Monday, 28 March 2011

online scams - the victims, the gullible or the greedy???

It's a fairly familiar story. You receive an email saying that you're entitled to a large sum of money, but to claim it all you need to do is click on the link provided and give your bank details, after which the money will be transferred to your account. These emails vary, from someone telling you you've won a considerable cash prize in a lottery (the fact you didn't enter is apparently inconsequential) to a message from a business man in some far-flung African country who needs to move his considerable fortune from his corrupt country into a more honest setting, and all he needs is your bank details, and in exchange he will pay you a considerable sum of money. Obviously you need to pay an administration fee to allow for the transfer of the money but that doesn't matter, as you'll soon be rich anyway.

Every year, thousands of people fall victim to these scams, and end up thousands of £ out of pocket.

But I can't help wondering, are these people really victims? Are people really that gullible and easily led that they believe that a random stranger would email them out of the blue to give them money? Or is it greed that drives them to give up large sums of their life savings and sometimes even selling their houses, in the hopes of getting a return?

For some, logic seems to disappear. In order to win a lottery you first need to buy a ticket. So it's simple really – if you didn't buy a ticket, then you didn't win the lottery. Equally if you win the lottery you hand over your ticket, and the lottery organisation gives you the money You would only need to look at any lottery company's website to see that no administration charges apply, and certainly not at the level that some people are prepared to pay.

Similarly, why would a Nigerian Businessman feel the need to contact a random stranger on the Internet with whom he would like to share his vast fortune?

There are of course more legitimate-looking scams, such as emails claiming that paypal account has been hacked, or the bank security emails, scaring people into thinking their bank accounts will be frozen if they don't log in immediately to update their information.

But when thinking about the lottery/money laundering scams, I can't help thinking that the only thing that drives people to respond is greed.

I have read countless accounts of people who have lost thousands on these scams, I even heard one interviewed on the radio once that had re-mortgaged his house to pay the admin charges, and so we're not talking small sums of money here. Of course when being interviewed these people claim they are victims, that they were taken advantage of, and that the scammer was at fault. Of course the scammer is at fault for taking advantage, but exactly who is he taking advantage of? The gullible? The stupid? The greedy?

Who is really to blame if someone decides to re-mortgage their house in order to launder the money of an unknown stranger he knows only from an email address through his bank account, in the hopes of getting rich?

It's not like being robbed – people actually choose to participate in these activities. And from that I can only come to one conclusion – some people shouldn't be left in charge of an email address or a bank account.

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