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“Hello, dear.” The background of the message box starts raining pink hearts and a picture of a voluptuous girl in her twenties appears.
“Hello,” you respond.
“I’ve missed you dear, how have you been?”
Let’s say you’re a lonely widower and you subscribe to an Internet messaging service such as yahoo or msn. You are approached by somebody named “sweet_natasha”.
She asks to be “added”, and you do so, thinking this might be the beginning of something interesting. You go through the initial motions of “hi, how are you, asl, where do you live,” etc. and begin to talk.
Regardless of what you tell them, you can say and do nothing wrong, and as you get deeper into the conversation you begin to get…emotionally…involved. They ask for photos of you, or want you to get onto a webcam.
At first you get flattery and sentimental expressions such as “how much they missed you” when you log on, and “when can they talk to you again” when you log off.
If you think this new found relationship seems to good to be true…it probably is…
A brief history of scams
Scams are as old as mankind. Perhaps the earliest con job was recorded in Genesis when Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright by disguising himself with a woolen shirt (his father was blind, Jacob was a “smooth” man and Esau was hairy). When his father Isaac, who was almost blind, felt the woolen cloak Jacob offered him, he thought it was his older brother Esau and gave him the family inheritance.
In the subsequent 5000 years or so, scam artists have continued to soak the unwary. Medieval con artists duped wealthy patrons into paying ransom fees to get fictional sons of nobility out of prison. Snake oil salesmen in the 1800’s sold worthless, and sometimes dangerous, “cures”, and donations to non-existent charities and fraudulent investment schemes have been solicited through the Postal Service since it was founded.
Blinding the victim
Various scams, including the now famous “Nigerian 419 Scam”, have found victims through email spam. In case you’re not familiar with this particular hoax, it begins with a story about multi-millions trapped in a foreign country, usually an African nation, which cannot be retrieved unless you supply a bank account and money to pay off officials, fill out paperwork, and cover fees. Your reward is usually 20% of the gross amount, which will be deposited in your bank account. Of course, you must provide all of the account information to the scammer.
Others include “get rich quick” schemes, home based business pyramid scams, “become a representative of our firm” proposals — too many to list here.
Most are based in the assumed avarice of the victim. When presented with an opportunity to make a lot of money with very little or no effort in a short space of time, it’s hoped that the target will become so blinded they will abandon common sense and fall into the scammer’s trap.
Keeping up with technology
Scammers have kept up with technology, advancing from old fashioned “word of mouth” to mail fraud. In the late 1980’s and 1990’s through the Internet email “spam” came into being.
By obtaining email lists through various nefarious means, scammers are able to tell their story to an almost unlimited number of people. Spam blockers, however, have made this much more difficult, and scammers have found a new tool: Instant Messaging.
Making that vital connection
By posing as someone looking for an online dating relationship, or as someone looking for a legitimate employee or partner in a business, Internet scammers can use instant messaging to make a vital, personal connection with their targets.
Internet messaging allows the scammer to make contact with online chatters, and through nicknames like “sweet_natasha”, “lovely_beautiful_woman”, or “sincere_older_man” begin a relationship that is going to result not in just a lost identity or a raided bank account, but most probably a broken heart.
The African scammers, usually from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and other countries, haven’t quite gotten their technique down yet. For older men they will pose as a young girl looking for a husband in the United States with a sad story about how everyone in their household is married and they can’t find a husband, or they are a “fashion designer” or a model looking for work, or some other, almost plausible story.
Women are approached with chatters bearing male nicknames, and may soon find themselves engaged in deep conversations with the most wonderful man they have ever met.
Setting the hook
The technique, here, is to blind a lonely person with a fantasy relationship and hook them emotionally. Once the scammer is reasonably convinced the target has taken the bait, he or she will attempt to set the hook and reel them in…
In Part 2 of this series, I’ll discuss some of the characteristics of instant messaging scammers and how to spot them.
write by Bridget