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Jack79's avatar

How long has this "internet money laundering" scam been going on?

Asked by Jack79 (10984points) September 17th, 2009

Just today I got an email from some mr.Masagambe or whatever from the West African Development Bank, which apparently has upped the ante to $1.5m. I’m sure you’ve all received some e-mail like that. The details and names change, but it’s always some obscure account in Africa, and you have to give them your details so they will transfer a huge amount of illegal money to you and get a cut. I remember when I first got that email, and it was before 1998 (I still had the old email address). Could have been even before 1996.

So here are some questions:
1) Are they so successful that they’re still running the same scam for over 10 years? I mean the internet has been around long enough for people to have their eyes open, right? Or are there still enough idiots in the world to feed these guys?
2) How exactly does it work? I mean, even if I answer the guy, apparently I give him a bank account and he adds money to it. Obviously he wouldn’t add anything, but just by giving him my bank account number, would he be able to steal the money that way? Or do people also provide PINs etc?
3) Let’s say that the deal was for real. Really real. No internet scam, no risk, nothing. Morally speaking, would you do it? The money offered is usually some inheritance that hasn’t been claimed, or stolen government funds and then the president got arrested, or some dodgy stuff like that. Would you take it?

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23 Answers

Lightlyseared's avatar

Its a 419 scam (probably from Nigeria).

You give them your bank details – they take your money.

marinelife's avatar

My sister just emailed me that she lost $2,400 in a money laundering scam. She is normally intelligent, but has been having trouble finding work.

I think it is a combination of greed and desperation.

grumpyfish's avatar

The way this works is: (Here, Alice (A) is the scammed, and Bob (B) is the scammer)

B. Okay, okay, I need to get this $15m out of West Africa, I’ll give you 10% of that if you help me!

A. Okay! That’s great! How can I help?

B. Well, I need $100 to bribe the offical at the bank

A. Well, that’s easy, here you go! (Thinking, she’s going to get $1.5m at the end)

(1 week goes by)

B. Damn, now the Revenue Service is looking into this, they need $1500 to get them off my back.

A. Well, that’s a lot, but OK here you go!

etc. etc. etc. until you run out of money, or give up on them.

girlofscience's avatar

@Lightlyseared and @grumpyfish are wrong. You don’t give them your bank details, and they don’t literally take your money. And you don’t send them money of your own.

What happens is this:
You provide your full name, address, and telephone number. (Telephone number is necessary because they call you to verify you are a real person.)
They mail a “check” to your address for some ridiculous amount. This is actually a fake check.
You deposit the check and receive the money because the check appears real.
You send the majority of the money to them. (Because that’s the agreement… and you keep 10% of it for yourself.)
The bank contacts you several days later (likely after you have already sent the money to them) and informs you that you owe them all of the money they gave you for that check you deposited because it came back to them as not real.
You’re then stuck owing all of the money that you already sent off to the scammers.

I have been fascinated by these scams for quite a long time. I actually have an email address that I use solely for feigned participation in these scams. I email the scammers and pretend to be interested and engage them in all kinds of crazy conversation about the transaction to see what results. It’s very fascinating, and at some point, I will create a website full of my conversations with these scammers in all of their types of scams.

Syger's avatar

@girlofscience That. Is. Awesome. I’d totally be intersted in seeing that site when it’s done.

Lightlyseared's avatar

@girlofscience yeah a 419 scam is an advance fee scam – i just skipped a few steps.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I got an email from “The Lottery Office” in “Glasgow” about a month ago. I guess that makes it a 141 scam. Hahahaha!

grumpyfish's avatar

@girlofscience Wow! They are so much more nefarious than I thought!

drClaw's avatar

You wold think most people could spot these scams from a mile away however they blanket these scam emails to hundreds of thousands of email addresses. Most typically the people who fall for them are elderly and out of touch with internet happenings or desperate enough to take the chance. @Marina‘s sister is a great example of someone getting caught up due to their own financial woes.

If you sent out a million emails that all said “You have been chosen to receive $50 million from the Nigerian government! Send $4,000 cash for the processing fee and the rest is yours” I guarantee somebody would fall for it. It’s sad but these people are as shady as they come and could care less about who they hurt.

