Oct 11, 2008

The Mysterious Universe of Fraudulent Spam

You know what I mean, right? I'm talking about the unsolicited email that arrives regularly in your Gmail, Yahoo! or Hotmail account. The ones that tell a long story about someone in Nigeria or Botswana or Kenya.

Somebody's grandmother died and left money; or someone was wrongfully arrested for life and left money; or someone came across a big pool of money accidentally left behind by corrupt government officials. Stuff like that.

The email ends with the sender asking if you will help by providing your bank account details to him, or by sending him some money so that he can get out of some terrible emergency.

Naturally, such emails are quite fake and you can smell fraud all over them. Typically we should delete them without a second thought (if they have't already been caught by the spam filter).

However I've often wondered how exactly the perpetrator plans to go about cheating his gullible victim (if he does find one). So yesterday when I received one of these emails, I decided to play along, just to see what happens next. The email address sounded more authentic than usual (it had a Chinese Singaporean name) and the message was as follows:
How are you doing today? I am sorry i didn't inform you about my traveling to Africa for a program called "Empowering Youth to Fight Racism, HIV/AIDS, Poverty and Lack of Education, the program is taking place in three major countries in Africa which is Ghana , South Africa and Nigeria . It has been a very sad and bad moment for me, the present condition i found myself is very hard for me to explain.

I am really stranded in Nigeria because I forgot my little bag in the Taxi where my money, passport, documents and other valuable things were kept on my way to the Hotel am staying, I am facing a hard time here because i have no money on me. I am now owning a hotel bill of $1050 and they wanted me to pay the bill soon else they will have to seize my bag and hand me over to the Hotel Management.

I need this help from you urgently to help me back home, I need you to help me with the hotel bill and i will also need $1250 to feed and help myself back home so please can you help me with a sum of $2300 to sort out my problems here? I need this help so much and on time because i am in a terrible and tight situation here, I don't even have money to feed myself for a day which
means i had been starving so please understand how urgent i need your help. i have decided not tell my family so that they will not be worried. when I return I will tell them and they will understand.

I am sending you this e-mail from the city Library and I only have 30 min, I will appreciate what so ever you can afford to send me for now and I promise to pay back your money as soon as i return home so please let me know on time so that i can forward you the details you need to transfer the money through Money Gram or Western Union. Hope to hear from you. James.
So last night I replied as follows: "hi james, sure. It's not a big sum and i an glad to help. Please give me the hotel's name and bank account no. and i will send some money for that bill".

What happened next? This morning I checked my emails and sure enough, there was a reply. Here it is:

please ignore the mail..my email account been hacked... ;(.

So now I may have uncovered one possible step of the modus operandi. It seems that the fraudsters hack the email accounts of innocent folks, and use those email accounts to send out their fraudulent message.

Any of you know the rest of their tricks?

10 comments:

Fighting fit said...

I heard there is a way to mask an email, making it appear like it came from some email address.

On the other hand, maybe the account you replied to wasn't hacked. The fraudster just didn't feel like you were genuine enough to wanna fall for his ploy; you smelled fraud, he smelled bait.

But seriously, I think these con jobs are going on everywhere--on the streets too. I have been stopped on Orchard Rd by two young ladies, who had a couple of guys in tow I suspect (cos they lingered a short distance away from the women). The duo said they were visiting and lost all their important documents and money in a taxi. They asked for some money, and use of my handphone to call relatives in China. I suggested calling the police here, saying they could help in locating dishonest taxi driver. They could also call China embassy for help. They were reluctant to accept that. So I walked off. As I turned to leave, I noticed one of the guys lingering nearby with his back to me had his head down, looking at something in his hands--probably a handphone.

Another occasion, one foreign lady walked up just outside a church and asked for some money to take a cab, claiming she lost her belongings and had no money. Oh well, I little red flags started going up, but I parted with two bucks. Told her to take a bus.

There was one other time...I must be magnet for such things. But my point is it is going on on the streets. Filtering out the real and the fake will take some effort and time. But I think the quickest way is to mention the involvement of authorities such as the police and you'll quickly be able to see if they are genuinely in need of help.

Just like the guys asking for donations to help orphaned Iranian children years ago at US airports. They had folders full of reports, pictures, lists of donors and the amounts given. But if you say you don't have cash on you and suggest sending them a check, they walk away.

Fighting fit said...

I heard there is a way to mask an email, making it appear like it came from some email address.

On the other hand, maybe the account you replied to wasn't hacked. The fraudster just didn't feel like you were genuine enough to wanna fall for his ploy; you smelled fraud, he smelled bait.

But seriously, I think these con jobs are going on everywhere--on the streets too. I have been stopped on Orchard Rd by two young ladies, who had a couple of guys in tow I suspect (cos they lingered a short distance away from the women). The duo said they were visiting and lost all their important documents and money in a taxi. They asked for some money, and use of my handphone to call relatives in China. I suggested calling the police here, saying they could help in locating dishonest taxi driver. They could also call China embassy for help. They were reluctant to accept that. So I walked off. As I turned to leave, I noticed one of the guys lingering nearby with his back to me had his head down, looking at something in his hands--probably a handphone.

Another occasion, one foreign lady walked up just outside a church and asked for some money to take a cab, claiming she lost her belongings and had no money. Oh well, I little red flags started going up, but I parted with two bucks. Told her to take a bus.

There was one other time...I must be magnet for such things. But my point is it is going on on the streets. Filtering out the real and the fake will take some effort and time. But I think the quickest way is to mention the involvement of authorities such as the police and you'll quickly be able to see if they are genuinely in need of help.

Just like the guys asking for donations to help orphaned Iranian children years ago at US airports. They had folders full of reports, pictures, lists of donors and the amounts given. But if you say you don't have cash on you and suggest sending them a check, they walk away.

- said...

"I may have uncovered"? Isn't it common knowledge that a lot of spam is sent through hacked email accounts?

You may be interested in how hackers routinely break email signup CAPTCHAs and sign up for spam accounts en masse. The unstoppable bit (when it comes to most common captcha technology) is when they even forego using automated processes and just literally pay lots of humans a tiny fee to crack through thousands of captchas.

Mr Wang Says So said...

So what's the next step? Suppose for example they ask for your bank account, and you give it. What happens next?

Fighting fit said...

I don't think they want your bank account. With it, they can't take your money.
They want you to wire the money out somewhere else.

Fighting fit said...

There was a guy a few years ago who lost a big sum to the Nigerian scam. It was in the papers. You could try to search that.

But scams evolve, to survive and evade suspicion.

enelrahs said...

Just like humans.

Pkchukiss said...

Mr Wang, there's a site dedicated to wasting these scammers' time: http://www.419eater.com/

You might want to try asking questions in the forum there

Dag said...

Yes, there are ways and means to make your email appear to originate from a particular address. I've tried it myself before with a web service; it does work, amazingly.

BunnyButt said...

Well I am curious about how these people get into my email account too.

I am guessing that they got my information via a virus, and I do weekly checks on my computer. I also update my anti virus program at least once a month. The report always states that my computer is clean, but yet, many people on my address book and MSN messenger still get spams and spam messages bearing my name as sender.

It got to the point when at work one day, someone messaged me on MSN messenger that he got a message from me - from my home computer (I guess he differentiated the difference between work and home through my MSN picture)- and my home computer was turned off!

What should I do?