What Comes Around Goes Around

Today’s New York Times reports that a 68-year-old broker stole over $600,000 from elderly clients and then lost most of his loot in an Internet fraud scheme. The broker received an email from someone claiming to represent his distant relative who had died and left him over eight million dollars. The broker took the bait and wired overseas more than $400,000, apparently believing that the money would aid in the release of the inheritance.

Despite the significant publicity devoted to exposing such scams, consumers continue to fall prey to email fraudsters in significant numbers. Reports suggest that 29% of Internet users have been deceived by spam emails. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Australians lost $36 million dollars last year to fraudsters claiming affiliations with Nigeria. An intriguing new scam involves fraudsters who set up fake profiles on dating sites, stringing along targets for months before agreeing to meet and then asking for money to help pay for a plane ticket. Some, like the Nigerian High Commission, suggest that the deceived are as guilty as those who ask for money and thus should be subject to arrest as well. That sentiment may not convince many, but in the case of the New York broker who stole his clients’ life savings, the email scam is truly just deserts.

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4 Responses

  1. Dan O says:

    Are you sure you didn’t pull that one off the Onion?

  2. Brett Bellmore says:

    “An intriguing new scam involves fraudsters who set up fake profiles on dating sites, stringing along targets for months before agreeing to meet and then asking for money to help pay for a plane ticket.”

    New? I set up with an international internet dating service about four years back, (It’s how I met my wife, we’re approaching our 2nd wedding anniversary.) and the very first response I got, within a couple minutes of starting the account, was from Nigeria. I expect even back then they were combing the dating sites for potential victims, on an automated basis.

    Why we humor the Nigerian government’s claim that they’re not complicit in these scams is beyond me. It’s a major source of foreign exchange for them.

  3. Danielle Citron says:

    Brett and Dan, Thanks for your responses. I, too, had to re-read the NYT story–the 68-year-old broker stealing from his 90-year-old clients and losing his shirt to another scam artist–as it seemed outrageous. But in the end it attests to the power of greed–blinding in all respects.

    And thanks Brett for the scoop on the long-standing nature of dating scams. It sounds as though the Nigerian government hopes to tackle the problem given the bad press it has received. And it also sounds like the email scam artists do not necessarily come from Nigeria.

  4. Danielle–

    The “29% deceived by spam mails” stat looked fishy to me. I looked at the original study, and I see that it says that 29% made purchases from spam. No deception is involved: this would include a purchase I thought of making when a seltzer-maker spammed a number of lists I was on.

    How ironic you link to some website called ITFacts.biz for the story. A quick look around shows that it has a word-for-word copy of posts to ZDNet’s ITFacts blog. There is no direct citation of ZDNet (it is listed under “Research Links”, along with several other press release feeds), leading me to conclude that it’s another cog in the spam-blog universe…