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New Twists on Old Scams

Don’t be fooled by these emails, phone calls

Some scammers are innovators casting ever-evolving new lures to test who’s biting in fraud-infested waters. But others simply tweak what’s tried-and-true. Here are new twists on three old scams.

Nigerian Letters

The Old: Emails that claim to be from African monarchs, government officials or “barristers” promise you millions in commission for helping move a fortune from their overseas bank account into yours. All it takes is your payment of advance fees to claim the booty, which of course never arrives.

The New: The emails bear the names of familiar American honchos who supposedly endorse the come-ons as legitimate. A recent one from “Hillary Clinton” includes a link that will supposedly give you instructions on how to claim an ATM card to withdraw $10,000 a day from a foreign bank account. In fact the link unleashes a ZIP file, a common way by which scammers side-step detection by anti-spam software.

Another claim was sent by “FBI Director Robert Mueller” with the subject line: “FBI OFFICIAL NOTICE: GET BACK TO US IMMEDIATELY IF YOU DONT WANT US TO ARREST YOU AND JAIL FOR YOUR OWN GOOD.” To elude arrest, just wire $98 to a Nigerian official named Chi Jacob.

Free Stuff

The Old: Unsolicited mail and pop-up windows claim you’ve won free computers and other high-tech merchandise. By clicking on a link to get details, you either infect your computer with identity-stealing malware or get sent to take "surveys" that ask for personal information. The gifts of course never materialize.

The New: Free airline tickets are the latest prize lies. In a recent Facebook campaign (that social networking website is increasingly being employed by scammers), Southwest Airlines was impersonated as promising free tickets. But the link to that “prize” led instead to surveys seeking personal information that may have been sold to telemarketers and spammers.

Government Money

The Old: Emails promise you’re entitled to government grants or free help from little-known programs to start a business, pay off your mortgage or make home improvements. You’re asked to pay “processing” or “application” fees by credit card or wire transfer for what turns out to be nonexistent money.

The New: Free government money is available as a “reward” to residents who have paid their taxes and utility bills on time. That’s what you’re told in telephone calls by scammers claiming to be federal or state employees. But if you fall for this, you’re asked for personal information, including bank account numbers for direct-deposit of this phony reward money.

Another variation: Bogus offers of government money arrive in courier-delivered envelopes to lend an air of authenticity.