Over the past several years, Americans have lost approximately $500,000,000,000 to Internet scams. Tech-savvy con artists target anyone without respect to race, religion, education, or social standing. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you have an e-mail address, you’re a target.
Dateline’s Internet Scam Crackdown
Dateline NBC recently exposed an elaborate Internet scam initiated overseas (possibly Nigeria) in which the victims were told they were the heirs to a multimillion dollar fortune. One victim, a Connecticut woman named Shireen, was told she was heir to a $15 million oil fortune because one of her supposed-relatives was killed in a bad accident.
But… There was a catch. For a fee of $200, she could get the ball rolling to have her “inheritance” deposited into her bank account. After exchanging a series of e-mails and sending more money – totaling over $200,000 (her life’s savings) and a trip to London to meet with the “bankers and lawyers” handling the money transfer – Shireen wondered if she would actually see the inheritance that she was promised in the first place.
She decided to go to the police.
Why didn’t she go to the police sooner? Why did she wait? As Dateline NBC reported, she felt foolish for being conned out of her life savings. She was embarrassed to report the scam because, as an educated woman, she thought she should know better than to fall for such a scam.
It turns out shame and embarrassment are the top two reasons why people in her shoes don’t report being duped by Internet scams. Some people would rather keep quiet to save their dignity than speak up.
How Internet Scams Work
The way Internet con artists get people to fork over wads of cash is by playing on the victim’s emotions. Throw in a pinch of Psychology 101 and a dash of digital technology and you have the basic ingredients of an Internet scam.
Internet con artists use:
- Fake news stories with pictures – perception is reality, right?
- Fake documents – certified death certificates, certified bank documents, and anything else that looks official
- Fake names – last name might be the same on paper as someone in your extended family, but the person never existed
With continual pleas for more money, Internet scam artists stop at nothing to keep the scam going as long as possible. When a person tries to finally cash in on the promised “inheritance,” the Internet thieves use all sorts of delay tactics. In Shireen’s case, the so-called diplomat asked for $37,600 on top of the “10% bank fee” which turned out to be a cool $1.5 million in addition to all the money she sent previously.
Keep in mind that Dateline NBC was at Shireen’s side, stringing the scammer along until the bust. Very few people, if at all, have the luxury or opportunity to turn the tables on Internet scam artists.
International Internet Scams
International Internet cons are difficult to prosecute because not all countries are interested in prosecuting Internet crimes — they’ve got larger fish to fry. Another reason international Internet scams can be tough to crack is because the perpetrators are hard to track down.
Does that mean it would be a waste of time and effort on your part to report that you were the victim of an online con? Not at all. Victim of Internet scams should speak up. Tell the police. Who knows, if enough people report a scam, authorities may crack the case — and you may get your money back.