Tips from the Abuse Department: To Catch a Predator

May 29, 2013

We've all seen the emails exclaiming, "THE KING HAS SENT YOU 1,000,000$ US DOLLARS," or "I NEED A PERSONAL ASSISTANT PAYING 500$ A WEEK." Do people actually fall for these? The answer is YES, many do. They think, "What risk is there replying to this email and possibly getting $1,000,000 or even a fraction of that?" As it turns out, there's a lot of risk.

As the senior manager of SoftLayer's abuse department, I know all about these kinds of scams, and I thought I'd reply to one of those emails to show what the interaction usually looks like and explain how the scam works.

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From: "Freddy Scammer" <scammer@address>
To: "Freddy Scammer" <scammer@address>
Subject: PA URGENTLY NEEDED

Hi, I am looking for a Personal Assistant, Kindly let me know if you are interested, and i can send you more details. Thank you

Freddy Scammer
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First, notice that my address email address isn't listed in the TO field or even the CC field. I must be BCC'd along with many others. I've changed the scammer's fake name to a more fitting name, and I'll use masculine pronouns when I talk about "him." According to our friends over at 419scam.org, this guy has been flagged as a scammer using the same name and email address. The name he provided actually belongs to a company that produces lamps as well as an American historian who focuses on colonization, decolonization and African history.

In the initial message, you'll see that there's no "all or nothing" proposition. Just like any scam, the scammer requests and provides information slowly to reel in a victim.

I replied back:

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From: <MY-EMAIL-ADDRESS>
To: <scammer@address>
Subject: RE: PA URGENTLY NEEDED

Doing What?
---------------------------------------------

I wanted to keep it short to see if I could get him to tell me more. He didn't disappoint:

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From: Freddy Scammer <scammer@address>
To: <MY-EMAIL-ADDRESS>
Subject: Re: PA URGENTLY NEEDED

Hello

Thanks for your reply, I got your email through the Chamber of Commerce directory. I am looking for someone who can handle my business errands during his or her spare time. I need your service because I am constantly traveling abroad on a missionary trip to build homes for orphaned children and doing other business as we are franchise company into alot of things.

Responsibilities:
1. Receive my mail and drop them off. {Your location doesn't matter as long as you have a post office nearby}
2. Pay my bills.
3. pay our workers on a regular basis

I would have love to meet with you to discuss this job in more detail, but I am currently away on a missionary trip. If you decide to accept the position, please read the employment requirements listed below.
REQUIREMENTS:
A. You are an honest and trustworthy citizen.
B. You need to be able to check your email regular and answer calls.

The pay is $500 weekly and you are entitled to other additional incentives after 1 month if you are hardworking. First, If I were to mail you a payment to
pay people that are needed to and your payment for your service, where would you want it mailed to?

Secondly, how would you like your name to appear on the payment? Note, payment would come in form of Check.

Provide me with the following details below to get started.

Full Name:
Complete Address(No PO Box allowed):
City:
State:
Country:
Zip Code:
Home Phone:
Cell Phone:
Age:
Occupation(If any):
Alternative Email if available:

Awaiting your prompt reply.
---------------------------------------------

Sounds easy enough right? Well it is easy. Who couldn't use an extra $500 a week! But there are a few problems here. If this sounds a lot like a "money mule" (or money laundering) type of situation, that's because it is! A money mule is a person who transfers money acquired illegally (e.g., stolen) in person, through a courier service, or electronically, on behalf of others. The mule is paid for their services, typically a small part of the money transferred.

Money mules are often dupes recruited on-line for what they think is legitimate employment, not aware that the money they are transferring is the product of crime. The money is transferred from the mule's account to the scam operator, typically in another country. Similar techniques are used to transfer illegal merchandise.

After a quick Google search for a few of the sentences in his message, I found out that this guy is low-balling me! He's offering $600 a week in other listings ... I'm hurt! I replied to see if I could get him off script:

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From: <MY-EMAIL-ADDRESS>
To: <scammer@address>
Subject: RE: PA URGENTLY NEEDED

So all I have to do is receive packages and re-ship them to where you tell me to,, also receive payments and cash it out and re-pay workers? How will I be paying them, what method? How often will I have to mail packages out and how big are they, who will pay for shipping?
---------------------------------------------

He was quick to respond:

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From: Freddy Scammer <scammer@address>
To: <MY-EMAIL-ADDRESS>
Subject: Re: PA URGENTLY NEEDED

Your going to be receiving payment mostly and it has already been paid for, for the shipping . All you have to do is receive and go ahead and cash it ....... Then i will tell you what to do with the money or whoever to pay with it. got me?
---------------------------------------------

Color me amazed. All I have to do is receive a check and cash it?! What luck!

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From: <MY-EMAIL-ADDRESS>
To: <scammer@address>
Subject: RE: PA URGENTLY NEEDED
Ok seems easy enough. But I only have a PO BOX, why would this be a problem? I currently don't have a permanent address as I'm staying with a friend trying to get back on my feet and I'm not on the house lease so I can't receive mail here. Is that going to be a problem?
---------------------------------------------

Now none of this is true, but I knew that this would throw Freddy off of his game. Most scammers don't allow a post office box because they don't want to be scammed ... What's to prevent the "victim" from renting a P.O. Box for a month, getting the check, cashing it and cancelling that P.O. Box? That possibility is a risk that scammers don't like to take. There have even been reports that in some instances, the scammers will send goons to your house if you don't hold up your end of the deal.

This whole underground world that you can get quickly and easily sucked into is exciting isn't it?

---------------------------------------------
From: Freddy Scammer <scammer@address>
To: <MY-EMAIL-ADDRESS>
Subject: Re: PA URGENTLY NEEDED

I'm afraid a PO BOX will not suffice, you can perhaps use a family members address and we can start the payments as soon as you send me the info. Please reply with the most urgent intent as I only have a few positions left as my assistant.
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At this point, I didn't bother emailing back. It's pretty obvious how easy it could be for someone down on their luck financially (or just bored) to get sucked into this type of scam. What's actually happening here is that the scammer wants to send money from a compromised account to the victim's legit account and then have the victim withdraw 90%-95% of the money and send it to another account that the bad guy has legitimate access to (probably over-seas). The victim would get to keep 5% for their troubles. Often the checks that are sent won't clear, so a victim thinks the funds are in his/her account ... Money is forwarded to the scammer from the victim's legitimate account and it clears before the funds from the scammer's deposited check disappear.

In some instances, scammers will buy high-priced items online with stolen credit card numbers and have those items shipped to the victim's house. The victim will then ship them to a different address. The bad guy has nothing to lose, and the victim takes all the risk.

The challenge with pursuing these scammers from a legal perspective is that they are often based in regions and areas out of the jurisdiction of our law enforcement authorities. As a result, they usually aren't caught, and they just move along to their next unsuspecting victim.

If you receive a "too good to be true" email from someone you don't know, let me spoil the surprise for you: It's not true.

-Dody

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