An email arrives, supposedly from a friend or colleague. Even though there are clear signs that it is a scam, many of us still fall for it.
Scams do not only dupe the naive and the daft. Really clever people also fall for the most obvious online scams, handing over the keys to their email, and sometimes just about everything else.
Fight back - latest on scams
I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
Should I have a good giggle because, despite warning after warning, highly intelligent people still fall for dangerous nonsense? Or should I have a good weep because those self same people don't read the warnings – or that they are not as clever as their pay grade might imply? I don't know.
Fight back - latest on scams
But I do know that swindlers always live in hope of someone falling into their traps. Remember fraud victims have to play their own part in handing over their cash - this is not a case of bad people in balaclavas brandishing baseball bats.
The philosopher's email
Last week I received an email entitled (in capital letters) FOR TONY.
Who was this from? None other than Alain de Botton. Zurich born de Botton, educated at Harrow and Cambridge, is a famous thinker. He wrote "The Consolations of Philosophy" and "The Architecture of Happiness" among many others. So why is he writing to me?
Of course – and this is bad for my self-esteem – he wasn't. It wasn't Alain de Botton, but a scamster stealing his name. Now, don't do this at home, but I opened the obviously dodgy email to find a link (since shut down) to a money generator site where, apparently, I can earn $4,386 a month with just two hours' work and no previous experience. Now what did someone say about if it looks too good to be true?
It is easy to set up an email and create a false identity. I think this is sort of funny – maybe even a philosopher would smile.
Receiving emails from 'friends'
Now for one which made me angry. Two intelligent, very highly paid men who work for an information website with their own IT department.
I know them – I've done a bit of work for them. So getting an email was not a surprise. Even the heading "Important Document" might have been true.
When I opened it. It said: "Please view the document i uploaded for you using Google docs. Click here (I've removed the hyperlink) just sign in with your email to view the document its very important.
Pete, the supposed sender of the email, is very literate. This letter was not. The hyperlink led to a number of email logos, including Hotmail, Gmail and YahooMail as well as that of a property company I had never heard of. It then said: "To access our online secured auction page, you are required to choose your email address below."
Now this is the amazing bit. Pete (although he denies this) had followed the instructions when he received the same email from elsewhere, clicked on his email provider and then filled in the pop-up form which required both email address and password.
The scamster now has not only the email address of someone susceptible to revealing details to a company they have never heard of (which turned out to be an innocent company in Latin America whose logo has been hi-jacked) but also the password for that email account.
Now the fraudster has the keys to everything - not just contacts, but all the emails received and sent. It does not matter how fast you change your password, they've already copied the contents. They will go through all of your mail to find something which can be turned into cash – or even material for blackmailing purposes.
Failing to learn their lesson
Now, everyone on Pete's list has this email including his colleague, Colin, who is even more computer-savvy. Despite knowing about it from Pete, he still sent off his password. As a result I get the email again. Colin was red-faced when friends asked him about this.
Neither man can explain their stupidity. Both had to send their computers for deep malware cleansing and both have had to change every single password they have. But this was not about viruses. It is all about crooks grabbing personal information.
What I don't know is how many others who received this email also followed these two and gave their passwords. With easy pickings like this, who needs to trade drugs or money launder?
- 1. Land banking
Land banking involves plots of land offered for sale, often online, with the promise of sizable returns when planning permission is approved for housing or other development. Yet often the land is located in areas protected from development by planning law.</p>
The companies involved soon disappear with investors' money and as the firms are not protected by the Financial Services Authority, their funds are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme</p>
- 2. Money mule
Fraudsters recruit unknowing accomplices through email under the guise of offering employment, seeking a personal favour, or through internet shopping sites. The recruits are persuaded into receiving what are essentially fraudulent payments and then passing funds on.</p>
The 'mules' are frequently offered a small financial incentive to encourage involvement and face difficulties in proving their innocence when the fraud is discovered.</p>
- 3. Carbon credit fraud
The scams claim to offer people the chance to profit from carbon credits. Under regulations that permit businesses to emit a tonne of CO2 – the companies claim to offer investment in green projects like a forestry scheme or a solar panel project, which generates carbon credits that are then sold on to heavy industry.</p>
A flashy brochure or website tells of a reliable 'government-backed' scheme which provides reliable returns for investors. Such a scheme doesn't exist however – a reality investors only discovered when they have parted with their cash and the company is untraceable. As with land banking, fraudulent companies are not covered by the FSA so victims have no course for recompense</p>
- 4. HMRC phishing scam
Receiving an email from the taxman saying you are owed a payment may seem like a nice surprise, but it is actually from fraudsters trying to relieve you of your cash instead.</p>
The emails provide a "click-through link" to a cloned replica of the HMRC website. The recipient is then asked to provide their credit or debit card details - all the information the criminals need to clear your account, and sell on your personal details.</p>
- 5. Disappearing loan scam
This scam targets vulnerable people who are in financial difficulty and unable to access credit through regular channels like overdrafts and credit cards.</p>
The fraudsters advertise loans and those that sign up are asked to pay an upfront 'arrangement' fee of around £60-£70 fee before the loan is approved. Borrowers pay the fee only for the 'loan providers' to disappear without a trace.</p>
- 6. Crash for cash scams
Insurer Direct Line reported a hike in the number of 'crash for cash' scams last year – where fraudsters fake accidents by making unnecessary emergency stops at busy roundabouts or slip roads, forcing motorists to crash into them.</p>
They then make bogus claims to the innocent motorist's insurer, often including fictitious injuries and passengers.</p>
- 7. Driving school scams
Learner drivers have been taken for ride by being unknowingly taught by trainee instructors. An investigation by the AA found up to 27,000 extra driving tests have been failed in the last year because one in 10 learner drivers are unwittingly taught by an instructor they do not know is learning on the job.</p>
- 8. One man mail scam
July saw the arrest of a Leicester postman who stole £46,686 worth of mail over two-and-a-half years. Yogeshbhai Patel, 38, was jailed for two years for stealing mail including 2,000 DVDs and 2,250 games along with CDs and other electrical equipment. He intercepting the valuable packages and spent the money on living a luxury lifestyle including helicopter rides and a trip to Las Vegas.</p>
- 9. Smart meter scam
The Trading Standards Institute reported over 200 cases where elderly homeowners have been targeted by telephone cold callers, purporting to be from their energy supplier and offering energy saving devices which could cut their bills by 40%.</p>
The TSI tested the devices in homes where owners had fallen for the scam, only to find they both failed to satisfy electrical safety standards or deliver any tangible energy savings.</p>
- 10. Thermal camera fraud
Thermal cameras that track ATM pin numbers are the latest weapon in their arsenal and US scientists have warned it is the next threat for this form of crime. Researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that up to 45 seconds after a person types their pin code into an ATM machine or door entry pad the numbers and even the sequence are still readable by thermal cameras.</p>