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Internet spam spawns scams

E-mail inboxes are overwhelmed with spam and scams. Who are these uninvited letter writers and what do they want? In many cases, they are scam artists trying to steal your money and identity.

Spam scam compendium

"While not all unsolicited e-mail messages are fraudulent, consumers should be very suspicious of anyone who promises them easy money, incredibly cheap prices or free services that may have hidden costs," says Susan Grant, director of Internet Fraud Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization created by the National Consumers League in 1992.

Last year Americans lost $6,152,070 to Internet scams according to IFW.

Here's a list of the most common scams currently flooding the Net. We've included examples of e-mail spam that could be a scam attempt. All the company names have been removed and who knows, maybe some are actually legitimate. We doubt it.

Remember: Investigate carefully before responding to any unsolicited offer. Or, better yet -- delete it.

Auction and retail scams
Scams at online auction sites are the most frequently reported form of Internet fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice and IFW. These schemes typically offer high-value items, such as Cartier watches, Beanie Babies and computers, in hopes of attracting many consumers. What happens is the victim wins the bid, sends the money and receives nothing or receives products of much lower quality than advertised.

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Example of e-mail invitation to bid:

Subject: Live 3 minute auctions

Live 3 Minute AUCTIONS!

Best Deals on Jewelry, Computers, Electronics,
Watches, Etc. -- All starting at $1 with
No Minimum Reserve.
CLICK HERE!

You Set The Price!top of page

Nigerian bank scam
This one's been around for many years but continues to flourish. The Nigerian bank scam is the fastest growing Internet fraud reported to IFW. The average victim lost $5,957 to this scam in 2001. Hundreds of different variations of this scam exist, but they all use the same tactics.

Many of these e-mails claim to be from a person in Africa, usually Nigeria. The writer claims to have access to millions of dollars, either from a relative or from knowledge of an idle account. A percentage of this money is promised to the victim if they will allow the money to be processed through their personal bank account. The victim is to keep their share and send the remaining money to the scammer.

The check given to the victims is fraudulent. The victim is then liable to the bank for the check they wrote to the scammer.

In some cases, churches and other nonprofits have been targeted by this scam. They are told a wealthy person has died and left all their money to the victim organization.

TruthorFiction.com, a Web site founded by broadcaster and author Rich Buhler, has tracked 91 versions of this scam.

Example:

Subject: Family Business Assistance
HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL
FROM: Prince Tunde O Adisaraki
MOBILE:XXX-XXX-XXXXXXX
TEL: XXX-XX-XXXXXX
FAX:XXX-XXXXXXX

Greetings sir,

This letter might surprise you because we have not met neither in person nor by correspondence. But I believe it is one day that you get to know somebody either in physical or through correspondence. I got your contact through some discreet inquiry from the chamber of commerce and industry, you and your organization were revealed as being quite astute in private entrepreneurship, one has no doubt in your ability to handle a financial business transaction.

However, I am the first son of his Royal Majesty, Iginawari Nweke Adisaraki III and the traditional ruler of Eleme Province in the oil area of Rivers State of Nigeria. I am making this contact to you in respect of US 28,000,000.00 (Twenty eight million United States Dollars) which I inherited from my late father. This money was accumulated from royalties paid to my father as compensation by the oil firms located in our area as a result of oil presence on our land which hamper agriculture which is our major source of livelihood. Unfortunately, my father died from protracted diabetes. But before his death he called my attention and informed me that he lodged some funds with a security firm with an open beneficiary status. The lodgment Security Code Number was also revealed to me. He then advised me to look for a reliable business partner abroad who will assist me in investing the money in a lucrative business as a result of economic instability in Nigeria.

So this is the main reason why I am contacting you for us to move this money from the security firm to any country of your choice for investment purposes. So I will like you to be the ultimate beneficiary, so that the funds can be moved in your name and particulars to any country of your choice where it will be claimed and invested. Hence my father have had intimated the security firm personnel that the beneficiary is his foreign partner whose particulars will be forwarded to the firm when due.

