parents, they may not be trustworthy in this instance.
A legitimate communication, sent to you by someone you know, would undoubtedly start with your proper name or email address and would probably have either Sir or Madam, not both, unless it is a letter to “Undisclosed Recipients” from his or her parents.
Guideline Question Number Two:
Do you know who they are?
Who is this mysterious person who has arrived promising riches and wealth? Is it a friend? Is it relative? We do not know. We suspect that, if they didn’t pass the tests of Guideline Number One, they are none of these. Let’s review a few samples from the past few days.
Dr. John Tony claims to be the Director Allocation Department from the (Central Bank of Nigeria) Lagos Branch. Do we have any reason to know him? No, we do not.
Mrs. Rebecca Van Horn claims to be a terminal patient in the Netherlands and a very devote Christian philanthropist. Do we know her? No, we do not.
Alexander (Sandy) Andrew Flockhart claims to the Chief Executive Officer of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited. Strangely enough, that is the truth. Do we know him? No, we do not. Do we believe that the writer of the email is the real Mr. Flockhart? No, we do not.
Messrs. Shedrack Aririahu, Jude Okoye and Ben Larry claim to be from DHL in Lagos, Nigeria and the Central Bank of Nigeria. Do we know them? No, we do not.
These are all persons unknown to us and yet they seem bound and determined to help us get our winnings, inheritances and box at all costs.
Why would they do this? Are they genuine humanitarians? Are they the altruistic white knights of humanity righting wrongs against the downtrodden? Or could it be that they want us to reimburse them for whatever small fees they have paid on our behalf. Fees they paid out of the goodness of their heart since the holders of our fortunes could not locate us and decided to go to our close friends for help. We fear the latter.
If they knew us, or we them, they would know how tight we are with a penny and would know that there is not a chance that we are going to pay up front. We might consider an appropriate tip, but only well after the checks have cleared.
Before moving on to Guideline Three, let’s review. If they do not know us and we do not know them there is little chance that this is anything but a Fraud.
Guideline Question Number Three:
Where are they from, and whom do they represent, and what do they have to offer?
We find that these promises of large sums of money derive from many unlikely sources.
A common source for grants and endowments seems to be the United Nations. These offers never originate from the United Nations in New York City, New York, U.S.A. however. Rather, it seems, they come from smaller field offices, usually located in some obscure African city, a city which is probably worth less than the offer being made.
Lottery prizes seem to be another favorite. World famous lotteries such as the “2010 United Nations in Collaboration with UK national lottery 65th anniversary Compensation” we hear so much about these days. Another prize offer comes from the famous “156th Anniversary” lottery. Some come from different flavors of the “Microsoft and UK National Lottery” or something to that effect. We did not know such things existed.
Money arrives frequently from the dead and dying. The dead speak to us through a variety of lawyers and barristers. Those dying usually speak for themselves. We are the only surviving next of kin. We are the only honest person in the world. We are flattered and cajoled and bombarded with puffery and in return we need only send a check and fortunes will arrive in the return mail.
Refugees and those seeking political asylum seek us out because of our renown at whatever it is that we are renowned for. We are their only hope. They are hounded, surrounded, confounded and dumbfounded. Corporations and governments hunger for their wealth. We alone are their only chance for salvation and it will not cost us very much.
Try to remember that last trip to Africa you never made. Do you remember the multi-million dollar check you accidentally mailed to Namibia? Do you remember the box you inadvertently shipped to Nigeria? Fear not. They have been found and for a modest shipping fee they can be returned to you in as little as three days.
What’s that, you say? You don’t remember misplacing a fortune. Relax. You probably never did. They are merely using their well-developed powers of persuasion to mislead your tiny mind.
They are always corporates officers, doctors, directors, ambassadors and even on occasion the Secretary General of the United Nations, your familiars. The peasants you meet every day on the way to the plant.
Do not fall prey to their wiles. Trust your instincts. You do not remember them, because you do not know them. They are Frauds.
Guideline Question Number Four:
Have they told you their entire life’s story and do you need to know?
We have on two occasions won things on the internet. Once, we won a small refrigerator from the NFL, another time we won tickets to a Tony Award winning musical, the latter of these is a Fraud for another day.
We were informed that we won the refrigerator via email. We had played a small scratch game contest on the internet, which said we had won and automatically sent an email to the address we had used when registering. The email requested a shipping address via return email. We supplied an address and several days later a box containing the refrigerator arrived at our door.
The tickets were through a similar scratch game. Again an email requesting our name arrived at our registered email address. We supplied our name and were informed that the tickets would be waiting at the will-call window at the theater.
