Compassion, Not Greed, Makes Us Vulnerable to Advanced Fee Fraud
By Kim Miller, Criminal Justice faculty member at American Military University
Have you ever received an email like this?
You have just won “Two Million British Pounds” (2,000,000.00GBP) via EURO-MILLIONS email program.
For MORE DETAILS, please contact Mrs. Lacey Danielle at: email@example.com and Email your Full Name, Address and Telephone Number via stated email. Thank you.
Mrs. Lacey Danielle, Euro Millions Announcer, REFERENCE: EU/ML982/2015
Sometimes you’ll receive another message upon receiving such a spam email:
Be careful with this message. This message may not have been sent by: Mrs. Lacey Danielle. Similar messages were used to steal people’s personal information.
Unfortunately, many people ignore the warning messages and email fraud scams are a very lucrative criminal enterprise.
Advanced fee fraud (AFF) is a serious problem with significant societal, humanitarian, and financial impact. AFF consists of any type of empty promise of receiving money (Henderson, 1999). The estimates that are available show that damages are great. Ultrascan Research Services states that the global loss in U.S. dollars has increased from $3.883M in 2006 to $12.733M in 2013.
The goal of the fraudster is to delude the victim into thinking they are buying into a lucrative arrangement (Henderson, 1999). Here is how a scam scenario often plays out:
The fraudster tells the victim there is a sense of urgency with the proposal and the victim responds quickly with the information requested. A return email is received which states the victim should keep the proposal a secret and the victim often thinks: “Wow, I am special, I can make money and no one else will.”
Soon a proposal arrives by email on company letterhead with stamps and seals. The victim is asked to be the middleman and sign three blank company letterheads and blank invoices with their bank details, including account number (Henderson, 1999). There is a transfer fee involved to pay for the processing of the proposal and the victim sends a $500 check. Now the victim has become the primary supporter of the scheme and the fraudster has money and the information needed to get more money from the victim.
Who are the Victims?
There is no specific victim profile. Movie actors, professionals, college graduates, uneducated individuals, and the elderly have all been victims of AFF. Victims come from any race, gender, religion, or age. They are educated and rich; they are uneducated and poor. They are mature and immature.
So what are the traits that increase a person’s risk to become a victim of AFF? According to Henderson (1999), the three primary characteristics are:
- Unsuspicious nature
- Respect for authority
AFF fraudsters count on the victim’s lack of judgment, trust, and vulnerability.
There is also a direct correlation between significant life events and becoming a victim of AFF. One study of 362 victims found that 85 percent of the most serious loss of money was due to a parent-related trauma, a death, or a separation. For example, the study cited two police commissioners and 17 directors of companies who fell victim to a scam during personal times of grief.
Many times bereaved victims develop a strong connection with the fraudster, akin to the Stockholm syndrome where trust is created over long periods of time. Victims often discuss their concerns with the fraudster—not their family or friends—because they believe the fraudster is someone who understands their loneliness during a time of loss. One victim with a Ph.D. lost his father in a car accident at age 12. He was scammed out of more than $500,000 over a seven year period due to his trust in the fraudster.
People in the medical profession are also especially vulnerable. People in these professions often fall for scams because they want to help others who are less fortunate. By donating money they believe they are helping to change the world. The highest loss of money was from victims who were psychiatrists, psychologists, and neurosurgeons.
So who is the fraudster? Your neighbor, your friend, your colleague? Stay tuned for the next article looking at advanced fee fraud.
About the Author: Kim Miller, ABD, MSCJ, CFE, is in the dissertation phase of obtaining a Ph.D. in public safety/criminal justice. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminal justice. Kim is a certified fraud examiner (CFE) and a certified paralegal specializing in criminal law and is in the process of obtaining a New Jersey private investigator’s license. As a CFE, Kim provides specific investigative lead information, researches records, and uses computerized databases to conduct investigations based on specific requests for information or in response to identifiable events. She also uses social media as an online investigative tool and is versed in using many different types of software for cybercrime investigations. As a CFE, Kim analyzes all information found, determines and extracts pertinent information, evaluates investigative significance of information, and determines subsequent trails to follow. Kim Miller is also a criminal justice adjunct online professor at American Military University.
Henderson, L. (1999). Crimes of persuasion. Coyote Ridge Publishing: Canada.
419 Advance Fee Fraud Statistics 2009 (2010), Ultrascan Advance Global Investigations, available at: www.ultrascan-agi.com/public_html/html/aff_37_countries.html. Retrieved on February 12, 2015.
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