Lisa Simpson: Grampa! Didn’t you wonder why you were getting checks for doing absolutely nothing?
Grampa: Not really… I figured it was because the Democrats were in power again.
— From an episode of The Simpsons
I’ve got some great news to share with all of you! Not only was one of my recent opinion pieces on the bailout mess featured in The Huffington Post yesterday, but I was also fortunate enough to get a letter from somebody I never heard of who wanted to pay me for doing, well, absolutely nothing!
Receiving that letter in my mailbag instantly reminded me of that legendary episode of The Simpsons where Bart and Lisa get a job ghost writing scripts for The Itchy and Scratchy Show using Grampa Abe’s name as their pseudonym. Eventually, after wondering why they weren’t getting paid by the show’s producers, they catch a totally clueless Grampa taking their pay checks from the mailbox and cashing them, leading to that classic exchange I referenced at the top of this post.
Just like Grampa Simpson, I just love it when I can get something for nothing. So without further ado, let’s dip into the mailbag…
My new best friend, Song Li, from Hong Kong writes:
From: Li <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 12:13:18 PM
Subject: Read And Please Reply
My name is Mr. Song Li. I work with the Hang Seng Bank. There is a sum of $19,500,000.00 in my bank Hang Seng Bank”, Hong Kong. There were no beneficiaries stated concerning these funds which mean no one would ever come to claim it. That is why I ask that we work together.
I do solicit for your assistance in effecting this transaction. I intend to give 30% of the total funds as compensation for your assistance. I will notify you on the full transaction on receipt of your response if interested, and I shall send you the details and necessary procedures with which to make the transfer. E-mail;email@example.com
Should you be interested? Please send me your:
1. Full names
2. Private phone number
3. Current residential address
Mr. Song Li
Of course, Song Li, or whatever his name is, has sent this e-mail out to thousands of individuals in the hopes of finding suckers who believe they are actually in line to get something for nothing.
“Len, you can’t be serious. I mean, are you sure? Do you really think this could be some kind of hoax?”
Yeah. At least I’m pretty sure. 😉
You see, typically, after receiving the letter, the scam generally proceeds in the following manner:
1. An offer would be made to me to transfer money into my personal bank account.
2. I would receive in the mail “official” documents testifying to the authenticity of the deal.
3. I would be asked to provide information regarding my banking account.
4. Finally, they would ask me to provide them up-front or advance funds to pay for various “taxes”, “attorney fees”, “transaction fees”, “handling fees”, or other bogus fees in order to complete the deal and collect my money.
Assuming I followed through and made an initial payment, the scam artist would continue to make further requests for additional fees until I finally caught on to the fact that I was being duped. Of course, the promised payout to me would never arrive.
Besides the obvious alarm bell that you are being offered something that seems too good to be true, here are some other tips for identifying a potential e-mail solicitation as a scam:
1. The solicitor is asking for too much personal information. Any e-mail asking for bank account numbers, passwords and/or social security numbers should immediately raise a red flag.
2. The displayed return address is different than the actual email address. To verify this you can usually right-click on the e-mail address and select “Properties”. The addresses should match — if they don’t, then don’t reply!
3. The web site link highlighted in the e-mail doesn’t match the actual link address. Scam artists use this trick to mislead you and send you to sites that closely mimic legitimate sites where they can then solicit you for your personal and/or other sensitive data. For example, place your cursor (but don’t click) over this link for Acme Widgets. If you look in the lower left corner of your browser, you’ll see that instead of sending you to Acme Widgets the link actually directs you to some other “nefarious” website that you might want to avoid if you know what’s good for you. 😉
4. The e-mail message looks unprofessional. Be particularly wary of any messages that have multiple misspellings, excessive capitalization, and poor grammar, or comes from a free e-mail provider such as Yahoo!, Gmail, AOL, or Hotmail.
My scam artist, Mr. Li, focused on the old “unclaimed bank funds” scam, but it could just as easily have said that I was the beneficiary of a will, or a sweepstakes winner. There are also other schemes out there promising you great deals on real estate ventures, currency conversion, and even purchases of crude oil at reduced prices.
Yes, as Grampa Simpson noted, the Democrats are in power now. Even so, the bottom line remains that one should always beware of strangers bearing gifts. If the deal being offered to you is too good to be true, then it probably is.
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