Fighting Fraud with Warnings and Information
By Dr. Kim Miller, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University
Advance fee fraudsters attempt to collect money from unsuspecting victims by requesting upfront payments for goods or services. Swindlers target the most vulnerable people and play on their emotions.
Who’s a Target?
These criminals look for people who need money or are in search of a connection with others.
Individuals who have recently lost family members are often targets of fraud. Fraudsters read the obituaries, find the address of grieving family members, and send them targeted letters. Often times the grieving person will write back with thanks for their condolences even if they don’t know the person. The thief will maintain contact with the person in an effort to build a relationship. After a certain level of trust is established, the con artist will then propose a business opportunity asking the person to invest in their idea.
Fraudsters read the newspaper and search online to find information about companies that are downsizing and reducing staff. They will then turn to websites like LinkedIn to find people who were recently unemployed by these companies, and send messages. Here is an example of a scam that I received on my own LinkedIn page:
“I know your company is laying off staff and I want you to know there is money waiting for you from your aunt in Nigeria. She has left you a Consignment Box of $10.8 Million United States Dollars. We wish to inform you that the diplomatic agent conveying the consignment box valued the sum of $10.8 Million United States Dollars is currently stranded at your International airport now. We require you to reconfirm the following information below so that he can deliver your consignment box to you today. Contact Mr. Phillip Cooke at [email address] and he will provide the address where you can send the money to release the consignment box. The consignments were moved from here as African Cloths, so never allow him to open the box on till its delivered to you.”
The victim responds with information and coordinates with the fraudster about how to send money. Only after they send money does it become clear they do not have an unknown rich aunt in Nigeria.
It is amazing how something so terribly written—in broken and unclear English using an outlandish scenario—still manages to trick people into sending money to strangers.
Reporting and Stopping Fraud
Unfortunately, many victims are too embarrassed to report the fraud. Even if they wanted to report it, many people are deterred because they do not know whether they should report the fraud to Nigerian authorities or their local hometown police agencies (Akinladejo, 2007).
[Related: How to Identify a Fraudster]
If you believe you are a victim of fraud, you should complete the Internet Crime Complaint form.
Ways to Warn the Public about Fraud
Unfortunately, many police agencies do not have the resources to address specific incidents of fraud and it is difficult to apprehend individual con artists. Therefore, agencies should focus on creating awareness campaigns and creating educational resources to help protect the public. Police often make efforts to inform the public about recent scams. It is important to get the public’s attention quickly and succinctly, such as on a billboard, so that they can remember the information and hopefully not fall for the same scam (Miller, 2016). Conducting educational awareness campaigns will provide citizens with knowledge and skills to protect their online safety (Burns & Roberts, 2013).
Companies in the private sector can help spread the word about fraud as well. For example, many funeral homes include messages on their websites warning people to be wary of individuals they don’t know contacting them about the death of their loved ones.
Also, a company laying off people should include information about fraud when conducting exit interviews. Human resource employees should advise outgoing employees to be aware of scammers contacting them about funding a new venture.
There are many ways to protect the public against advance fee fraud. While it may not be possible for police to catch the people perpetuating these scams, they can work with other community organizations to help educate the public so fewer people become victims.
About the Author: Dr. Kim Miller, is a criminal justice adjunct professor at American Military University. Her dissertation is “The legal, community policing, and resource challenges of dealing with advance fee fraud.” Her Ph.D. is in public safety/criminal justice. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminal justice. Kim is a certified fraud examiner (CFE), New Jersey Licensed Private Detective and a subject matter expert. 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 risk assessment tool, and is versed in using many different types of software for cybercrime investigations. Kim is also a member of Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS), which is the largest international membership organization dedicated to enhancing the knowledge, skills and expertise of anti-money laundering/CTF and financial crime detection and prevention professionals.
Akinladejo, O. H. (2007). Advance fee fraud: trends and issues in the Caribbean. Journal of Financial Crime, 14(3), 320-339.
Burns, S., & Roberts, L. (2013). Applying the theory of planned behaviour to predicting online safety behaviour. Crime Prevention & Community Safety, 15(1), 48. doi:10.1057/cpcs.2012.13.
Miller, K. (2016). The Legal, Community Policing, and Resource Challenges of Dealing with Advance Fee Fraud.