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When a phishing scam works, how do scammers get the money?

Posted by Geraldine Hunt on Tue, Sep 20th, 2011

I received an email yesterday*, this generous man told me he’d lodged seventeen million, five hundred british pounds into a  South African bank account 4 years ago for Col Muammer Gaddafi and he was willing to give me a percentage of this substantial fund for very little effort on my part.

Curious...sounds to good to be true ?  Naturally as we use SpamTitan anti-spam in the office, this email was blocked before it reached my inbox, however in some organisations with less robust solutions, this email may have slipped through and been enough to ignite a  naive employees curiousity. Thousands of people fall for these scams every year without seeing a penny.

What happens when people fall for these scams :

  • Their bank accounts are cleared out
  • Personal details end up in the hands of criminals including  bank account numbers, telephone & fax number, copies of official documents eg.driving licenses or passports
  • Resulting in Identity theft

Scam details

It is clear this man has been busy, he’d been informed that much of Gaddafi’s wealth is being confiscated but the authorities don’t know about the South African account. Having realised the money is still in the secure account in South Africa ..……and  ‘intact’ - what a enormous relief that must have been -  he now needs to find a kind of clearing account outside of Africa in which to rest the money temporarily. He feels this is ‘wise thing to do’ and probably safer – just until the unrest eases and the uprising is over. Makes sense I guess.

Much of the email is particularly jumbled and a mess grammatically, the crux is that he is super thankful for your ‘kindness’ and ‘humble’…maybe kindness and  humility and because of this he will give you a percentage of the fund if you allow him use your bank account temporarily. He doesn’t specify what percentage yet!. This man just wants to settle down and have a peaceful life with his family in South Africa, not for him the hustle and bustle of on-line criminality.

These 419 scams are just convoluted theft attempts (financial and identify) which the gullible find tempting.

What makes a scam email obvious:

  •  You’re promised a large cash reward from your assistance (use of a bank account is a common request).
  • Poor use of English – grammar and spelling
  • It is related to a current event that is grabbing headlines
  • It is unexpected and unsolicited

All of these taken together make for a  typical scam email, they always seem to follow the same pattern, spammers are nothing if not predictable.

According to Sean Doherty, senior engineer with SpamTitan Technologies ‘The pattern is repeated every year, to date it is estimated  that over $40 billion has been lost to 419 scams alone explaining why these scam emails continue to exist and grow in frequency and ferocity. The simple fact is that these scams wouldn’t be repeated if they didn’t reap rewards for the cybercriminals. “We advise users to be extremely vigilant and above all to ensure their security applications are up-to-date’.

*Note: This email was quarantined by SpamTitan anti-spam, I viewed it from the quarantine area, it was therefore blocked from reaching users inboxes

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