Wednesday, 04 March 2009 23:00

From the Desk of Sheriff Jim Coats Pinellas County March 2009

Written by  Sheriff Jim Coats
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From the Desk of Sheriff Jim Coats

If you have a computer and have ever received an e-mail, you have probably also received an unsolicited offer to purchase something far below the typical retail price, or an offer to make a large sum of money with what seems like little or no risk.  The use of the old adage that “if it seems too good to be true it probably is” has never been more appropriate than to describe offers like these.

In the past I have warned you about foreign lottery scams that continue to involve the transmission of thousands of e-mails sent and received daily across the country.  As the name implies, the mailings promise a chance to win a foreign lottery, and sometimes falsely serve as a notification that the targeted victim has already won.  A processing fee or “buy-in” for these lotteries is required from the “winner” supposedly for the purchase of “lucky lottery numbers” that would be theirs for a period of 3-12 months.  In many cases the appealing offer sounds legitimate to the victim, except they are never paid after sending in their money.  Some victims have later told detectives that they were afraid to stop responding to the mailings for fear of learning that the numbers would later become winners.

Another common scam involves an offer to make big profits in exchange for helping to move large sums of money out of a foreign country.  This type of scam is commonly known as the “Nigerian Scam” and it has been around for years.  The scam is well known to law enforcement and has been the topic of numerous bulletins, news stories and magazine articles, yet the perpetrators continue to successfully extract money from new victims on a regular basis.  Like the Foreign Lottery Scam, the Nigerian Scam relies upon greed to motivate a victim.

Experts believe the Nigerian Scam is still successful because the initial e-mail is polite and normally appears to have been sent by a government official, a business person or a person who has recently suffered through the death of a loved one.  A response to the e-mail will oftentimes result in official-looking documents being mailed to the victim which support the premise of the scam.  Typically, the purpose of these documents is to convince the victim to send fees in the form of cash or a money order along with bank account information to an address outside of the United States.  After the “fees” or funds have been sent the victim is generally notified of some delay in transferring money into their bank account and of course more money is then requested.  Eventually the victim realizes that no money will ever be sent to their account and that the money they have sent to the solicitor will not be refunded.

I cannot stress strongly enough that you should never respond to an offer like the ones described in this article.  In fact, even if you send no money, by simply responding you are almost certain to receive additional mailings.  One local victim received more than 120 mailings in a 60-day period after cautiously responding to an e-mail offer of this nature.  My best advice is to delete e-mail offers like the ones described and to shred similar offers received through the mail.

If you would like additional information about advanced fee scams or Internet fraud, please contact the Sheriff’s Office Economic Crimes Unit at (727) 582-6200.


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