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Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
Fake bank website cons victims
Briefcast full of money, BBC/Corbis
Greed means lots of people fall for the con
West African criminals have used a fake version of a British bank's online service to milk victims of cash, say police.

The fake site was used to squeeze more money out of people they had already hooked.

The site has been shut down. But UK National Criminal Intelligence Service, (NCIS), said at least two Canadians had lost more than $100,000 after being taken in by the fake website.

The scam behind the fake web domain was the familiar one that offers people a share of the huge sums of money they need moved out of various African nations.

NCIS said the use of the web was helping the conmen hook victims that would otherwise spot the scam.

Convincing site

News of this latest scam was revealed by BBC Radio5Live. It found that an unclaimed web domain of a UK bank had been used by conmen to get more cash out their victims.

Web spoofing is going to be a big problem

NCIS spokesman
A NCIS spokesman said the domain looked legitimate because it had "the" in front of the bank's name.

"I have seen the microsite myself and it's very sophisticated," said the NCIS spokesman. "It's very convincing especially to people not very experienced online."

Once the con was discovered it was quickly shut down. However, the people behind it have not been caught.

NCIS does know that at least two people have lost more than $100,000.

The bank involved has bought up the domain used in the con as well as many other permutations of its name to limit the chance it could happen again.

"Web spoofing is going to be a big problem," said the NCIS spokesman.

Domain games

Usually people are first hooked in to what has become known as Advanced Fee or 419 fraud by replying to an unsolicited fax or e-mail offering a share of any cash successfully moved out of Africa.

The '419' refers to the part of the Nigerian penal code dealing with such crimes.

Like any con, there is no money to be moved at all and instead anyone taking the bait is asked to pay increasingly large sums to supposedly bribe uncooperative officials and to smooth the passage of the cash.

Although this con has been practiced for years, people still fall victim to it.

NCIS estimates that up to five Americans are sitting in hotel lobbies in London everyday waiting to meet people connected with this con.

Cutting edge fraud

Often the conmen provide fake banking certificates to give the con an air of legitimacy.

Mouse with hand
People tricked into clicking on fake sites
But a spokesman for NCIS said fake or spoof websites are now being used in place of the certificates.

"To many people nowadays the cutting edge of banking technology is web technology," said the spokesman.

One of the first groups of conmen to use this method set up a fake website that supposedly gave victims access to accounts held at the South African Reserve Bank, the country's national bank.

Typically, victims are given a login name and password and are encouraged to visit the site so they can see that the cash they are getting a share of has been deposited in their name.

But before they can get their hands on the cash, the victims are typically asked to hand over more of their own money to help the transfer go ahead.

Once the South African police discovered the ruse they declared it a national priority crime and soon arrested the 18 people behind it.

Modern gloss

An briefing paper prepared by NCIS in August on organised crime noted that criminals were increasingly turning to the web to lure new victims and give old cons a modern gloss.

The NCIS spokesman urged people who have fallen victim to 419 fraud to come forward and help it track down the perpetrators. He said in the last two months it had arrested 24 people overseas involved with this type of fraud.

He said any e-mail, fax or letter making an offer that looks to good too be true, undoubtedly is.

One of the first companies to fall victim to website spoofing was net payment service Paypal.

Conmen set up a fake site and asked people to visit and re-enter their account and credit card details because Paypal had lost the information.

The website link included in the e-mail looked legitimate but in fact directed people to a fake domain that gathered details for the conmen's personal use.

Have you fallen victim to the web scam? Send us your experiences.

Most victims of this scam are stung by their own greed

Mira Vogel, England
I had a 419 scam e-mail a couple of years ago and could not persuade the police to take any notice. I was not even tempted to act on it because you cannot get something for nothing and trying to make a profit out of anything in this poverty stricken continent has got to be pretty close to criminal. I often wonder who this scam would appeal to - the desperate and gullible need to be protected, but I have a feeling that most victims of this scam are stung by their own greed.
Mira Vogel, England

I, like virtually everyone else who uses the net and e-mail, have had at least five different versions of this scam and many others too. There is one simple way to avoid being ripped off in this manner; always be suspicious of unsolicited e-mail, and if in any doubt about the validity of an e-mail, look on the internet. There are many pages detailing the latest scams and hoaxes. If your e-mail, or something similar, appears on here, you should just delete the e-mail and warn friends who are likely to receive the same.
Paul Scarrott, Sheffield, UK

I receive e-mails regularly which are a variant of this theme. Although I know this is all a scam, I have at times replied pretending to be interested, hoping to be annoying and waste their time, but have never seen a reply e-mail.
Jason Kitson, UK

Once bitten, twice shy. If something looks too good to be true, inevitably it is

Shane McCarrick, Ireland
I have once fallen victim to an online scam, involving an auction on Ireland's equivalent of the eBay site. I was the winning bidder on an auction for a Pentium 4 computer, the auction having been set without any reserve in order to drum up interest. Following the auction I was contacted by the seller, and only then discovered that he was based in the US. He demanded payment in advance, and what should have set alarm bells ringing, advised he would not accept the use of an escrow service. I sent an international bank draft for $650, the agreed equivalent, and sat back, and waited, and waited, and waited.

I kept a track of the draft, and was able to get a name and bank details of the individual who lodged it, but not so much as a scent of the computer, nor my money back. Subsequent to this the website in question was deluged with 15-20 auctions for laptops at a time, at less than half retail price for cutting edge laptops. The poor staff at the website spent more of their time deleting fake auctions than administering the real ones. At present online auction fraud seems to have died down, those who were going to get caught out by it, have been, and the conmen have moved on elsewhere. I subsequently sent a solicitor's letter to my conman, to no avail. But if I am ever in New York I have the the name and address of the individual who cashed my bank draft. Once bitten, twice shy. If something looks too good to be true, inevitably it is.
Shane McCarrick, Ireland

I've had dozens of the 419 e-mail messages and binned all of them. More worrying though is that my mobile phone number has been picked up (presumably from an intercepted e-mail) and I now get a phone call once or twice a month offering me the same 'deal' from Nigeria.
Rick Carter, UK

I was sent a variant I which the sender calimed that an African gold mine has possession of several kilos of gold that it needed to convert into cash - but could not do so for some reason. It needed an agent abroad in whose name this gold could be lodged then exported - I could yield 25% of the value of the gold for my services. I replied asking for a sample of 4 ounces to check the quality of the gold. I received a positive response then an excuse why this would not be possible. I was offered an invitation to the country in order to visit the gold mine. I did not reply. I think that the trick is to read these emails and get some pleasure from the false optimism and sincerity expressed - then delete - or send on a wild goose chase for a little while.
Stuart Tomanek, UK

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