But I will guide you accordingly. As soon as the fund reaches, I will then come over to meet you in person, so that we can discuss physically on investment entials. Based on this instance, I and my family have unanimously decided to give you 20 percent of the total money and annual 5 percent of the after-tax returns on investment for the first three years. Thereafter, the term shall be varied. Two percent for charity homes and 3 percent for expenses, which may arise during the transaction, fax and phone bills inclusive. The balance of 75 percent you will invest and manage for my family. I hereby guarantee you that this is not government money, it is not drug money and it is not money from arms deals. Though you have to maintain a high degree of confidentiality on this matter.

I will give you all proof of deposit and existence of money once urged and fully satisfied with your capability and honesty. I hope this will be the beginning of a prosperous relationship between my family and your family. Nevertheless, if you are for any reason not interest, kindly inform me immediately, so that I will look for another contact.

I require also your private phone and fax numbers for easy communication. I am waiting for your quick response through my private phone or fax number.

I am waiting for your quick response.

Yours faithfully,

Prince Tunde Olusola Adisaraki (For the Family)top of page

Mortgage aid scams
This scam targets people whose home mortgages are in trouble. The scammers promise to take care of problems with mortgage lenders or to obtain refinancing for the victim. Sometimes they ask the victims to make mortgage payments directly to them. They may even ask victims to hand over property deeds. The scammers pocket all the money the victim has paid and file for bankruptcy in the victim's name, usually without the victim's knowledge. Victims lose their money and their homes and are left with a bankruptcy listed on their credit records forever.

Example of spam e-mail targeting debtors:

Be debt free in 12 months
*********** X **********

Eliminate debt fast!
Make one low monthly payment!
Save 30%-50% and be debt free in 12 months!

Would you like to be debt free in 12-30 months? Would you like to pay off your debt at 60 cents on the dollar? Debt mediation can help you accomplish this goal and get you back on your feet to financial freedom without bankruptcy, counseling programs, or a loan. top of page

Donations to terror attack victims
After Sept. 11, unsolicited e-mail messages began circulating urging people to donate money to the Red Cross, the United Way, the September 11 Fund or to other charities benefiting victims of the attacks and their families. The Department of Justice reports that scammers tried to persuade people to leave valuable personal or financial data, such as credit-card numbers at Internet Web sites. These turn out to be fraudulent sites with no affiliation to legitimate charitable organizations.

Telemarketers got in on the act, too, operating fraudulent sweepstakes and magazine-subscription schemes falsely promising that a portion of the money would be provided to the disaster recovery efforts.

According to the Department of Justice, legitimate charitable causes do not need to make unsolicited telephone calls or send unsolicited e-mails for donations.

Example:

Subject: Help victims of terror attacks!

The American Red Cross needs your help. Terror victims and their families are relying on donations to help them through their loss. Please make a donation to the victims of this horrible national tragedy. Please fill out this form to make a donation to the American Red Cross. top of page

Work at home and business opportunity scams
Scammers who used newspaper ads to promote the old "work-at-home" scam are now plying their trade via e-mail. They tempt victims by stating "no experience necessary," promise high earnings and claim to have inside information. These scammers usually require victims to pay anywhere from $35 to several hundred dollars or more for information, kits or materials that do not provide the promised results.

Frequently, these schemes involve making handicrafts, stuffing envelopes, medical billing, or state, "Use your home PC to make money fast in your spare time."

In the handicraft making or envelope stuffing scam, after paying fees and completing the assembly of the products, victims are told their work is low quality and unworthy of compensation.

Medical billing scams require victims to purchase supplies and lists of doctors who, inevitably don't exist or are not interested in the service.

Another version of this scam promises victims the secret to a successful business. After paying a fee, victims receive the secret: place ads and e-mails exactly like the ones they answered.

Example:

Subject: Simple Non-Internet Home Based

Business -- Special Report
Dear Subscribers;

I'm always on the lookout for new, REAL home-based business opportunities for our subscribers, and I've stumbled on to something pretty amazing.

There's no "learning curve," no complicated technology to figure out. It can be run completely from home, and there's no face-to-face selling.

* Incredibly Simple -- Everything's step-by-step
* Let's you help people while making money
* Fantastically profitable

If you no longer wish to receive e-mails from us CLICK HERE.top of page

Free computer offers
Many offers for free or low-cost computers are scams. "Free" may only apply to the hard drive. A monitor, keyboard, mouse, modem, printers or speakers may cost extra. Some offers require providing personal information -- a warning sign of identity theft. Some scams require a contract with a particular Internet Service Provider for several years of service.

