Computer Crime Research Center


Web scam victimizes Alaskans

Date: January 22, 2005
By: Nicole Tsong

Investigators say that a new version of an old scam has appeared in Alaska and are warning people not to fall for the latest incarnation of the venerable "Nigerian" Internet money scheme.

Instead of targeting people through letters or e-mail spam, the scammers pick up their victims in an Internet chat room for Christians and sell them false stories, often claiming they can't cash their U.S. Postal Service money orders in Nigeria, said postal inspector Mark Grenier.

The scammer asks the victim to cash a money order that will be sent to him or her and to wire the money back, offering a 10 percent commission.

Several Alaskans who just wanted to help out have fallen for the scam, he said. Grenier said he got word of the new scheme late last year from other postal inspectors in other states and within a week heard about the first Alaska case.

The Nigerian scheme is one of the oldest around and usually involves an urgent claim from a Nigerian saying he needs help transferring millions of dollars to a foreign bank account. The newest version involves smaller amounts of money. In the Alaska cases the counterfeit money orders ranged in value from $350 to $1,000 and are fair imitations, Grenier said.

One Alaska resident told a Nigerian in a Christian chat room that she knitted. The Nigerian asked her to send a sample of her work. He told her he liked it and asked how much she charged for 10 of the items. They agreed upon a price of $300. But he sent her a U.S. postal money order for $3,000, told her to cash it, keep what she needed and wire the rest back, Grenier said.

In another case, a man claimed that his wife went into a coma during pregnancy and that he needed money but had only money orders he couldn't cash in Nigeria. Others say they need help getting cash so they can visit Alaska.

Some victims tried to cash the money orders at the post office, and the counterfeits were immediately detected. Others went to banks, credit unions or businesses that cashed them before realizing the money orders were fake, Grenier said.

The counterfeit money orders don't have a watermark, and sometimes the security thread either is missing or doesn't have "USPS" printed on it, he said. Some just use the wrong kind of paper.

Investigators are talking with the victims to find out more about how they were duped, Grenier said. While they are not criminally responsible, they may still owe the cash they got for the forged money orders, he said.

The FBI logged more than 63,000 complaints of fraud at its Internet Fraud Complaint Center in 2003 and estimated the total loss at $125.6 million.

People need to be wary of stories that offer something for nothing, Grenier said.

"Really think of the story they're giving you," he said. "How plausible is it?"

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2005-09-17 19:21:00 - Your blog is realy very interesting. Sany
2005-07-31 18:16:09 - sehr gut Saite. Was machen Sie mein... Hans Millard
2005-07-21 11:30:38 - FUNMI JAMES is a scammer. He works for a... Steve Willis
2005-06-30 14:21:55 - People from all african countries should... Ngamala
2005-03-23 22:47:03 - I was frauded for 2000 dollars by some... santiago mathews
2005-03-15 20:59:35 - Why is it that all crimes are linked to... Julia Hunter
2005-02-13 06:53:04 - you are a fool. hahaha Tim Waters
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