Posted by By Susanne Nadeau, Herald Staff Writer on
Attorney general warns: Never respond to unsolicited e-mails, letters or phone calls
* Attorney general warns: Never respond to unsolicited e-mails, letters or phone calls
"Hello, I heard you were a good and trustworthy person, and that is why I am asking you to help me get my millions of American dollars, left to me by my very rich late husband, out of my country. My corrupt government will take it all if you don't help me. If you send my lawyer your bank account number, I will give you 20 percent of all this money."
Sounds like a good deal, right?
Nearly everyone has seen an e-mail that begins this way, and there are dozens of variations.
If your eyebrow didn't begin an upward twitch midway through the first paragraph you could be the next victim of one of many scams North Dakota officials have been seeing.
Dubbed "Nigerian" scams because individuals asked to wire or send money to this country in Africa, the scams have changed over the years, from typed letters to mass e-mails, becoming more prevalent and harder to prosecute, according to Grand Forks Police Department Detective Mike Flannery.
The scams could cost victims hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
In North Dakota, the largest amount of money lost in a scam has been about $50,000, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said. He said the individual who lost the money did so over a period of time and several transactions, as part of a "foreign lottery" scam. The individual received a notice that they had won a lottery but before getting the money they had to pay fees and taxes on it.
The scams vary from an e-mail asking for help from the rich widow who can't transfer money to winning a lottery you didn't even enter. Some are in form of an e-mail that asks for all your personal account information - from a bank, an Internet service or an Online service - because it needs to be "updated." Called "phishing," this type of scam could potentially create a victim of identity theft.
Avoid being a victim
The first piece of advice coming from officials is to trash the e-mails or letters that request personal account information.
"Never, ever, ever respond to an unsolicited e-mail, letter or telephone call," Stenehjem said at a press conference held Tuesday in the Grand Forks Police Department.
But not all scams are coming through unsolicited mail.
Flannery said many people are getting caught up in "classified ad" scams, where an individual will put an item up for sale, either through a local paper or on the Internet, and will receive an offer that is over the asking price.
There is a hitch. The scammer will offer to send a cashier's check for more than what they say they will pay. Then, they will ask that the extra amount be sent to another address, where they also owe money, and the seller can keep any extra money for the transaction assistance.
But the check is fraudulent, and most sellers don't realize it until they've put it in the bank and sent off both the merchandise they planned to sell and the extra money the scammer sent.
Banks have helped customers identify fraudulent checks by waiting to credit a person's bank account with the check until it clears.
"Banks have saved a lot of people a lot of headache," Flannery said.
But not all of the checks are caught in time, and many people have had to deal with the mess these types of scams have caused to their bank accounts.
Nobody wants to admit to being the dupe in a scam, so officials said they're not certain of just how many people have fallen victim in any of the various scams.
In Grand Forks, Flannery said he sees one or two cases of Internet fraud or scamming per week.
"These kinds of frauds have become commonplace," he said. "They look good; they sound good."
In some ways, fighting Internet fraud is an uphill battle.
Stenehjem said that once a person had been taken in a scam, there is very little the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations, Grand Forks Police Department or Grand Forks Sheriff's office can do. It's difficult to pinpoint the source of the fraud, and then, when it can be identified, it is even more of a challenge to bring a scammer to justice.
"We do not get very good cooperation out of Nigeria, and we do not have the resources to help someone recover money," he said.
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