Nigerian 419 Scam is Back, With a Twist
A 'buyer' sees your house advertised online and makes a nice offer. But first, you're asked to send some cash.
By Gayle Pollard-Terry - Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
>>When real estate agent Jennifer Caveness decided to sell her Huntington Beach town house recently, she listed the two-bedroom, two-bathroom property in the Multiple Listing Service, the traditional method of attracting sellers. She also advertised it on two popular websites, CraigsList.com and MySpace.com.
She quickly became the target of a new twist on an old scheme — the Nigerian advance-fee scam called 419 after the number of the West African nation's criminal code that prohibits this type of fraud.
For years, con artists have sent e-mails offering to share millions of dollars if the recipients would pay to cover the transfers costs, administrative fees, customs or bribes they say are needed to get the money out of the country. Or the e-mails promised big international lottery winnings after the payment of upfront fees.
Of course, the payoffs never materialize.
In the fraud's latest incarnation, home sellers are being targeted.
Caveness canceled the deal and reported the incident to the FBI's Internet-crime complaint center. The agency, which is working with the Nigerian government, will look at names and similarities to determine whether a pattern exists and if these individuals are part of a larger scheme. The FBI, which receives 20,000 Internet-crime complaints a month, advised The Times against revealing the names of the men who contacted Caveness in case there was an investigation already underway involving them; also, Nigerian criminals have been known to threaten their online victims.
Peter Brust, former chief of the cyber-crime division at FBI headquarters, said that the new versions of the 419 scams are increasingly more believable. "It's not like they offer you millions of dollars," he said. "They read the newspapers and they know what's possible on the Internet, like the social-networking sites." The scam artists not only work out of Nigeria, he said. Other top spots include the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and South America.
Where to turn for information on cyber scams:
• Internet users who suspect they are victims of cyber crime should go to http://www.ic3.gov - The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, collects complaints, develops information and, when necessary, refers the allegations to the proper federal, state, local or international authorities for investigation.
• The FBI also recommends a consumer-advocacy website, Looks Too Good to Be True (www.lookstoogoodtobetrue.com), for prevention tips, victims' stories, a test to determine how vulnerable you are to Internet scams or to order free fraud-prevention DVDs produced by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, one of the sponsors of the site.
• Complaints can also be filed at http://www.ftc.gov - the online site of the Federal Trade Commission.
• Information from the federal government and technology companies on how to protect yourself online is available at onguardonline.com/crossborder.html.<<
Stay vigilant. For research and hilarious entertainment, I recommend you check out http://www.419eater.com/