Saturday, March 7, 2009

Advance-fee fraud

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Nigerian 419 scam originated in the early 1980s as the oil-based Nigerian economy declined. Several unemployed university students first used this scam as a means of manipulating business visitors interested in shady deals in the Nigerian oil sector before targeting businessmen in the west, and later the wider population. Scammers in the early-to-mid 1990s targeted companies, sending scam messages via letter, fax, or Telex. The spread of email and easy access to email-harvesting software made the cost of sending scam letters through the Internet low. In the 2000s, the 419 scam has spurred imitations from other locations in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, and, more recently, from North America, Western Europe (mainly UK), and Australia.

The number "419" refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code (part of Chapter 38: "Obtaining Property by false pretences; Cheating") dealing with fraud. The American Dialect Society has traced the term "419 fraud" back to 1992.

This scam usually begins with a letter or e-mail purportedly sent to a selected recipient but actually sent to many making an offer that will ultimately result in a large payoff for the intended victim.

The email's subject line often says something like "From the desk of Mr. [Name]", "Your assistance is needed", and so on. The details vary, but the usual story is that a person, often a government or bank employee, knows of a large amount of unclaimed money or gold which he cannot access directly, usually because he has no right to it. Such people, who may be real but impersonated people or fictitious characters played by the scammer, could include the wife or son of a deposed African or Indonesian leader or dictator who has amassed a stolen fortune, or a bank employee who knows of a terminally ill wealthy person with no relatives or a wealthy foreigner who had deposited money in the bank just before dying in a plane crash (leaving no will or known next of kin), a U.S. soldier who has stumbled upon a hidden cache of gold in Iraq, a business being audited by the government, a disgruntled worker or corrupt government official who has embezzled funds, a refugee, and similar characters.

The money could be in the form of gold bullion, gold dust, money in a bank account, so-called "blood diamonds", a series of cheques or bank drafts, and so forth. The sums involved are usually in the millions of dollars, and the investor is promised a large share, typically ten to forty percent, if they will assist the scam character in retrieving the money.

Whilst the vast majority of recipients do not respond to these emails, a very small percentage do, enough to make the fraud worthwhile as many millions of messages can be sent. Invariably sums of money which are substantial, but very much smaller than the potential profits, are said to be required in advance for bribes, fees, etc.—this is the money being stolen from the victim, who thinks he is investing to make a huge profit.

Insa Nolte, a lecturer of University of Birmingham's African Studies Department, stated that "The availability of e-mail helped to transform a local form of fraud into one of Nigeria's most important export industries."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tax Season Alert - The 3 Big Myths That Can Make You a Victim of Identity Fraud

The continued popularity of electronic tax filing has made this annual burden incredibly simple for many taxpayers. As a result, these individuals mistakenly equate ease-of-use with safety. This assumption too often leads to the #1 most-committed crime in the world - identity theft. The opportunities for your personal information to unwittingly fall into the hands of thieves wanting to commit fraud has grown exponentially along with the explosion of online tax return submissions. Do not falsely presume that your identity is protected.

Here are the 3 biggest myths that risk your identity during tax season, as well as important security tips to avoid the time, money and hassle related to identity theft.

Myth #1: Documents, PDFs and personal information used in the creation of your tax returns are safe just sitting on your computer.

Truth: Hackers may access your computer in various ways at ANY time via viruses, Trojans and Botnets. Confidential information on PDFs is NOT safe.

· Password-protect all tax returns that you print to PDF from your tax software so that Social Insurance Numbers are secure. Permanently shred unsecured documents on your computer that contain personal information used to prepare your tax return.

· Configure all peer-to-peer file sharing programs to disable the sharing of your personal folders so identity thieves can't download your tax return.

· Install the latest updates to your operating system to prevent known Windows or Mac vulnerabilities from being exploited by hackers.

· Don't save your password in your web browser when accessing payroll services, employers, banks and other institutions that keep your personal information because it could easily be stolen.

Myth #2: It's safe to electronically transmit confidential data to an accountant, employer, or the CRA.

Truth: Your personal information is at the greatest risk when it is en route from one location to another. Hackers and thieves have the ability to eavesdrop or spy on it when it is unprotected.

· Encrypt supporting tax documents you plan to email to your accountant to prevent anyone from snooping on your network and gaining access to your financial information.
· Create strong passwords when registering to download your CRA forms, and other personal tax documents from your employer so that they are not easily guessed by strangers.

Myth #3: Paper copies of your important tax documentation are always safe since they are in your control and are not accessible to electronic hackers.

Truth: Identity thieves are incredibly creative and will attempt to access your confidential information for their own personal gain however and wherever possible, especially when you least expect it.

· When you postal mail your tax return to the CRA, send it from a secured location, like the post office or an official Canada Post collection box; do not let it sit in a box overnight as it could be stolen. For added security use certified mail.
· If making photo copies of your financial documents, make sure the photocopier does not store images of them in memory.
· Using a traditional paper shredder, destroy the printed documents used during tax preparation that you no longer need.

The government takes your tax dollars on April 30th. Do not let a thief take your identity too. Employ a multi-step approach in the prevention of identity theft that includes awareness, changes in behavior, and security tools. Doing so will secure your personal information this tax season and allow you to rest easier on May 1st and after. One final tip:

· Monitor your credit report regularly.

adapted for Canadian use originally posted at eZine Articles