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November 16, 2008

Falling Hard For a 419 Scammer

Just a couple of months ago, I wrote that people still fall for 419 scams. A sad story out of Oregon proves the point to the tune of $400,000 (TV news video story).

A couple of things about this tale are worth noting.

First, the victim is a registered nurse and sign language interpreter. While she may not be savvy about Internet scams, she is no illiterate rube. Once she was on the hook with the scammers, no one, including local law enforcement officials, could dissuade her from trying to cross the finish line. This seems to be the case when most 419 victims finally fess up in public to their situations. I've known of many cases where professionals (physicians, attorneys, university professors, successful business people) get caught up in the scams. It's almost as if the smarter they are, the more immune to scamming they feel—when in truth, their greed knows no intellectual bounds.

And, no doubt about it, the scammers are quintessentially skilled in being persuasive and supplying phony documents, emails, and photographs to keep the victim on the hook. It's like when I see film of deep sea fishing: once the marlin takes the bait, the skilled fisherman knows how to reel in a bit, then let the line out to give the fish a chance to think it's winning, and then reel in some more, each time reducing the overall distance between fish and boat. Unless the line breaks, the marlin loses every time.

A companion written article by the TV reporter was published online and open to comments, which brings me to my second point worth noting. A vast number of commenters couldn't believe that anyone falls for these "obvious" scams anymore. They are chest-thumpingly proud that they automatically delete these messages, and assume that everyone else does, too. It is simply beyond their comprehension that anyone would respond to a 419 message...or open an email attachment from a stranger.

Therein lies a significant problem in trying to educate the world about potential hazards that arrive by way of messaging (email, IM, Skype, etc.). Those who deal with this stuff on a daily basis—and can sniff out a scam before the message arrives in the inbox—can't even imagine anyone falling for such "obvious" frauds. "Education, shmeducation! Nobody falls for that stuff anymore!"

One Oregon woman has 400,000 reasons to disagree.

Posted on November 16, 2008 at 11:54 AM