Beware: Internet scammers getting smarter

Mar 21, 2010

By Dale Goldhawk

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I’ve often written about the ways scammers use the Internet to defraud people. It hasn’t been all that difficult, however, for most people to distinguish the phonies from legitimate emailers. The conmen and women were fairly easy to spot because they used very poor grammar and included a number of spelling mistakes even in emails that were supposed to have originated with banks or credit card issuers. Now, I have to give some of them a bit of credit; the scammers have gone to school and some are spelling better and using semi-polished grammar. Even their stories are becoming slightly more plausible.

There is an email plea making the rounds. It is much like the typical attempt to defraud the gullible in that it contains the same kind of  request for help. But it is more imaginative and better constructed than the run-of-the-mill scam so be careful.

This email purports to come from a man in Britain who claims he has a nice family and supports them as an artist. He produces paintings and art cards, he says, and has begun selling these in North America. The problem is, he carefully explains with passable grammar and few spelling errors, that he is being paid for his art sold through associates in the U.S. and Canada with U.S. Postal Money Orders that he has trouble cashing in the U.K.  Let’s not even quibble about his flub that he is being paid in U.S. money orders for sales made in Canada. 

This guy wants you to become his payment guru. His associates will send you cheques or money orders and you are supposed to deposit these in your bank account and immediately send your cheque to our artist in the U.K.  For your trouble, you can deduct 10 percent of the total before you ship the money overseas.

Of course, if you are naive enough to fall for this scheme, don’t be surprised if the bank calls a week or so later to say the cheque has bounced or the money order was fraudulent and it is taking its money back from your account.  Don’t be shocked to find you have lost every cent you shipped to our phony artist.  Cheer up, you still have your 10 percent commission. 

So, the stories are getting marginally better. This character even includes his name, home address, VAT (the U.K. equivalent of GST) number and other specifics to lend credibility to his tale.  And his command of the language is not all that bad. There are still large leaps in logic: why U.S. money orders in Canada? How does a British artist sell minor works in Canada and the U.S. when a lot of our own artist can’t sell their stuff? How would a person peddling art cards make enough money to need a local to cash all his cheques and send him money? And, if this con artist already has ‘associates’ here, why don’t they cash the money orders and send him the money.  Of course, it’s all nonsense, as far as I can see.  And, after 40 years chasing fraudsters, I can see pretty darned far. 

But the bad guys are learning from their mistakes so we all have to be sharper to avoid the cons.  The best advice is not to open any email or, for that matter, snail mail envelope you receive if you don’t know the source. If you do open and read such email, never do anything you are asked to do – even to try to collect on that Sweepstakes prize you are supposed to have won.  Don’t fall for the tricks even if every word of the trickster’s story is spelled correctly. It’s not the grammar, it’s the thought that counts and the thought is to steal your hard-earned money.

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