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Scamming the Scammers -- Sometimes You Just Have To

Regular readers know of our antipathy for Internet con artists. We have one on the line, and have set the hook...

 

UPDATE: Fish on! Our scammer is interested, and look where he wants us to send his money...

We've written ad nauseum but with no apparent effect about the scurrilous dogs who prey on the good nature of older folks and others with a variety of carefully composed and worded Internet scams all designed to separate good people from their money.

Dozens of Lamorindans have fallen victim to the scammers and that really cheeses us off, so when we received the latest iteration of the "I Was Robbed While On Vacation and Need Money to Get Home" con, we decided to play along and see where it took us.

For those of you who haven't heard of the con, it starts with a hacked email account and a panicky letter like this one, with the hackee's name and info omitted -- of course:

I really hope you get this on time. I didn't tell you about my visit to Spain with my family for a short vacation, but unfortunately we were robbed at the hotel where we lodged along with other folks. We did not bring our phones here and the hotel telephone lines were disconnected during the incident. So we have access to only emails. Please I'm going to need some sort of loan from you for us to relocate to another hotel close to the embassy and also to get another flight ticket. Those thieves made away with our credit cards as well which is why this can't be resolved instantly.

We have been to the Embassy and the Police here are not helping issues at all and our flight leaves tomorrow..Please, Let me know if you can help us out?

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Ralph XXXXX, XXXX N California Blvd, UnitXXX, Walnut Creek, CA 95496-4458(925)938-XXXX

 

Got it? As it happens I know this person (the hackers send this email to everyone on Ralph's email contact list) and the initial instinct is, of course, to lend a hand. But Ralph and his family did not go to Spain, are not in any sort of trouble, and are in fact safe and well in Walnut Creek. The grifter is hoping Ralph's friends don't know that.

The Con

To get us to wire money, usually to the tune of $2,000 to $3,000, to a Western Union wire transfer station -- possibly in Spain, we don't know, yet. That money, of course, would be untraceable once wired and once received by the grifter, would never be seen again. Interpol and other police agencies estimate the con nets billions -- with a B -- each year.

 

The Sting

Being worldly and very Patchy, we recognized this morning's con for what it was and responded with a breathless, eager-to-help missive back to the con artist, asking how we can help. Having had experience with the con and not having a Patch in Barcelona it is doubtful we'll be able to put the grifter where he or she belongs -- in irons -- but we intend to have some fun and we'll update this story as it develops.

Let's see where it takes us. Perhaps others will get a little insight into how the con men (and women) work.

 

Fish On -- Let the Game Begin

Within 20 minutes of our communication with "Ralph," we received this:

Thanks a lot for your willingness to help..Western Union happens to be a quicker means of sending the cash, and please bear in mind that I'll facilitate your reimbursement as soon as will get back home.all we need is €1,550 1,935.34 USD.All you have to do is to locate a Western Union outlet or you can transfer online by using your Credit card to log on to westernunion.com and get the money transferred in my name. Please use the details below to send:
NAME-  Ralph XXXXXAddress: Narvaez 69 - Esquina Calle Sainz De BarandaCity: MadridZIP Code: 28009Country: Spain
Just help me write out the MTCN/Reference number and other necessary details. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

 

I'll bet you are looking forward to hearing from me, bud. We're checking but we believe the Esquina Calle Sainz de Baranda is a mail drop in Madrid. Just under $2,000 -- we were off a bit on the extent of your greed.

He follows up with:

Please you very much, Just help me write out the MTCN/Reference number and other necessary details. I'm looking forward to hearing from you. MTCN Western union control number is the reference number that will be giving to you by the outlet or bank.

Suddenly, "Ralph's" English starts to break down. I ask a few questions and he doesn't like what he's hearing. But he likes that we drew the money -- $2,000 -- out of the bank.

Thanks for your mail earlier, The address i gave to you is western union address to pick up the fund ASAP. just a locate a outlet, Bank or shopping mall. you can transfer on my name


So, after some questions about his wife and children -- which the scammer never answered -- we told him his money was on its way. His answer:

waiting

Now, if he hangs on, we're going to work the old California Con on HIM, upping the ante and bouncing him around town.

Lafayette Curmudgeon August 21, 2012 at 04:03 PM
For those who like to see con artists conned, there's no finer tonic than http://www.419eater.com/ -- Nigerian scammers will do anything to keep someone on the hook. These good folks push that to the edge.
c5 August 21, 2012 at 05:39 PM
at least he got the exchange rate correct....not sure where you are going with this, but have fun! too bad it's not domestic, there might be a way to really trap them.
J.D. O'Connor (Editor) August 21, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Unless I get lucky and trip him up, I can't do much other than run him around Madrid a little and keep him from scamming others. Small victory, I know, but I have a friend who works for CNN in Madrid, reaching out to see if we can set up an on-camera reception committee.
Chris Nicholson August 21, 2012 at 05:55 PM
I think Western Union and the like should be encouraged (but not required!) to offer "fraud protection" where for first-time transfers, they will, for $20 or something, take a photo, fingerprints and a copy the photo ID of the recipient. A database could be scanned for known scammers. It's not a guarantee against fraud, but it raises the stakes a bit on the scammers and their accomplices and increases the odds that repeat players will be caught or deterred. Plus, Western Union can make a few bucks and claim that they are trying to help the situation.
Ian Lipnicky (still a SportsFan) August 21, 2012 at 06:12 PM
A fool and his money are soon parted.
Eastofthehills August 21, 2012 at 06:44 PM
I can agree with that.
Zoe Claire August 22, 2012 at 04:00 AM
There is no punishment too harsh for these people.
Valerie Sloven August 22, 2012 at 04:11 AM
I received this e-mail from Ralph xxx this morning. These con artists get a lot of personal information from FB.
Dave August 22, 2012 at 04:43 PM
As with other turning-the-tables tales I have read, I look forward to seeing how this plays out. I do hope, however, that you used some kind of burner email account for this righteous endeavor.
Gopal Das August 24, 2012 at 07:53 AM
I think everybody should check out the Scam Detector app. I believe they're online as well.
newswatch August 31, 2012 at 07:57 PM
reason why the scammers keep targeting Lamorinda elderly (and it happened to my folks) is in some cases the older people forgot it even happened to them a first time.
James Coleridge August 31, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Instead of poking fun at them for their fogetfullness --- remember, we're all headed there someday, lets find a way to protect them and increase the penalty for international scam men. Arrests and harsh penalties may require the cooperation of nations but I would love to see it done and these people brought to justice.
newswatch August 31, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Not poking fun! as I said it happened to my parents. The Orinda Police said they couldn't do anything since it was after the fact. Since many of these elderly are most likely not going to tell anyone that it happened because of embarrassment perhaps the Police Dept. should send a notice out (not all elderly use the computer) or put it in headelines in the local paper so people do become aware.

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