By Woody Leonhard
There’s a new variation on the old “Nigerian” or “419” scam, one that invokes the names of PayPal, Western Union, and the FBI — and the scammers are raking in billions.
Let me introduce you to the way these scum operate — and show you a few tricks that may keep you from adding to their booty.
“Greetings, I am writing this letter to you in good faith and I hope my contact with you will transpire into a mutual relationship now and forever. I am Mrs. Omigod Mugambi, wife of the late General Rufus Mugambi, former Director of Mines for the Dufus Diamond Dust Co. Ltd., of Central Eastern Lower Leone …”
I’m sure you’re smart enough to pass over e-mail like that — at least, I hope so. It’s an obvious setup for the classic 419 scam — also known as the Russian scam, the Detroit/Buffalo scam, and, of course, the Nigerian Letter, as described in a Wikipedia page. (The 419 moniker is derived from the Nigerian Criminal Code, Chapter 38, Article 419: “Obtaining property by false pretences; cheating.”)
Recently I bumped into a more sophisticated version of the same kind of scam and tried to trace it all the way back to its source. I’ll take you through the scam’s stages and show you some of its wrinkles. Plus I’ll whine about the way big companies such as PayPal and Western Union are letting us down, and I’ll talk about how I rode the paperless trail to its roots. You may be able to, too.