|Scams, Scams and More Scams.|
Here's a quick summary of how many common Internet scams work.
Foreign Lottery schemes -- A victim is told in a letter they have won a foreign lottery and often is sent a cashier's check for between $2,000 and $5,000 as an advance on the winnings. Then the targeted consumer is told to cash it and wire part of it to pay taxes on prize winnings. However, the check is found to be counterfeit, making the person who cashed it responsible to the bank for the loss. The victim loses the amount sent for taxes or fees. The lottery fraud has many versions, but all have a common trait: sending money to receive a prize.
Foreign lottery scams cost U.S. citizens more than $120 million per year, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service says.
Overpayment schemes -- A con artist contacts someone with an item for sale on the Internet and arranges to buy it. The thief then sends a counterfeit cashier's check for an amount larger than the sale, claiming either the excess was a mistake or must be used to pay taxes or shipping fees to an "agent." The victim wires the money to the agent. Of course, the cashier's check bounces; the victim owes the bank for the wired cash, and thieves have that money. Internet fraud reached an all-time high in 2006, draining victims of $198.4 million, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center figures.
Advance fee loan scams -- A scam artist poses as a representative for a legitimate loan company and offers a consumer a loan on attractive financial terms. In order to get the loan, the consumer must pay a supposed "deposit" of about 10 percent of the loan amount. Once the deposit is in hand, the scam artist disappears.
Nigerian scam -- Typically, a victim is told that a Nigerian official must get money out of the country before it is seized and offers to pay the victim a percentage for receiving the money. But, first, there are always "legal fees" or "government bribes" to be paid, by the victim of course. Sometimes this scam goes so far as to lure victims overseas to finish transferring the money, and they are bilked further there. This scam bilks consumers of more than $100 million a year, the Postal Service also says. The FBI estimates that the median loss -- half above and half below -- from the Nigerian scam is $5,000.
This scheme also has a timely version, in which a scam artist poses as an American soldier who is trying to transfer money out of Iraq and will pay the victim to help with the deal.
Phishing -- The con artist poses online or by mail as a legitimate company to dupe the victim into supplying Social Security and bank account numbers, as well as other financial information, which then leads to identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission estimates identity theft costs Americans more than $50 billion per year.
How much do they get?
The shady solicitations that clutter our electronic and street mailboxes bring in billions of dollars a year for thieves.
Some federal agencies have estimated how much consumers lose in various swindles.
* Foreign lottery scams cost U.S. citizens more than $120 million per year, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service says.
* The Nigerian "advance fee" fraud bilks consumers of more than $100 million a year, the Postal Service also says. The FBI estimates that the median loss -- half above and half below -- from the Nigerian scam is $5,000.
* Internet fraud reached an all-time high in 2006, draining victims of $198.4 million, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center figures.
* In 2005, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seized 100,000 pieces of incoming mail suspected of being foreign lottery solicitations at JFK Airport in New York alone. The mailings contained solicitations for the "El Gordo" lottery.
* The Federal Trade Commission estimates identity theft, which includes phishing and is involved in many other frauds, costs Americans more than $50 billion per year.
* The U.S. Secret service says telecommunication frauds steal $1 billion from consumers each year.
Source: Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson