Fraud Alert Targets The 419 Scam Spammers

Fraud Alert has launched a website for email scam reports, such as those inspired by the North African civil unrest

A scam-email reporting site has been opened by Fraud Alert to help the UK government’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, run by the police, to track down the confidence tricksters that continue to proliferate across the Internet.

Victims of email scammers can send the bogus messages they receive to a specially created website which opened this weekend. The Fraud Alert site can also link anyone who has fallen for a scam with Victim Support, a national charity offering guidance and help.

Scammers in the news

Email scammers are using increasingly subtle techniques to socially engineer their victims into parting with thousands of pounds. The campaigns are starting to focus on smaller groups or headline-hitting events, mirroring the virus-spreading emails that have been circulated over recent years.

Paul Wood, a senior analyst at Symantec MessageLabs Intelligence, has reported several scams, including a narrowly-targeted email written in the Welsh language. The message mentions names close to those of the recipient in an attempt to make the email seem more personal. The content of the email follows the usual “419 scam” tale of a fortune locked up in an African country’s banking system to which the victim could help release by sending money.

The Libyan and Egyptian crises are also being used, Wood writes in his blog. Keeping up with the latest news allows the scammers to hit their unsuspecting benefactors while feelings are running strong.

The Egyptian scam started just a few days after president Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Written in German, the emails claimed to be from the former president’s lawyer. The “lawyer” asks for the recipient’s help, for a suitable fee, to unfreeze $2.5 million (£1.5m) of the president’s fortune from a Belgian bank account. The scammer further claims that he will pay for any assistance given.

As with many of these emails, the grammar is poorly constructed and, like the Welsh email, was probably produced using an online translation engine.

Political turmoil exploited

Even more topical, is the Libyan appeal which uses the current turmoil to add context to a claim from someone claiming to be connected with Libya’s Grand Senussi royal family which was overthrown by Muammar Gaddafi in 1969.

As various nations rush to evacuate their citizens from the country, the scammer wants assistance to transfer money out of the country. He claims to be involved in the oil business, to show he is not short of cash but needs a Libyan outsider to help release the money. Of course, the scammer will demand increasingly inventive upfront fees and charges, and never send any money.

The messages always follow the same basic plot, are usually badly written even though they claim to be sent by well-educated people, and prey on the desire of gullible people to quickly improve their bank balances. According to insurer CPP, 420,000 scam emails drop into UK inboxes every minute, although this figure includes bank phishing fraud emails as well as 419 scams.

For some victims, the desire to help is a compulsion and they genuinely feel they are helping someone. Fraud Alert is particularly concerned about these victims and wants to gather as many spoof emails in the hope that it will be able to work with foreign police forces to track down, convict and lock-away the scammers.

The term “419 scam” was given to these types of email because many of them come from Nigeria. The number refers to Article 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with “obtaining property by false pretences; cheating”. The scams are more correctly referred to as advance-fee fraud.