MANILA, JULY 24, 2007
 (STAR) HINDSIGHT By Josefina T. Lichauco - I haven’t heard the word “scam” as often as I have today. In the 1997 Merriam-Webster dictionary which I use, scam is defined as “a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation.” The word that follows scam is “scamp,” and the only word that was used to define it is “rascal.” Certainly, there are so many rascals employing the tricks of their trade today.

If we fall victim to these scams, we deserve it — because of our ignorance and naiveté, because of our negligence and disinterest.

Indeed there are so many scams and scamps in our midst. A very visible scam running into the multi-millions, victimizing movie and television celebrities, among others, has just erupted in our country called “Francswiss,” which utilizes the Internet. From what I have read and heard, this fraudulent scheme is beginning to unfold into a monster of a scam — not just the little rascals of the Internet, but the monster scamps that undertake fraud and take great pride in beating the system.

These Internet scams have victimized a lot of Internet users now all over the world. The fundamental formula here is: you part with your money in order to make more money.

In the case of Francswiss, it was what is known as a “pyramid” scam, undertaken over the Internet. In order for these Internet scams to proliferate and be successful, however, there should be a sufficient number of victims who are not only naive and uninformed, but what I call “footloose and fancy free” with their money.

We all receive a lot of these in our computer inboxes. Without even going beyond reading the first sentence, I simply delete these computer pests. For me, they fall under the category of spam. If you are experienced and knowledgeable enough, you will just simply scrap it from your computer as spam.

There are, in fact, a lot of variations on these schemes now. The e-mail could be a sob story about an inheritance that has no takers; people are killed and there is a huge insurance policy waiting to be cashed in; or a bank that has a huge amount of money in a defunct account.

The scams always involve a great deal of money that no one else knows about now except you and them, and they want your help in setting up an account in your country so that the money can be deposited in it. You will receive 20 percent or more, once you send them the account details, after you have set up the bank account with an initial deposit. And if you send them your current banking information, things can progress more speedily.

Falling victim to a scam of this nature presupposes some degree of naiveté and ignorance on the part of the victim. There were already scams that started decades ago with postal mail, then faxes, and now e-mail.

An adopted generic name for this Internet scam is “Nigerian” — a term that originated decades ago, when the Nigerian perpetrator of the scam inflicted his scheme on a hapless widow who had “footloose and fancy free” money to spare. The Nigerian had been operating on a global basis when he was caught and imprisoned.

The scamps and rascals have proliferated by leaps and bounds. As everyone is aware, technology has advanced dramatically and the rascals have exponentially grown in number as well, leaving a seemingly endless trail of victims.

Although a great deal of these scams originate in Nigeria, they can come from any country. The story generally stays the same and the intent is to scam as much money from you as possible, should you fall for it. Believe me, a lot of people have.

A concise example of the hapless trusting “investor” is this simple and true story of deception. A certain Mr. Stableski of Washington lost $45,000 two years after he answered the e-mail of a Nigerian scamp claiming he was entitled to an inheritance amount of $40 million, but that he had to pay the debts of the testator before he could get his supposed inheritance. It took Stableski two years to discover that it was a scam. How could it have taken him that long?

There is also a recent story of a British businessman who lost not only $200,000 but also his business. He received e-mail from a certain “Vincent” who claimed he had $12 million which he wanted to transfer from South Africa to the UK, and asked the businessman to assist him in the transfer. He agreed and when some supposed problems arose, he was asked to invest $7,000 in an offshore account to start the process rolling. This process never stopped until he had placed $200,000. Because of these losses, his business failed. The naiveté of this guy is astonishing! Aren’t these scams familiar?

Then there is the elderly man who lost his entire savings of about $300,000 to a Nigerian scam and today, he still is having a hard time believing he was scammed.

In 2002, a 72-year-old man in the Czech Republic lost his life savings, too, to a Nigerian scammer. He went to the Nigerian Embassy in Prague where he shot and killed a Nigerian consul who must have, in his mind, personified the Nigerian criminals who had victimized him.

The simple question comes up: Why do people fall for such an old scheme? Because people are inherently trusting, and when this happens online, they become even more trusting. There is something about the machine that suggests credibility and infallibility. There is also the innate craving for more money, to increase one’s assets by making use of them to earn even more money. It is human, it seems, not to be content.

It would certainly be good for all of us to remember a proverb that teaches: “To be content with what we possess is the greatest and most secure of riches.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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