By Mark Huffman
September 8, 2009
Since the dawning of the Internet age, scammers have increasingly relied on the Web to ensnare their victims. With the Internet, one pitch can be sent to millions of potential victims for almost no cost.
Most experienced Internet users have learned to spot the scams in their email inboxes, but a surprising number of people each year fall for the most seemingly transparent hoaxes. So dwelling on what might seem to be the obvious is not exactly a waste of time.
When one of these blatant scam emails was sent to Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, his staff took the time to analyze and deconstruct the document, coming up with seven obvious tip-offs the message was a scam.
First, here is the message in its entirety:
I write to you haven taken cognizance (2) of the sensitive nature of this deal and thought carefully of a confidant that will assist me in the transaction. I have deemed it pertinent and appropriate to contact you directly for a prospective business deal in the tune of GBP(3)34.3 million.(4)
I am a Portfolio Manager with [business name redacted], and I am ready and willing to work this deal out with your sincere assistance and cooperation. It will be unwise to jeopardize the success of this transaction at this point by releasing the details (5) as I cannot confirm your exact stand till I receive your response to this email.
I will give you the full details of the transaction and how to go about it as soon as I confirm your positive response. Honesty, confidentiality and effective communication is (6) highly needed to ensure prompt conclusion of this deal as this is risk-free (7) and profitable. Please get back to me via my personal mail address: [e-mail address redacted]
In case it didn't just jump out at you, Cordray's staff numbered the clues and outlined the reasons they serve as red flags:
(1) No recipient listed: The spammer likely sent this same message to many other recipients hoping at least one would fall victim to the scam.
(2) Hard to understand: "I write to you haven't taken cognizance" isn't exactly a logical statement. In fact, it's totally nonsensical-a common characteristic of spam.
(3) Foreign money: GBP usually refers to Britain's currency, the pound. This reference indicates the spammer is located in another country.
(4) Too good to be true: When converted to U.S. dollars, 34.3 million pounds is roughly 55.5 million dollars. Few "prospective business deals" actually are worth that much.
(5) Details withheld: The sender won't give you any details until you respond, a major red flag that the whole deal is fake.
(6) Poor grammar: Grammatical errors and spelling mistakes often indicate that an e-mail was written by a scam artist in a foreign country.
(7) "Risk-free": This claim is simply too good to be true. Business deals and investment opportunities always involve some risk.
This particular scam is known as a "419 scam," meaning it originated long ago in Nigeria. It's designed to obtain your bank account number and other personal information. And while it seems laughably obvious, the Federal Trade Commission noted as recently as 2007 that people continue to fall for it to the tune of millions of dollars each year.