He Wants To GIve Me A Million Bucks

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I was searching online for a way to apply for a gas card for the newspaper and ended up in search my newspaper email account by clicking on the wrong box on the screen. An email, hitherto unnoticed by me, titled in all caps (always a bad sign) YOUR OPPORTUNITY FROM EXXONMOBIL LONDON, appeared. It seems Mr. Peter Alexandra needs my assistance. He “overinvoiced” a contract a few years ago.

“I need your full cooperation and partnership to re-profile this contract funds amounting to $2.5M to your name as the contractor that executed this contract in Asia few years.”

That is exactly how it read; no typos here. Mr. Alexandra needs my full name, contact address, direct telephone number, occupation, and age and marital status. I am to send this, not to ExxonMobil, but to his personal address, which is a series of characters that spell nothing.

In exchange for me providing this personal information, which actually is easily obtainable online given the public nature of my position and the fact I write a column confessing such matters as my age, he and I will split $2.5 million. Peter — seems like we can be on a first-name basis at this point — gets 60 percent and I receive 40 percent. My math skills indicate I end up with a million bucks for very little effort.

Hmmmm. I wonder if this is a scam.

I’m kidding. Of course it is a scam, a variation of the type of emails that generally get shunted off to the spam folder. Does anyone fall for this stuff anymore? Surely not.

A far more realistic version, which has fooled some folks — including one person I know — involves someone you know who is overseas and has lost his billfold, passport, etc. He is desperate and needs a loan of a few thousand bucks to get back home. I recently received one of these scams from the mother of my two oldest daughters. She supposedly was stuck in Ukraine and needed $2,800. The message purportedly came from her email account. We exchange emails at Christmas and the daughters’ birthdays to make sure we don’t both buy the same present, but that is about it. So it would appear unlikely she would ask me to loan her money.

I sent her a message that it appeared her email account had been hacked.

She sent back a witty reply: “I guess this means you won’t be sending me $2,800.”

Good one! Yup, that’s right.

The New Yorker, my favorite magazine, published a story in 2006 called “The Perfect Mark.” Google “New Yorker email scam” and it will pop right up. It is a nightmarish account about a respected Christian psychotherapist who fell for what is commonly called the Nigerian email scam. He ended up losing thousands of dollars because he was convinced becoming “partners” with a shadowy Nigerian figure who had sent an email similar in form to the one I described above would make him a millionaire. Worse, he was convicted of bank fraud and trying to pass counterfeit checks and sentenced to two years in prison. His story ought to serve as an object lesson to anyone who takes these emails seriously.

As someone in the article points out, “You can’t cheat an honest man.” In these cases, the victims expected to get something for nothing. Most of us understand by now that there really is no such thing. What outrages me are when these scamsters prey on the elderly, on folks who have spent their lives working hard who lose money because they may be naïve, or no longer in full possession of their mental faculties.

It appears Internet email scams will forever be with us. I have been getting a version of the one described at the top of this piece for at least 20 years. Somebody somewhere must be falling for these scams, unfortunately. Don’t let it be you. Remember the old cliché, because sometimes clichés  are actually on-target: If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

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