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article imageThe rising threat of online scams

By Alexander Baron     Jun 3, 2011 in Crime
A partial review of two recent "Fake Britain" programmes highlighting the price paid by two victims of plausible scammers.
It has often been said that wherever there are mugs there will always be people to take them, or as Phineas T. Barnum said, there’s a sucker born every minute. According to official statistics, in 2010 over thirty million adults in the UK accessed the Internet every day or almost every day. One website alone, Facebook, has over half a billion members worldwide. That means there are a lot of mugs in cyberspace.
We can all fall victim to identity theft or sophisticated scams, but as usual the old ones are the best, including appeals to greed, and appeals to love. Among the many victims profiled by Dominic Littlewood in this week’s Fake Britain series are a man whose greed got the better of him, and a lady whose on-line romance cost her more than a broken heart.
In yesterday’s programme he reported on the case of retired businessman Walter Mckinley who fell prey to a fake inheritance scam. This started when he received a letter by snailmail which informed him that someone with the same surname had died abroad leaving a massive £15 million inheritance, nearly forty percent of which was rightfully his.
There are legitimate companies that specialise in tracking down the heirs to unclaimed estates, but the sums involved are seldom if ever anywhere near that large, and such companies never ask for money up front, but will sign a legally binding agreement with any prospective beneficiary before taking a cut.
Mr Mckinley’s namesake had allegedly died in Malaysia, and he was asked to make a payment of close to $8,000 in order to release the money. From that first phone call he was hooked, and the official looking correspondence and e-mails that followed, convinced him to stump up over £400,000.
When finally the penny dropped, the police were unable to do anything meaningful except advise him not to part with anymore money. They also told him to contact the Malaysian Embassy, who didn’t want to know.
While it is difficult to feel any sympathy for a man who squanders a small fortune in pursuit of a large one that clearly he didn’t need, the lady who was taken for a ride by a crook who posed as a soldier serving in Afghanistan was a most undeserving victim. Thinking she had started a bona fide on-line romance, she sent him £300 after hearing a hard luck story, and a great deal more on receipt of official looking correspondence, in spite of being warned by her bank manager. After he had extracted as much as he thought he could, her sham suitor stopped replying to her e-mails and moved on to his next mark. The official correspondence he sent her was bogus, and the photographs though of a genuine soldier, were not of him.
An American government official in London told Littlewood “We” meaning the Embassy, receive around a thousand phone inquiries a year, and four or five times that many by e-mail. She added that with the rise of social networking sites, such crooks are increasingly preying on the vulnerable.
Although we can all be conned, a few simple precautions can save most people money and heartache.
There are all manner of websites that expose both on-line and real world scams; these sites are run by police forces, the FBI, regulatory bodies such as the Office of Fair Trading, and message boards such as
There are also numerous tools for checking the ownership of domains and tracing e-mails such as
If the person with whom you are corresponding claims to be in Afghanistan, and his e-mails are coming from Nigeria, he is probably not an American soldier serving on the front line!
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so a few clicks of the mouse can pay real dividends. If in doubt, bear in mind that cliché much in use nowadays, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Today’s Fake Britain can be found here. Or watch out for it on YouTube.
More about Fake Britain, Dominic Littlewood, Fraud
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