February 13, 2001, 9:52 AM — 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 e-mail 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 honorable, 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 e-mail version of this scam offers the recipient 20 percent of more than $20 million in a supposed Nigerian contract fund. "Please note that this transaction is 100 percent 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 e-mail 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 e-mail 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 organizations 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.