In 1997 - David Mamet released The Spanish Prisoner, a taught pyschological thriller about a scientist who gives up an item of great value when promised an even greater treasure. (Sorry to sound vague but I don’t want to ruin the plot).
13 years later and the storyline is now everyday. Each day, everyone else is bombarded with emails with promises of millions from long lost inheritences, won lotteries and foreign fortunes.
All we need to do is send them a small fee, a little bribe and perhaps a few thousand dollars for expenses and the money is ours.
The Spanish Prisoner, or Advance Fee Fraud, is now one of the biggest scams in the world, netting it’s mostly Spanish and Nigerian perpertrators billions each year.
It’s so common place that the most recent victims are mocked as idiots for not already being aware of the scam.
Which means less and less victims are going public with their experiences meaning more and more people will fall foul in the future.
The noughties was the decade in which the economy imploded (or exploded, I’m not an economist and this technical terms confuse me).
As best as I can tell, a bunch of people bought houses they couldn’t afford using money they borrowed from banks who didn’t have the money to give. The people lost their houses, the banks lost their money and everything went tits up. (stop me if I’m going too fast.)
This is where the con artists came in, picking over the bones of the economy. Dodgy characters began offering people to remortgage their homes. Victims, desperate to save their homes signed anything shoved in front of them and ended up losing everything.
Now, as the economy is slowly improving, new morgage scams are being discovered all the time. A Sydney couple have been arrested this month for stealing identities of homeowners to get fake mortgages. $150 million is believed to have been swindled.
Back in 2004, I appeared on Today Tonight warning about credit card skimmers.
Since then we’ve had countless more attacks on people’s credit cards and the banks have responded with updating their security. Your average ATM slot is now covered with so many bits of coloured plastic and flashing lights that it looks like it might be capable of intelligence thought.
The idea is simple. A skimmer is placed belong the ATM card slot which reads and copies your card as you put it in the machine.
Since ATMs are harder to scam, the swindlers have moved onto other methods.
- In October, I had reports of taxi drivers skimming people’s cards when they went to pay on eftpos. The skimmer was hidden under the seat and the PIN was obtained remembered when passenger entered it in the machine.
- A dog in Sydney was found to have a skimmer attached to it’s collar. Police believe it was trained to rubbed up against victims and copy the card in their wallet.
- A man in Canberra went door to door posing as a delivery man in 2008. The victim had to pay a COD charge of a few dollars. However, his dodgy EFTPOS machine copied their card and remembered their PIN.
-This week, I’ve been getting reports of skimmers being attached to ANTI-skimming ATMS in Sydney
The ATMs have gotten safer but there are still more skimmers out there then in skim milk.
Wait. Let me try that again. More cards skimmed than milk which is skimmed in some sort of skimmed milk factory.
There’s more skimming going on then in a skinny cow skimming stones across a river…of skimmed milk.
Maybe I’m just being over sensitive because I’m packing a very extra kilos myself but I’ve noticed a huge rise in the number of weight loss scams over the decade.
The Australia government has even included a special section on the Scamwatch website for this type of swindle.
It’s got every good swindle needs…
READY VICTIMS: The western world is full of fat people and we’re only getting fatter.
AN EMOTIONAL ANGLE: The best scams rely on an emotional need within victim whether it be greed, loneliness or vanity. The desire to lose weight and look good blinds our mose basic common sense.
THE EASY COOL OFF: If a system doesn’t work, the con artist can blame the victim for not following the fine print that says “only to be used with a sensible diet and exercise.” In other words, eat less and exercise more and you’ll lose weight.
SUSTAINABLE GROWTH: You can even reload your victims and scam them again by bringing them on as pyrimid salespeople for your dodgy product or just sell them more of the same crap in a new and improved packaged.
You didn’t think you were going to escape the Top Ten Scams of the Decade did you?
If you’re reading this, the chances are that you’ve downloaded something illegally off the internet.
The last ten years have seen a rapid rise in the speed of internet leading to more and more music, software, TV and movies being illegally shared around the world.
The more it happens, the more excuses we come up with.
“If I really like a TV series that I’ve downloaded, I might buy the DVD.”
(Sure - I steal stuff from shops all the time. And if I like it, I go back pay for it.)
“Information should be freely available to the masses.”
(You know who else said that…STALIN. But I don’t see you don’t at the fruit and veg co-op redistributing the wealth do I?)
“TV stations don’t show programs at regular hours so I have to watch it somehow.”
(I agree, network TV sucks. But just because someone is a jerk doesn’t excuse the crime.)
If I’m brutally honest, I think my real problem with the illegal downloaders is not the crime itself. I hang out with card cheats, short con men and petty thieves all the time. Why really rubs me the wrong way is the crappy excuses.
You’re a con artist.
Deal with it.
Tomorrow: Weight Loss
Used without permission of FOX. But I might buy the DVD if I enjoy this picture enough…
While people fishing for private details from unsuspecting internet users goes back to bulletin boards of the late 1980’s, Phishing came into it’s own post 9/11 when users of payment system E-gold were asked to take part in a ’security check’.
This was the first recorded time a major payment system had been hit the internet and open the flood gates for other mass phishing attempts including:
Vishing: Using telephones to secure credit card details etc. from businesses and individuals.
Spear Phishing: Target a specific individual for attack.
Site Spoofing: Setting up an identical copy of a popular site hoping that users won’t be able to spot the different.
IRL Phishing: Creating fake hardware designed to look like the real deal. E.g. fake ATMs.
Every time a paticular style of attack gets too well known, the con artists create new ways of tricking people into freely giving up credit card details, passwords, personal information etc.
Today we continue the daily countdown of the top ten scams of the 2000s (aka ‘the naughties’ aka ‘the aughties’ aka ‘the zeros’)
Number Nine: Charity Muggers
The last ten years have been plagued with disasters and tragedies. 9/11, the Asian tsunami, the Victorian bush fires, the war in Iraq etc.
With each of these events, charity drives ensue to raise cash for victims. Red Cross have raised record funds for various campaigns.
Sadly, at the same time, con artists also use these events to make a little money.
When Steven Irwin died, people started going door to door to collect for his wildlife charity, pocketing the money themselves.
But the new millenium also saw the rise of the entirely legal yet extraordinarily scam like Charity Muggers, employed sales people who ambush people in the street, pressuring them to sign up to monthly donations.
What many victims don’t know is that the sales person and their marketing company employer take up to 90% of the money donated.
Many of the Charity Muggers are evasive when you ask them exactly how they get paid.
The question is, if a charity has to choose between getting a small cut of a scam or getting nothing, which one should they choose?
Tomorrow: Scam #8 - Phishing, Spear Phishing and Vishing,
Over the next ten days, I’m counting down the top ten scams of the past ten years.
These are the ten swindles that I think sum up the first decade of the new millennium.
Number 10: Poodles as Pets and other scams that weren’t
Back in 2007, the ‘odd spot’ sections of newspapers around the world reported on Japanese women buying dogs off of the internet that turned out to be sheep, shaved to look like French poodles.
Since sheep are so rare in Japan, the victims had no idea that their prize pooch was actually a sheep.
Even Japanese movie star Maiko Kawakami was a victim, bringing her ‘dog’ onto a Japanese talk show.
Of course, it was later reported that the story was a hoax. Japanese people know exactly what a sheep looks like and even have a saying “Youtou-kuniku” which means “Sheep’s head, dog’s meat.” The phrase is used to described the sale of inferior products as high quality.