Internet Users Fall Prey To New Versions Of Old Scams
HEBRON, N.H. -- It could be considered the granddaddy of Internet fraud, but the so-called "Nigerian scam" has taken on numerous forms and is tricking even savvy Internet users.
A newer, more complex version of the Nigerian scam struck in Hebron recently. Ashleigh Cook, 16, wanted to help her family pay the rent, so she went online to craigslist.com and listed her Playstation and games for sale."This other person e-mailed and said, 'I'll give you $840 for it,'" Cook said. "That was going to pay $800 for rent."The e-mailer said he was from Nigeria and wanted it sent there for his son. He offered $720 for the games and $120 for shipping -- more than needed.Cook said it might have sounded iffy, but she thought she had security on her side. The buyer insisted on using Paypal, a payment site designed to protect buyers and sellers."I wasn't going to get scammed because Paypal is a secure thing," Cook said.The package was mailed from Hebron to Nigeria. Cook even received an official-looking e-mail from what she thought was Paypal, tracking the deal. But after three days, she realized her mistake."I didn't have money," she said. "I called Paypal, and they said it was a fraud. There's nothing they could do about it."Paypal said somehow Cook started transacting on a bogus site that was identical to Paypal's. Setting up such a fake site is known as a phishing scam. The shipped games were picked up and gone, along with the money."I don't know what to do," said Cook's mother, Deborah Holden. "I can't get her stuff back."The New Hampshire Attorney General's Office said that each year, it gets about 1,000 complaints of Internet scams like Cook's. Phony Paypal sites are just the latest way scammers are tricking online consumers."It asks you to enter your e-mail address and password," said Assistant Attorney General Richard Head. "When you do that, it's not going to Paypal. It's going to a thief who now has access to your Paypal account and credit card information."And in some cases, the thief may have access to your goodwill, as well. A woman from Merrimack, who asked only to be identified as Jane, lost thousands of dollars to what she thought was an online love connection."At the point where I was in my life, it felt good," Jane said.Jane got a message from a man named Richard through a singles Web site. Within days, he professed that he was in love."Richard was on an oil rig in the UK, and his son was in Nigeria," Jane said. "He wife was killed three years prior."And Richard was about to run into a series of problems that required money. Over several weeks, as they messaged back and forth, a relationship grew."He was a good player," Jane said. "He knew what to say and how to say it to keep me hooked."Richard promised money and a life together in the United States with his son. But soon, that son needed $600 for a laptop. Then, Richard was mugged and needed cash, another $300. He then needed $2,400 for plane tickets to see her, but then his son needed $1,600 for emergency surgery."I have kids. I fell for it," she said. "I sent him money."In total, Jane wired almost $5,000 overseas. But at that point, her suspicions were piqued. She posted a false profile on the same singles site to see if Richard was doing the same thing to others. Soon enough, a widower on an oil rig in the U.K. was replying.She knew she had been scammed."I want people to know this is out there," Jane said. "It happens. It can happen to anybody."The attorney general's office says this is a typical trust scam, in which hundreds of people are contacted over the Web. Most simply ignore it."A small percentage of the population will respond," Head said. "They always respond. That's what they're fishing for. That's why they call it phishing."Head said the odds of either victim getting her money back are zero.