There can be few people with email addresses who have not received at least an occasional email that seeks details that would allow the sender to defraud them. The “Spanish Hostage” scam is the oldest approach used (thus named because when it began two centuries ago people wrote letters claiming to be held hostage in Spain and promising abundant reward to the receiver of the letter if they would send money to secure the “hostage’s” freedom).
A 2013 email from a fraudster calling himself George Camara typifies the Spanish Hostage approach:
I am George Camara 17 years old boy from Sierra Leone, I am writing you from republic of Cote d’Ivoire where I have been taking as refuge after the brutal murder of my parents during the war crisis in my country. I need your assistance to secure my inheritance and adopt me like your son by going to get me out from refugee camp here where I am staying now please.
It is because of the war my father sold his company and deposit Nine Million United States Dollars in one of the bank here in Ivory Coast. Please I am seeking for your urgent assistance to transfer this money to your country for good investment project so that I can relocate to your country to further my education study for my good future.
Spanish Hostage emails ostensibly appeal to people’s better nature; the payment is not specified and is a reward for an altruistic act. Other scams appeal to personal greed, the chance to share in money that is not theirs. In 2012, a scammer calling himself Brent Ntombi sent an email that said:
I have contacted you to assist in repatriating the money and property left behind by my client before the National Treasury Department gets them confiscated or declare unserviceable by Deutsche Bank South Africa Where the deceased have an account Valued at about fifteen Million, three hundred and forty five thousand U.S dollars (USD 15, 345,000.00). The bank has issued out a notice to provide the next of kin or have the account confiscated with in the next few days. Since no one has been able to locate their relatives for over four years now, I seek your consent to present you as the next of kin of the deceased so that this account valued at fifteen Million, three hundred and forty five thousand U.S dollars (USD 15, 345,000.00) can be paid to you as next of kin then you and i can share the money. All the necessary documents concerning this claim are with the Bank legal department. All I require is your honest cooperation to enable us seeing this deal through.
Surely, no-one would fall for such emails? It seems that they have, and continue to do so. The BBC News website carried the headline, “US names Nigerians in massive fraud investigation,” in a story of people who had for the best, or the worst of reasons, shared their bank details. The story quotes from the Los Angeles Times which says,
One of the victims, a Japanese woman named FK in court papers, was conned out of $200,000 after being contacted by a fraudster identifying themselves as US Capt Terry Garcia who wanted to smuggle diamonds out of Syria.
She made 35 to 40 payments, receiving as many as 10 to 15 emails a day directing her to send money to accounts in the US, Turkey and the United Kingdom through the captain’s many purported associates.
It wasn’t even someone claiming to be a hostage.