“Hello, my friend. I am a Nigerian prince and I require your help. My recently deceased, rich father left millions of dollars in a bank account that requires $2,000 to unlock. If you help me with this, I will give you a percentage of the inheritance.”
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The “Nigerian prince” or “419” scam often begins similar to this, named for usually being a Nigerian prince, banker or other authority figure asking for help, with the scam itself violating Nigerian penal code 419. The scam is simple: Give money to help someone out in return for a large payoff. It is, of course, too good to be true.
“Nigerian letter frauds combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter mailed from Nigeria offers the recipient the ‘opportunity’ to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author — a self-proclaimed government official — is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria,” a document sent to the Mountain Democrat by the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office stated. “Payment of taxes, bribes to government officials and legal fees are often described in great detail with the promise that all expenses will be reimbursed as soon as the funds are spirited out of Nigeria. In actuality, the millions of dollars do not exist, and the victim eventually ends up with nothing but a loss.” And when the money stops coming in, the information provided is used to steal identities.
Or you have won the lottery, but need to pay a certain amount to get your own money. You need to pay a fee or taxes up front to this company — not pay taxes afterward, directly to the government — to get your money. A courier will be by shortly to collect. Or wire the money through Money Gram.
Scams come in many forms. Phil, who works in law enforcement and did not wish to use his last name, was called by the U.S. Treasury on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. He said the man who called had a heavy Indian accent and demanded $500 to make a case against him disappear. The U.S. Treasury calling him on a federal holiday, Phil said, had the “same chance as giving me the winning lottery numbers.” Similar scams from the “FBI” and “CIA” say they have monitored your computer and you have viewed underage porn. Your fine is this, you can pay here with your credit card.
Scare tactics such as this are common for scammers. The grandchild supposedly being detained in a foreign country and needing money for bail is another scam, the FBI’s Website notes. But when asked which grandchild is calling, the caller often says “Your favorite one,” or “Can’t you tell?” and claims their voice sounds different due to illness. Release is just a Western Union wire transfer away.
Or perhaps you get a call from “Microsoft Windows” — the operating system, not the actual company — and how they have monitored your system and found viruses. They will direct you to the Event Viewer — which lists any error on the system, no matter how small or inconsequential. It will show a number of events, which is normally nothing to worry about, but the scammers will play off as viruses corrupting your system and stealing your information. But for a small fee, the “tech support” will direct you to a service where they will log into your computer and take out the viruses. In reality, they use the program to steal information on the computer and insert their own viruses, malware and adware.
A debt collector comes calling, with an old card bill that might not even be yours. “Pay a designated amount to get it to go away. These guys usually make it sound like they are from another agency to scare you,” a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said.
“Unless the reporting party has lost money, the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t initiate a case numbered report or investigation,” the spokesman said. “There are too many and usually the suspects are out of the country. Our Community Services Officer takes at least two calls a day on scams, sometimes more; the deputies in the field also address them and at least once a week one comes in through the online reporting system, according to our CSO.” He added, “The age range of victims/targets is vast. All ages.”
Another common scam is the “Craigslist” scam. It could be for something sold on Craigslist, a “secret shopper” ad or a request for a personal assistant. In all cases, a check comes that is for more than the agreed amount. Cash it and send the overage back. By the time the check bounces, you have already sent the overage back and are accountable for the money and bad check.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be suspicious of any letter, e-mail or phone call offering money for a small up front charge, fines or charges that can simply be paid away and people posing as family members who need money fast. If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, including the ones described above, call the Sheriff’s CSO at 530-621-6620.