Don't believe everything you read. And when it comes to the internet, don't believe anything you read until you're sure it's not another con job.
Recent internet scams reported by readers follow many of the same patterns we've seen before. There's still any number of "forward this email and win something fabulous" messages floating around, and lots of phony contents and surveys to help spammers refresh their address lists. Even some of the new ideas aren't really new.
An old con game from the streets that has moved over to the internet is the Nigerian ambassador's son ploy. Someone claiming to be the heir of a former Third World political figure says they have a large sum of money tied up by their country's currency regulations. To get it out, the would-be heir needs an honourable, well-respected Westerner like you to open an account with a few thousand dollars, and the would-be heir will then transfer the trapped millions into the account and split it with you.
One email version of this scam offers the recipient 20% of more than $US20 million in a supposed Nigerian contract fund. "Please note that this transaction is 100% safe and we hope to commence transfer within seven banking days from the date of the receipt of the following information: your banker's name, full address, account name and account number, and bank telephone/fax numbers as well as your company's full name and address, phone/fax numbers, and also your personal phone/fax numbers," the message reads. "The above information will enable us to write letters of claim and job description respectively."
Of course, the information also could allow them to clean out your bank account. I've seen other email versions of this fraud that purport to be written by a diplomat from Oman, by the son of the late director of a Sierra Leonean diamond mine, or by a member of a Saudi Arabian military procurement committee. The advantage for swindlers doing this by email is that they do not need to be Nigerian or whatever, nor must they be in Nigeria or have any confederates there.
The ability to forge any identity on the internet allows the bunco artists to take advantage of people's good nature. A poignant plea for charity may appear to be from such organisations as a hunger relief fund, a school for troubled kids, or a home for reformed prostitutes, and maybe it really is. But maybe it really isn't.
Perhaps the most despicable impersonators are those who pretend to be legitimate nonprofit organisations distributing alerts about missing and/or abducted children. Readers have sent me several examples of lost child messages that appear to be just more spammer scams for harvesting email addresses. The alert they send you might be for a real kidnap victim because these are readily available from legitimate agencies, but signing up for more alerts or forwarding the message to friends may not be a good idea. If you get messages from unknown or questionable organisations and you feel guilty about ignoring them, I'd recommend that you go to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children site at www.missingkids.com and find out there what you can do to help.
The internet has spawned a few new rip-offs. Some readers got a fax from a "domain name monitoring" organisation informing them someone was registering the dot-net version of a dot-com domain name the reader owned. The monitoring company, which claimed to function as a clearinghouse for ISPs that want to check on possible trademark conflicts on domains they're registering for their customers, was offering to register the dot-net domain for the reader instead. In each case, the fax was marked "Final Notice," with a deadline to respond the same day it was received.
"When I called them, they said 'someone else' was trying to register (the dot-net domain) through 'some domain registry,' that employs them," wrote one reader. "We were being contacted to give us a chance to register the domain name first (through the monitoring company), since we own the federal mark. When I said that I had no intention of registering the dot-net domain and that if anyone else did I would take legal action due to trademark infringement, the person said, 'OK, the third-party registration would be allowed to proceed,' and hung up the phone."
In fact, none of the dot-net domain readers contacted ever wound up being registered. No doubt the third party trying to register the dot-net domain was a fiction created by the monitoring company to try to scare people into registering an undesired domain through them. And although it didn't work with these readers, no doubt others were taken. After all, there's another old maxim that can be readily updated for the internet: There's a new sucker logging on every minute.