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Beware the Nigerian scam - police

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 16/05) - The holiday season is among the busiest times of the year for Internet fraud artists looking to separate you from your cash and police are warning Yellowknifers to be on the lookout.

"Just go by the old rule," said Const. Troy Maclean with the RCMP Commercial Crimes Section. "If it seems too good to be true, it's probably a scam."

One of the most common plots seen in the Northwest Territories is the so-called Nigerian Letter, where someone posing as a rich, and usually exiled African diplomat, offers you millions to smuggle a fortune from his worn-torn nation.

The e-mail is sent to thousands of potential victims, who are asked for an up-front investment - money that you will never see again, said Maclean.

"They have no heart," Maclean said of the scammers. "They will do whatever they can to get your money."

Maclean did not want to discuss how many people in the NWTs have been swindled, but said the RCMP receive complaints nearly every week.

Another scheme Maclean has seen in the Territories is the over-payment scam, which targets small businesses. Potential victims receive a counterfeit cheque for and order or room booking.

The amount is higher than the actual price of the room, for example, and the victims are asked to return the remainder. When the cheque turns out to be counterfeit, they are left with nothing - except a hole in their bank account.

That scam nearly cost one NWT resident $100,000, but the plot was foiled before the money was handed over, Maclean said.

"These guys know what they're doing (and) once they get their hooks in, they keep up the pressure."

The holidays are a prime time for these schemes because people are usually willing to open their wallets for good causes, Maclean said. Gift-giving also leaves a hole in the family purse, which makes promises of fast cash all the more inviting.

One strategy is to push people to make quick decisions, said Maclean.

"Most people, if they take the time to think, will realize it's too good to be true. (They want) you to act before you think, but if you do, you're in trouble," he said.

Once someone has sent their money off, it's usually re-routed through accounts and postal boxes across the globe, making it nearly impossible to trace. Maclean said the chance of police finding your money, or the con artists, is "slim."

"The approach is to educate people to press the delete button," he said.

Maclean encouraged people to forward any suspicious emails onto Phonebusters.com, a co-operative effort between the RCMP and provincial police forces that catalogues Internet scams.