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Scam Alert

Zongo the Internet Con Man and Me

How I outfoxed a scammer promising me a dead tycoon's fortune

But, oops, it's not an application form for a business venture; instead, it requests that I declare myself "next of kin" to a dead tycoon — "the late George Black," who died conveniently in a plane crash in 2003 — and left $15.5 million in a bank account.

Ben: You appear to have made a mistake, as I have no dead relative named George Black.

Zongo: I send you now a new application so you apply as Business Partner of the Deceased and not next-of-kin.

Over the next several weeks:

Zongo: Give me your private number so I can call you. I want to speak with you immediately.

Ben: I lost my cellphone and there's a 10-day waiting period for replacements, just like guns.

Zongo: I must have today the form of the deceased customer George Black to b_o_a@africamail.com with your bank account.

Ben: Before I can, I need to know your astrological sign. I'm a Capricorn and only give such information to people with a suitable zodiac sign.

Zongo: I'm a Christian.

Zongo: You still did not send the application to the bank as i instructed. They are very angry.

Ben: I just sent the form — to the real Bank of Africa email address, not the address you gave me.

Zongo is never heard from again.

ACT 3: Courting Theresa

One day after receiving Zongo's first email, I reply with an email signed by one Theresa DeGraci, a more cooperative version of me.

Theresa: Dear Mr. Zongo: I received your letter seeking assistance in transferring funds into my account. I am honored to be chosen for such a generous offer, as I am a widow, age 72, living on a meager fixed income. What do I need to do to earn your proposed commission?

Zongo: Just as I promised you in my last mail, below is the application format which you will re-write and send to the bank with email address given below.

I feed out phony information about Theresa. She has a nonexistent house in Detroit. She can't afford a phone or passport. Her bank is the also nonexistent South Michigan Automakers' Consumer Savings — SMACS ("scams" spelled backward). Her account number contains more than 20 digits, twice the typical number, which supposed business consultant Zongo doesn't notice. This first correspondence includes the George Black kinship form.

Theresa: I never knew I had a millionaire relative named George Black so I cannot answer these questions to get my millions.

Zongo: Bellow is the answers.

Under occupation on the kinship application form, George Black is listed as "tourist." Theresa submits Zongo's answers as instructed. An email soon arrives titled "Approval as Next of Kin from Bank of Africa Co-Operate Headquarters."

Next: Don't open unfamiliar emails. >>

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