It’s interesting, if you like this kind of thing, to see how online scams learn from each other. Until recently I thought of the Nigeria 419 scam — where you’re contacted by some grieving African widow, burdened with millions that she wants to share with you, if only you’ll let her park it in your bank account for a while — and the whole phishing industry — where folk lure you into giving up access to your bank account by tricking you to fake websites, or installing little programs on your PC to capture your passwords as two separate businesses — were separate worlds.
One worked mainly out of Africa, the other out of Eastern Europe. One had a long tradition — the Nigerian scam letters date back to the 1970s in hardcopy form, phishing really only started as a transnational scam in 2003. One used pure social engineering techniques to fool you — we’re in trouble, we need your help — while the other relied more on clever technology — a credible website, a credible looking email from your bank.
Now the two are overlapping. Perhaps it’s been happening for a while, and I’ve only just spotted it. But this morning I received an email that I thought initially was Nigeria 419. But only closer inspection it’s not: Dear !, it begins. Nigerian 419ers would never be that sloppy. They would always call me “Dear Friend” or “Fellow worshipper”, or “Fabulously good-looking sir”. I like it when people call me that. Not “!”.
Shrugging off the poor start, the email gets down to business: Our noncommercial enterprise has been engaging in organization and maintenance of shelters for stray dogs and cats for more than 12 years in one of the countries of the former Soviet Union. For the time weve constructed 18 shelters which maintenance, as you see, costs much. It’s not the money, though, that’s the problem. It’s barbarous taxation which size makes up 48 % of the transferred sum that donors make. It is quite clear that suffering animals reach a mere trifle of these donations. And it besides that our cities are full of the sick and hungry animals eating garbage on cesspits that our legislators do not care a fig. Nasty, nasty legislators. (The “care a fig” touch is nice, quite reminiscent of the Nigeria 419 literary style.
Anyway, we’re talking dog shelters here, not millions of dollars of salted away corrupt African wealth. So already I’m thinking this is not your ordinary scam. It would, after all, be a push to then suggest I stash millions of dollars of pooch support into my account. And indeed, that’s not what I’m being asked to do: Therefore we have come to a decision to engage people who could fulfill not complicated work of short duration as our financial agents. Our sponsors could transfer means for us to your bank account and you, in your turn, could send the means to our agents addresses to Russia. The mediation doesnt require any investments on your part. Moreover we are ready to pay to you for this work not less than 8 % of the sum sent by you and, naturally, to cover all your expenses bound up with sending the money to our address.
Ah. To me this is clear that what they’re looking for are mules. These are folk in other countries who can transfer, and launder, cash illicitly gained from phishing and other bank scams. Usually this is because when a scammer successfully drains an account he cannot easily transfer that money directly overseas because of restrictions on moving money from the account. So he hires locals — most of whom don’t really know where the money comes from or is going to — who transfer the money on his behalf. Nice little earner until the cops come calling.
Here’s how our canine sheltering friends put it: Our requirements are simple: you should be over 20 year of age and you should love animals very much. Thus we can avoid the barbarous taxation of our country and above all help poor animals. If you are ready to work together with us and have some spare time fill in the resume stated below. If you satisfy our conditions we send you our employment agreement with gratitude and explain all circumstances of your future work with us in details. There then follows a form, and the email is signed, Novikova Olga, Noncommercial Enterprise “Harmony”.
There you have it. Who is going to fall for this kind of scam? Probably more than you think. Who doesn’t love dogs? And who doesn’t want to make 8% commission on sitting on a pile of cash? Bottom line: Phishers are clearly attending seminars given by Nigerian scammers.