There may be no warranty or customer support. In many cases the computers don't exist at all, or the seller may be on the verge of going out of business and never deliver the promised merchandise or rebate.

The Better Business Bureau warns that fraudulent operators open and close quickly, so sellers with no complaints registered on an auction site or with a fraud alert site are not necessarily legitimate.

Example:

Free digital camera
We have partnered with X to offer you a SPECIAL Member Bonus!!
Act now and get the amazing 3-in-1 PocketCam for FREE!!
- It's a Digital Camcorder
- It's a WebCam
- It's a Standard Digital Camera
All of this from a camera that easily fits in your pocket so you can take it ANYWHERE!!
This is a limited time offer ... so ACT NOW!!
Click here: To enjoy this special LIMITED TIME promotion!
Thank you!!top of page

Online medication
While many prescription Web sites offer convenience and low prices, other sites could actually endanger health. According to the Better Business Bureau, the quality of prescription drugs from some online pharmacies is unknown. There have been many cases of counterfeits drugs that lack any real similarity to the approved drug. Even drugs that prove to be authentic may be contaminated or expired.

Some of these sites claim to have doctors on staff available to diagnose and prescribe medications with no examination. The BBB warns that this could result in an inappropriate prescription.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy provides information on approved on-line pharmacies.

Example:

Subject: Discreet Overnight Pharmacy No Prior Prescription Needed!

VIAGRA PHENTERMINE PROPECIA
And Many Other Top Medications
No Prior Prescription Needed!top of page

Quick divorce scheme
These e-mails and Web sites promise a quick divorce obtained in the Dominican Republic or other foreign country without either partner ever having to leave the United States. Victims spend $1,000 or more after reading the often false, misleading, or legally inaccurate information. Most victims eventually receive false assurances that they are legally divorced. In fact, they are still legally married.

Example:

Subject: Low cost divorce from the best law firms

I thought you might need these:

1. Sometimes You Need a Lawyer, too.
Get the Legal Help You Need Today.
Click HEREtop of page

Investment scams
Investment scams give potential victims false information to encourage them to purchase a certain stock. Unknowingly, victims purchasing this stock cause the dramatic price increase of these previously weak stocks. The scammers then immediately sell off their stocks and reap the profits. Victims are left with worthless or nearly worthless stocks once the price falls.

In another version of the scheme, false, negative information about a company is spread to frighten investors into selling their stocks. Scammers then buy stock at a low price. After the information is proven false, the stock recovers. While victims sold at a loss, the scammers make a profit.

Example:

Subject: The Stock To Watch

SPECIAL ALERT!
X. (XXXX:X) Six Month Target Price: $5.33

Shares Outstanding 15 million
Approx. Float 4 million
6 Month Proj. $5.33

A Few Reasons To Own X
1. Potential opportunity to get in at the beginning.
2 X successfully completed a reverse merger, and opened for trading as a publicly traded company.
3. X has averaged $50 million in sales over the past three fiscal years, and is profitable. top of page

Identity theft scams
One flourishing identity theft scam can be found on Web sites selling high-demand items at a much lower price than offered by legitimate companies. The victim is told to pay nothing until the item is received. The scammer then uses the victim's name, along with an unlawfully obtained credit card number belonging to another person to buy the item at a legitimate Web site. Once that Web site ships the item to the victim, the victim, believing that the transaction is legitimate, then authorizes his credit card to be billed to the scammer or sends payment directly to the scammer.

A new identity theft scam gaining in popularity comes from scammers claiming to be from the victim's credit card company, eBay or PayPal.

The con artist sends a message that states that the company -- a name you recognize -- needs to verify the victim's account information to make sure it's protected. The scammers then use the information to make fraudulent charges to your account.

EBay would never e-mail or call you to ask for account information; if you are registered, they already have it. However, eBay may send you an e-mail requesting that you change your password if they suspect fraud. To ensure you are changing your password at the true eBay sign-in or log-in page, check the URL (link). The URL that appears in the Address/Location area of your browser will begin with "http://cgi.ebay.com/". Pay close attention to all characters in the address, including the forward slash (/) that follows "ebay.com". Even if the URL includes the word "ebay", it may not be a genuine eBay Web site.

