Monday, January 16, 2006

From Russia With Cash?

Advance fee fraud (419) scams never seem to go away. They mutate into another form and move forward. The news media and internet trace these scams to shady internet cafes in Lagos (Nigeria), but there is a lot of evidence that Nigeria isn't the only place they comes from.

The latest version is a solicitation to make a "cool" $45 million for helping a jailed Russian Billionaire invest some money. Of course, the end result for anyone who gets involved in this is having your account cleaned out.

Here is the latest twist as reported by Alex Nicholson from the Associated Press:

"Russia has more in common with Nigeria these days than just oil. Following up on the politically charged jailing of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a wave of scam e-mails in the style of Nigeria's notorious spammers have been popping up in inboxes from Moscow to Kentucky."

Here is the full story: Russian Tycoon Is Spammers' New Target.

We can't even blame Nigeria for inventing the scam. The evolution of Advance Fee started with letters from (allegedly) rich merchants during the middle ages AND "a rash of Russian Letters that appeared in the 1920s, with money supposedly needed to rescue people held by the Bolsheviks."

Here is another mutation of the scam that stereotypically, we blame on Russians:

The internet is full of stories of Russian Romance Scams, where men and women are duped into sending money to someone they meet in a chatroom, or dating site. If you were to talk to the people at Romance Scam 419 Yahoo Group (US), my guess is that they would tell you that the scams not only originate from Nigeria and Russia, but several other places, also.

With the evolution of the internet, scams inducing people to send money in advance of a promise (which never materializes) are becoming epidemic. The original letter scam has led to romance, lottery, auction, check cashing and job scams. Undoubtedly, it will continue to mutate into different varieties as new events occur and different things become popular.

They are also no longer exclusively from Nigeria and Russia, but can come from anywhere. Recently, Canada and the Netherlands seems to be fertile breeding grounds AND in the future, who knows?

The internet with it's borderless environment has caused an explosion in this activity. Furthermore, with computers and internet access becoming cheaper all the time, more are more potential victims are getting on-line daily.

The reason why this scam continues to work is that it plays on human emotion and recognizing that is key to teaching people how to avoid being victims.

"If it seems to good to be true, it isn't."

For a good resource on definitions on all the various mutations of Advance Fee, Wikipedia does a pretty good job in their Internet fraud section.

Here is another well put together page on Advance fee activity from Caslon Analytics (Australia): the 419 Scam: basis, statistics, regulation.

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