MissAusten's avatar

There are variations on the 419 scam that initially seem less ludicrous. My husband has a website targeted to a small niche (other decorative artists), with most orders consisting of a DVD here or a book there. One day, he got an email from someone who wanted to order multiple copies of every DVD available. It would have been a very large sale, and of course my husband got excited. However, when this buyer said he wanted to email the credit card information to purchase the DVDs, my husband got suspicious. Who is crazy enough to email someone their credit card numbers? He showed it to me, and a quick google search showed that it was a scam. What they do is give you stolen credit card information, then ask you to send a money order for the shipping costs to a fake shipping company in another country. When the rightful owners of those credit cards see the charges, they have their bank reverse them, and the seller earns nothing plus is out the few hundred dollars for the “shipping.” This fake buyer was very pushy and clearly wanted to hurry the process along. I can see how people might fall for it because the amount of money lost isn’t huge, although the loss of merchandise is an extra blow. As tempting as it was to go along with the scam just to yank the guy’s chain, we simply ignored the next couple of emails. He quickly figured out that we knew what was going on and stopped trying to contact us.

If you can maintain a healthy level of suspicion and take the time to look into anything that doesn’t seem right, you can avoid these things. Like they always say, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

laureth's avatar

Remember, in any given population, approximately half will be below average in intelligence. People keep scamming because there are enough other people taking them up on it to make it profitable. Makes you wonder who’s buying all the penis enlargement devices to keep that spam a-comin’, eh?

galileogirl's avatar

The scam that @girlofscience described becomes even nastier when the guy who is supposed to deposit the check and send the laundered money back suspects something. He then goes to a “friend” asking for help. “I got this check from a cousin back east (or Canada-the check never indicates Africa) who sent it to help me with rent. The bank will put a 10 day hold on it but I need it now. I’ll give you $500 if you cash it for me so I don’t get kicked out of my place”

He gets the cash less $500 and doesn’t and friend gets the check bounced back on his account. He may try to recover but how does he prove that $500 doesn’t prove complicity in money laundering or a bank scam?

Jack79's avatar

@MissAusten now that sounds like a more reasonable scam, and something that would work. If I stole someone’s wallet and found a credit card in it, what I’d do is exactly that: buy material things (such as DVDs) that I could later sell before the owner cancelled the card.

@girlofscience now that’s quite a good explanation. I also tried playing with them once, but either they figured me out or I got bored or something like that, and I never got to the bottom of it. But what you’re saying is that the money is actually credited to my bank account and the bank only finds out later? So what if I know about it, use the fake cheque and simply disappear with the bank’s money (and not even bother give them their cut)? Or do you mean I give them their share whereas my own money still hasn’t been processed? Seems like there’s a hole in the system.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Another one is an offer for work processing money orders for a company. They fedex you checks, you deposit them to your account, and wire transfer the money out. The checks come from all over. The first few deposits go through fine, and you make a little money. Then they send you more checks to deposit, you wire transfer the money out, and the checks bounce. You are responsible for covering the amount of the wire transfer with the bank.

The rule of thumb is, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Garebo's avatar

I would like to think I am the cause.
I just love answering these people, if you can call them that, in the most vicious way I can conceive, but never on my computer.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

@Garebo According to the Secret Service do NOT respond to these types of e-mail messages. The reason is, they do not have your e-mail address unless you do. You are targeted the first time via a general spamming e-mail. Once you respond, you leave yourself open to a lot of other e-mails.

MissAusten's avatar

I just checked my email, and was reminded of a phishing scam that we’ve been getting a lot lately. The emails come through my husband’s business account, and appear to be from the IRS. It states that we need to fill out a form for Underreported Income or Fraud, with a link that really looks like it would take you to the IRS website. However, when I looked into it, I learned that the IRS never emails people about their tax accounts (at least, that’s what their website says). There are numerous IRS phishing scams. So, if you get something scary from the IRS in your email, it’s ok to ignore it and hit delete. :)

Jack79's avatar

Oh I also got one from Lloyd’s Bank like that, where it directs you to a fake website which looks like a real one. I never do any banking via the web, and I don’t have a Lloyd’s Bank account anyway, or else I might have bought it.

MissAusten's avatar

@Jack79 We get those all the time too. Usually they are for Bank America, which we have never used for anything. We get several of them each week, probably because my husband has his business email listed on his website. It’s very rare for things like that to come through our personal email account.

Strauss's avatar

These types of scams have been going on for as song as I have had email accounts, both personal and work related (at least 12 years).

BBQsomeCows's avatar

setup a new gmail account and screw with them

it’s fun

FIRST, however, read some FAQs on

as you are toying with criminals


Zen_Again's avatar

If even one person from fluther can be scammed, imagine world-wide – or even just the US. It’s the Law of Averages.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Scamwarners is a great site for learning about and reporting these scams.

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