Never give your personal information to a company that already has it. If in doubt, contact the company independently using the company's contact information on their official Web site or on a bill -- not from unsolicited e-mails or phone calls.

Example:


This E-mail was submitted by (X@ebay.com) on Friday, May 10, 2002 at 14:00:30

msg: Dear eBay User,

It has become very noticeable that another party has been corrupting your eBay account and has violated our User Agreement policy listed:

Bidding and Buying

You are obligated to complete the transaction with the seller if you purchase an item through one of our fixed price formats or are the highest bidder as described below. If you are the highest bidder at the end of an auction (meeting the applicable minimum bid or reserve requirements) and the seller accepts your bid, you are obligated to complete the transaction with the seller, or the transaction is prohibited by law or by this Agreement.

You received this notice from eBay because it has come to our attention that your current account has caused interruptions with other eBay members and eBay requires immediate verification for your account. Please verify your account or the account may become disabled. Click Here To Verify Your Account - http://error_ebay.X.comtop of page

Pornography tricks
Some information and pornography sites require victims to download information or programs. Many of these downloads contain viruses. Some victims may unknowingly download a dialer program. The dialer program enables the scammer to disconnect the victim's modem and then connect it to a foreign telephone number, resulting in expensive phone charges. Some dialer programs turn off the volume on the victim's computer so victims can't hear the dialing take place.

Example:

Subject: Hey I switched e-mail addresses to avoid.

HEY! I finally got my Web cam setup on a Web page come check it out to watch me.
Click here to get to the site. Also this is TOTALLY 100% FREE!
Hope to see you soon sexy!top of page

Job service scams
Job service scammers take advantage of job seekers. They claim to offer employment services, inside information or inside contacts to jobs. After paying a fee, victims learn they only provide advice, help writing a resume -- or less. Some fraudulent employment services simply sell lists of companies that they have gotten from public directories. They may not have contacted those companies directly or know if there are really any job openings.

Example:

