I always get a lot of questions about confidence scams.Â These types of spam emails have been around almost as long as email has been available to the public.Â Confidence scams are a child of phishing scams, and the annoying little brother of lonely girl scams, always showing up at the wrong time or hiding just around the corner.Â They’re difficult to eliminate completely because they are always re-inventing themselves.Â
Confidence scams, like lonely girl scams, are attempting to relieve a target of their money by convincing them to give it up willingly for a cause.Â They can appeal to the compassionate heart by asking for help with an orphanage, or to a baser greed by asking for help smuggling money out of a country.Â Â
The emails themselves are generated by a sweatshop of workers who create an account on a free email website, fill in a vague template with plot points, and then send it off to random recipients.Â A different reply_to field is created in order to redirect any replies to another free email account which is there solely for the purposes of receiving the replies (the scammer assumes that the newly created sending account will be revoked for the spamming actions).Â
Often confidence scams will attempt to validate themselves by linking to a news website or referencing a story that is seen in the news.Â Take this example
The article it links to is a real article, and a real story.Â It intrigues the mind with possibilities of winning the lottery, and combined with a belief that everything happens during war or that America’s soldiers are fraught with corruption as portrayed in Hollywood cinema might lead one to believe that the grain of truth to this scam is greater than the BBC article.
Here is another snippet from a confidence scam that is actually based more in the realm of fact than the last one:
As unbelievable as it may sound, a web-search reveals the story is actually taken from a New York Times article:Â http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/world/africa/07congo.html
Confidence scams can range from a sentence to a couple pages of text.Â Though not all confidence scams fit the following outline, it generally covers what we expect to see in a confidence scam:
1.Â A generic greeting/intro
2.Â A tragedy or plotline
3.Â A far-away location
4.Â Eagerness to do a financial transaction
5.Â Promises of compensation/reward
6.Â Providing alternate means of contact / confidence
Many people recognize confidence scams when they see them.Â They tend to range from annoying to amusing.Â The target audience for these scams is usually the older generation of people who are less familiar with technology and email and are more likely to believe that modern financial transactions are still performed with a check or money order.Â As the target audience is generally retired they are often using free email accounts which are not protected from spam to the same degree as enterprise level corporate employees.Â
Children who fear their aging parents could fall into this trap might consider creating an account for them on a social networking site, locking it down to prevent messages from non-friends and linking the alerts to the child’s email address.