In both cases, there was a name and a company mentioned in the email and in both cases that is the extent of our knowledge of our benefactors.
We do not know where they were born. We do not know their siblings names. We do not know their health status, their religious preferences, the name and ages of their cats or how their parents came to die in Nigerian internal political wars.
We know none of these things and yet, miraculously, the box found its way to our door and the tickets sat patiently waiting for us at the theater.
You may have won something at sometime in your life, perhaps a lottery ticket, a bet on a horse at a race track, a hand of blackjack at a casino or perhaps a cheap plastic doll at a carnival booth.
Think of these times, when you have won something from someone you are not familiar with. When you received your winnings, did you have to pay for them? Did the person handing you your prize bring you up to date with all the fascinating details of their life and times? Did they demand payment in advance for their services?
No, of course they didn’t. They didn’t need your information and you didn’t need their life story. Did they feel the need to convince you that they were trustworthy enough to convey your cheap plastic doll from the shelf to your hands? No, they most likely tossed it to you and returned to baiting new blood to the hoop toss game.
You do not need someone’s life story in order for them to give you what’s yours.
That level of false familiarity is the hallmark of a Fraud.
Guideline Question Number Five:
Do they want to know too much about you?
These emails usually include some form of malformed form requesting much more information than is needed. The NFL merely asked us to where would we like the box delivered? The theater only needed a name to hold the tickets. The IRS will trust the post office to deliver a refund check or a payment check depending on which side of zero your balance landed, all they ask for is a name and an address. They will even accept a post office box.
They do not normally need our occupation, our sex, our telephone number, our place of birth, our place of employment, several telephone numbers or our photo id or passport number. In those cases when such information is required, it is usually stated clearly that that sort of information should never be transmitted by email.
So, why then, would we be inclined to provide all this information to someone who has failed on several levels to give any evidence that they have any idea who we are?
We wouldn’t and neither should you.
Again, this is a sign of a Fraud.
Guideline Question Number Six:
Is this all above-board? Can you keep a secret?
Are the correspondents adamant about maintaining secrecy, while in the same breath assuring us the everything is on the up and up? Are we warned not to tell relatives, friends and associates nothing about the deal? Are we instructed to prevent our agents from acting on our behalf as they are merely slowing things down? Do we even have agents? Are we badgered with admonitions of secrecy?
Of course we are. These wily ne’er-do-wells do not want any discussion that might cause someone to ask us, “What on earth are you doing?” or “Have you completely lost your mind?” No they don’t, they know that any rational discourse will pull the curtain aside and expose the man behind the curtain to be a Fraud. This is a risk they are not willing to take.
They assure us that, despite the dire warning to swear to secrecy, absolutely no risk on our part at all. They will take care of all the details, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Even when invited to West Africa, which might be politely referred as a raging hell-hole, we are assured that even though our correspondent’s family has already been thinned by the rebels and he moves about trying to keep his family safe, there is no risk to us at all.
Governments and secret cabals and corrupt officials and others are after the money, but it’s perfectly safe for us to just pop over to Africa to open an account at the local bank.
This doesn’t sound like a good idea to us.
It sounds like it’s part of a Fraud.
Guideline Question Number Seven:
Is the clock ticking? Is time running out? Is speed of the essence?
Is our new highly placed best friend in a hurry? Is he about to be discovered? Is someone about to put an end to his perfectly legal, entirely safe plan to place someone else’s fortune in our hands?
This is another common ploy. Were we allowed to peruse the offer at our leisure, they fear we will see through them. Helen Keller could see through most of them.
Unfortunately, there are those who will see the need for speed as a sign that there is really something to the proposal. This wonderful stranger from across the sea has personally chosen them to help with this convoluted shell game because they have no one else that they can trust.
Nonsense. We are sure you are wonderful. We are sure that we are wonderful, but we are sure that our email correspondent has not taken that into consideration when he targeted us with his letter. We are not likely to be his salvation. They do not want saving. They want cash.
Those who do respond and persist will come to ruin, as certainly as the sun will rise tomorrow. There are ways to protect yourself. They are not hard. These guidelines show some simple things. We hope they might lead you to question an email you may be contemplating even now.
Use some common sense. Use these guidelines. Use Google, Bing or Yahoo to search for the names of the people and companies used in the emails.
It is not real.
It is a Fraud.
We hope these simple guideline questions will aid you in spotting a Fraud. We will continue to point them out as we find them here at HowToSpotAFraud.com.
That is all.