Subject: Looking for energetic people

~~~Important Announcement~~~~

Immediate Help Needed. We are a Fortune 500 company that is growing at a tremendous rate of over 1,000% per year. We simply cannot keep up.

We are looking for energetic and self motivated people. If that is you then click on the link below and complete our online information request form, and one of our employment specialists will contact you.top of page

Scholarship search
Scholarship search scams charge for their services, guarantee scholarship money and don't deliver scholarships. Some may provide lists of available scholarships that the victims could have found on their own for free. There's no such thing as a guaranteed scholarship unless it's offered directly by the academic institution.

Example:

Subject: College Scholarship Report for friend

Friend, click here to find FREE COLLEGE MONEY!

You are eligible for up to $20,000 in scholarships and financial aid. To complete your FREE report click here!

Dear Friend,
Congratulations! Here is your chance to find FREE College Money! You are currently eligible to receive up to $20,000 in college scholarships and financial aid:

Click here to receive your complete College Scholarship Report, including application instructions. Note: Some scholarships require a response within two weeks. Get started now by clicking here! This is a free service. top of page

Magazine subscriptions
These scams offer great deals on new subscriptions or to renew current ones. These con artists trick victims into spending more than they realize or paying for magazines they'll never receive. The cost may be described as pennies a month -- but not state how many pennies or for how long. Some subscription services don't allow cancellations once they have placed the orders with the publishers.

Example:

Subject: You know you want it

Dear X,
For the best source of information for all the stuff that matters, check out X magazine. To start your RISK-FREE trial to X and enter to win a FREE $100 Gift Certificate go to:

Try X magazine today! You're sure to enjoy every page.top of page

Travel Fraud
Some unscrupulous companies offer free trips -- for a price. Often, victims are told they have won a free trip.

These free or incredibly cheap trips may have hidden costs. IFW warns of cruises that are advertised as free but don't include air fare to the departure point or hotel stays. The recipient of the free trip is required to make these extra reservations through a specific company -- and the costs are much higher than market price. Others may require attending a long, high-pressure sales pitch for a time share or travel club membership as part of the trip. Still others are valid only if bringing a companion along at full fare.

Example:

Subject: You won a cruise!

You Won A Cruise X

You have just won a cruise aboard a 1600 passenger luxury liner.

Click here for detailstop of page

Sweepstakes and prizes
These scammers tell victims they have won a prize or sweepstakes. Victims are then told they need to send the company taxes on the winnings or purchase a product to receive the prize. It's illegal for a company to require purchasing a product or paying a fee to win or claim a prize. And taxes are never sent to the awarding company -- only to the IRS.

Some scammers will instruct the victim to share bank account, Social Security or credit card numbers. No legitimate sweepstakes company will ask for this information. These scammers steal the victim's identity and empty their bank accounts, make charges on the victim's credit card or open accounts in the their name.

Some con artists use company names that are identical or very similar to well-known, legitimate sweepstakes operators. The IFW says doubting consumers should contact the real company to verify the call, e-mail or letter.

Another sweepstakes scam reported by the IFW involves an advance. These scammers give advances on the promised winnings to build trust. They send a check as an advance on the winnings, instructing victims to cash it and then wire payment to them for taxes, bonding or some other phony purpose. After victims wire the money, the deposited check finally bounces because it turned out to be an elaborate fake. Now the scammers have the payment, and the victim owes bank the amount withdrawn.

Example:

ATTENTION:
RE/ AWARD NOTIFICATION; FINAL NOTICE

We are pleased to inform you of the announcement today, 4TH OCTOBER 2002, of winners of the DELOTTO NETHERLANDS SWEEPSTAKE LOTTERY/ INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMS held on 1ST SEPTEMBER 2002.

Your company, attached to ticket number 025-1146-1992-750, with serial number 2113-05 drew the lucky numbers 13-15-22-37-39-43, and consequently won the lottery in the 3rd category.

You have therefore been approved for a lump sum pay out of US$1,200,000.00 in cash credited to file REF NO. EGS/2551256003/04. This is from total prize money of US$20,400,000.00 shared among the seventeen international winners in this category. All participants were selected through a computer ballot system drawn form 25,000 names from Australia, New Zealand, America, Europe and North America as part our International Promotions Program, which is conducted annually.top of page

Promises to fix your credit
E-mails promising to fix bad credit are basically fraudulent. No one can erase negative information if it's accurate. Only incorrect information can be removed.

Accurate information stays on record for seven years from the time it's reported. Bankruptcies stay on for 10 years.

Once you sign up for the service, here's what happens: The credit repair thugs send letters to the various credit reporting agencies stating that the negative information on your credit report is false. The credit reporting agencies generally remove the negative information while investigating the claim. The victim is shown his cleaned-up report and believes his credit history has been fixed.

But what you don't know is that once the credit reporting agencies verify the information and discover that the negative information is correct, it is placed back on your credit report.

Legitimate services exist to help people with debt problems. However, credit repair services can't ask for payment until they've kept their promises. Federal law also requires for-profit credit repair services to give clients an explanation of their legal rights, a detailed written contract and three days to cancel. However, many credit repair services that claim to be nonprofit charge hefty fees and cause more debt problems. IFW recommends contacting the National Foundation for Credit Counseling for advice on building a good credit record.

Example:

You can now access and clear up bad credit online, directly from the convenience of you own computer.

Watch your credit daily with real-time updates.

GET THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO QUICKLY & EFFICIANTLY REMOVE NEGATIVE CREDIT ITEMS FROM YOUR REPORT.top of page

Lost pet phone scam
Internet Scambusters has reported a new scam plaguing people who have lost their pets. The scammers look for lost pet announcements in newspapers or on signs, then call saying that a Mexican worker took the pet back to Tijuana.

Victims are told to call the worker in Tijuana. The phone number they are given has the area code 809 -- which is actually a number in the Dominican Republic that charges callers astronomical amounts for each call. When the victims call, the scammer's associates string them along with broken English and misunderstandings, until they've racked up hundreds of dollars on the phone bill. The victim ends up paying a huge phone bill that goes directly into the pockets of the scammers, and your pet is still no where to be found.

-- Updated: March 26, 2003

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See Also
Top 10 ways Americans get scammed
Top 10 investing scams
Financial advice glossary
More advice stories

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