The 419 scam has been with us for over thirty years now. Originally it was unsolicited letters that would pop through our letter boxes, and with no way of verifying the details, thousands were hoodwinked each and every year. With the invention and growth of the World Wide Web the method of delivery moved online. The messaging stayed the same, the result didn’t change. It is now a rite of passage with parents now having to educate their children that there is no deposed Crown Prince of Somaliland and even if there was, why would he be emailing (or Snapchatting now to keep on trend) you?
The reason why these 419 (named after the section within the Nigerian Criminal Code that makes this specific act illegal) or Advance-Fee scams are still a daily occurrence for us all is that the return on investment for the criminals is potentially huge whilst the risk of capture is incredibly small. In an article in the LA Times a few years ago, a journalist managed to gain an interview with one of the fraudsters who said he sent 500 emails per day (at zero cost) and received about seven replies, citing that when he received a reply, he was 70 percent certain he would get some money. Even if that return was $100, by increasing the number of emails it is easy to see how profitable it could be.
There really is no limit to the stories the criminals will concoct to try and grab someone’s interest and benevolence. We’ve all been told we’ve won lotteries, that we’ve been offered jobs with salaries beyond our imaginations and, of course, messages of undying love from people who have seen our profiles on Facebook. But one recent scam certainly takes the biscuit when it comes to pure fiction.
Keep this under your hat but there is an African astronaut by the name of Major Abacha Tunde who has been stuck on a secret Soviet military space station, Salyut 8T since 1989. Alas, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union a year later he has been stuck up there since, kept fed and watered by the occasional supply flight. But don’t worry, he is in good humour but is now understandably bored and wants to come home.
Alas, the Russians apparently won’t fund the mission to bring him home, which would cost $3 million. BUT, and here is the compelling reason to get involved, he has amassed a fortune of $15 million dollars since he has been up there, unable to spend his salary on anything of use. So if you (or me) can help fund his return home, we will get 20% of his banked wages. It’s a no brainer, surely?
Unfortunately, as far-fetched as the story is, someone, somewhere will fall for it, and whilst the vast majority can laugh about it, there will be a very small handful of victims who could potentially lose life savings.
Education is the best defence for these scams. The message is very simple – “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If it sounds absolutely preposterous to be true then it is almost certainly a fraud.”