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E-mail ScamsEveryone gets unsolicited email these days. When I fire up my Hotmail account (after 5pm, of course), I’m faced with dozens of junk mail items. If it’s not questionable discounts off pharmaceutical supplements to enhance male tumescence, it’s Nigerian “lawyers” getting up in my grill with incentives to make mad bank.

The latter irritant – known as a 419 Scam, after the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud – is one of the most common types of confidence frauds kicking about the internet today. In fact, the internet can be represented as a pie chart with 40 per cent Nigerian scams, 55 per cent cat photos and 5 per cent grumble.

Doubtless you’ve received an email along these lines…

  • a lawyer or bank employee based abroad (typically in Nigeria) needs your help;
  • a Westerner (usually an oil industry contractor) died in a car/plane crash, leaving millions of dollars in a local bank account;
  • because no living relative could be located, the money will soon fall to the state;
  • you are asked to assist in moving the money out of country by posing as an entitled relative;
  • for your assistance, you’re offered a percentage of the estate money.

The initial email costs the con-artists nothing, so they fire those out to everyone. Only once a gullible enough recipient replies to the email does the con-artist put some effort into the scam.

Because the process is long and fairly complicated, the con-artists are looking for only the most compliant and credulous respondents. By dangling the money carrot, those who respond are then – over the course of many months – sweet-talked into paying “legal” fees, "inheritance tax," bribes to officials, and the like.

Sadly, many adults fall foul of such scams – sustaining losses ranging from a few pounds in a small bank account to their entire lifetime savings.

Alarmingly, a UK Home Office report found that some adults are so socially isolated that they continue to give money to con-artists, even when they realise what’s happening – just to maintain some form of human contact.

The impact of financial crime is causing some of the most vulnerable in society to suffer something that can be every bit as significant as physical abuse – in some cases even contributing to a premature death.

If you have a vulnerable friend or relative who has access to email, you ought to let them know about the pitfalls of responding to these too-good-to-be-true offers.

Only trust emails from known sources and never provide sensitive, personal information over email unless you know who you’re sending it to.

This advice applies to all correspondence received – even mailshots and leaflets plugged through your letterbox. Make sure you do your diligence…. and if someone claims to be a Scottish lawyer, check their details on the Law Society’s website.

Sorry, ladies, the Law Society’s database doesn’t include photos. Sorry to disappoint.

…but for a small fee and access to your bank account, I’m sure we can come to an arrangement. Just send me your passport and your birth certificate. I’ll take care of the rest… 

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