Police are warning of new versions of the Nigerian advance-fee scam that Salisbury residents recently participated in unwillingly.
Rather than the traditional e-mail or letter promising big profits in exchange for help moving large sums of money, scammers now use chat rooms and develop relationships with their targets, said Salisbury Police Detective Tom Wilsey. And the victims are used as the middle man rather than the source of the money.
In one recently discovered scam, the suspect sends a well-made counterfeit cashier’s check to the victim with instructions to deposit the check, then wire back the entire amount.
Because of a delay in check processing — often 11 days — no one knows the checks are bad until its too late, Wilsey said.
One victim had deposited $19,000 worth of bad checks, the detective said, and had sent $12,000 of that to Singapore via Western Union.
The victim had talked with the scammer for eight months before she was asked to deposit the checks.
In another Salisbury case, the money was to be wired to Nigeria.
“They’re establishing a relationship,”Wilsey said. “And they’re trading personal information and photographs.”
In another version, the scammers develop the relationship, then ask if their new “friend”can help by mailing some goods for them. If the other party agrees, the scammers send the goods — items like computer equipment, clothing or jewelry — purchased with stolen credit cards.
They then ask that they mail the items to a particular destination using a different shipping company. Usually the target is directed to send the goods to Nigeria. The scammer also asks for $500 “tariffs and surcharges,” to help get the packages expedited through customs, Wilsey said. The target also must obtain a tracking number when they mail it and send that number back via e-mail.
In both newer versions of the scams, the suspects are “preying on people who are not familiar with computers,”Wilsey said.
According to the U.S.Secret Service, the Nigerian or “419″scam is one of the largest and oldest ruses in the world.
Though the methods differ, the stories are usually the same:You receive a letter from a “government official”or businessman in Nigeria telling you in confidence that a large sum of cash is available. The scammer then asks if you can help with the transfer for a share of the profits. Your bank account number, however, is all they really want.
Secret Service agents receive about 100 complaints a day, and receive 300 to 500 pieces of scam literature daily, according to the Secret Service Web site.