Dear Sir or Madam: Lottery scams proliferate

Advanced fee fraud scams are on the rise, far outpacing law enforcement's ability to keep up.

Tom Ericson, a retired bank employee who lives in Denmark, still can't get over how he lost about Euro 60,000 (US$90,000) in a bogus lottery.

Ericson (not his real name) now knows there's no such thing as a "Microsoft Lottery," and that the e-mail he responded to is just one of millions sent every day by scammers perpetrating advanced fee frauds, where victims are duped into sending money in exchange for a service or prize that never arrives.

Ericson thought he had won £500,000 (US$1 million). "I've been cheated the tough way," he said during an interview for a video distributed internally within Microsoft. "I'm only telling this because I hope nobody goes through the same thing."

Advanced fee fraud, also known as "419" scams after how the crime is classified in Nigeria's criminal code, are nothing new. The scams are still carried out through regular mail, but e-mail is now the powerful distribution method of choice.

Ultrascan Advanced Global Investigations in the Netherlands, which has a special department dedicated to 419 crimes, estimates conservatively that US$4.3 billion was lost worldwide to 419 scams in 2007. Countries most victimized are the US, UK and Japan. Ultrascan's data comes from its own investigations, and it advises that the real figure is likely many times higher.

Ericson's case has probably received more attention from law enforcement than most since he notified Danish police, who have been investigating for more than six months. Most victims never report their losses due to embarrassment.

Microsoft also stepped forward to help since the scammers used the company's brand name -- a common tactic -- in the ruse. Other companies are also irked by the surge in 419 crime. In May, Yahoo filed a federal lawsuit against 50 unnamed individuals and companies for using its trademarks for lottery-related scams.

Microsoft has seen a 300 per cent increase year-over-year in complaints, said Jean-Christophe Le Toquin, a Microsoft attorney based in Paris.

The schemes are most successful against trustworthy people who tend to develop complex relationships with the criminals.

"The reality we see is that these victims get themselves in real trouble not only financially but also from a psychological perspective," Le Toquin said. "The more money they give, the more they want to believe in the scammer."

The belief is naive, but the scams have been successful against even some of the brightest minds. Frank Engelsman, a 419 expert with Ultrascan, said he's dealt with two cases where Nobel Prize recipients were taken in by sophisticated schemes.

One of the Nobel winners became wrapped up in a plot that involved supplying vaccines to a country, Engelsman said. The other lost close to US$4 million in a gold-related scheme, he said.

In Ericson's case, it seems the perpetrators were connected with Nigeria, but operating out of London. In order to collect his lotto winnings, Ericson was told to send thousands of British pounds in legal and courier fees over eight months.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?