Are mall kiosk salespeople like Internet sharketers? I think so.
I had just left Dillard’s and was headed back to Victoria’s Secret to pick up my wife. No, really. That’s where she was. But before you get any big ideas about what she was shopping for, think of this: my daughter was with her. So yeah. I guarantee they weren’t shopping for Valentine’s Day gifts for me. (At least I hope not, because…the horror!)
All I wanted to do was get from point A to point B. Shopping for shoes in the mall was bad enough. I kind of prefer Target where all the shoes are right smack in the middle of the store, and there are only six varieties so I don’t get confused. So I’m walking with my new shoes minding my own business when this slick (read: young, cute) sales girl smiled at me and said, “May I?”
I had to stop. I mean, she smiled at me. Cute young girls haven’t smiled at me since pre-marriage days. Excluding my four-year-old. She’s cute and young, but it’s not the same, you know?
So I stopped (that was my first mistake) and let this girl tut-tut over my dry hands. There was no question about it: they were dry. And such a shame, too, good looking guy like me, she says. Next thing I know, she’s buffing my thumbnail with some kind of buffer thingy. I don’t know what it was. It was blue. And it left my thumbnail shiny.
Meanwhile, she learned that I am a writer, that I am married and have children, that I had just bought shoes, that I was at the mall for dinner with my wife and daughter, and that I had not yet bought her a Valentine’s day present.
I mean I’m so not a chatty person. That’s more than my coworkers know about me! I swear, if she had asked me for my social security number and my deepest hopes and dreams, I would have given them to her.
See, the thing is, I’m not even sure how it really happened. One minute we were just friends and the next I was a customer and had spent $40 I didn’t plan to spend on stuff my wife already has sitting on the dresser. Cuticle oil (WTF?) and some kind of lotion. She might have called it “butter” or something. Oh yeah, and salt from the Dead Sea. For scrubbing into your skin. To make it soft.
It was just so fast. And she seemed so sincere and I thought she really liked me and I believed her when she said that the softness on my hands would last for a week and the shine on my nail would last for three. I mean, why would she lie? We bonded, I tell you!
So what do you think? Are there any parallels? Discuss.
Cons: The price point to buy a list of URLs is way too high. We’re all for convenience, but come’on.
Our Recommendation: Making money as an online juror sounds interesting, but really, it’s jury duty online. Long hours, poor pay, boring cases. If you want to learn how to build a real, sustainable stream of income from home, click here to check out our top recommendation. It’s free to get started as well and you won’t ever have to pay for a chance at jury duty.
This one is new to me, though the concept has been around for some time. It seems to be picking up some steam, though, so I thought we should take a closer look.
What Is a Virtual Juror?
Several sites are advertising a “virtual juror” job, which allegedly pays up to $10 hour. The sites include virtualjuror.com, ejury.com, onlinejury.com, and a couple of others.
These sites claim that attorneys will pay you to review cases, or parts of their cases, so that they can sort of “test drive” their case on people that might be like people that will be on real juries. You review the case under consideration and then answer questions about it in an online format. The site that gave you the case pays you via PayPal.
Like many online opportunities, this one has a grain of truth to it. There is at least one site that appears to have a legitimate business model: ejury.com. It costs you nothing to sign up, the terms and conditions are easy to find and clearly stated, and it is as clear as possible about what exactly you will be doing. Even more important, it is clear about your income potential:
“For each verdict rendered, eJurors are paid $5 – $10 depending on the length of the case. The amount to be paid will be shown at the top of each case. You certainly won’t get rich serving as an eJuror, but just one case a week would probably pay for your Internet access.”
The problem with the concept and with ejury.com is that your chances of getting a case are very slim. Few number of cases divided by a large number in the jury pool means don’t count on this to pay your cable bill.
The Dark Side
You knew there was a dark side, didn’t you? This post is credited to alert reader, Erik, who read about ejury.com and went to do some research about the virtual juror concept.
What did he find? A Web site that charges you $97 for access to a list of companies that are paying for such work. This site is virtualjuror.com, and I recommend you stay away. What do you get for your $97?
Within 48 hours [business days only] of Paypals confirmation to Virtual Juror of your payment, you will receive special links that will take you where you will start the application process. Again, there is nothing else to pay for. Should you provide excellent service we believe you will be chosen time and again to review many cases. [Emphasis mine]
No Terms and Conditions and a clearly stated “no refunds” policy. You see, the list of links is an electronic product so they can’t offer refunds.
I won’t be paying the $97 to find out, but I would bet that ejury.com is on the list. In fact, here’s a challenge to you, VirtualJuror.com Internet sharketer dude: pay me $97, show me your list, and if ejury.com isn’t on it, I’ll publish an “I Was Wrong” post. (Oh, and since a blog post is an electronic product, the $97 is non-refundable.)
Stay Away from VirtualJuror.com
So yeah, Erik was right. He said he knows that any site that wants you to pay for a job isn’t legitimate. Virtualjuror.com is not offering you a job. It’s trying to sell you information that is not worth much and freely available elsewhere.
I don’t think virtualjuror.com is setting out to deceive anyone. In fact, it even states in fine print at the bottom of the page:
The websites we send you too have no fees and can be found by anyone, but we save you the hours of research and provide these specials links to you for a one time administration fee.
I have no problem with that: there is value in compiling information and presenting it in a convenient format for people. But $97 is too much for a list of companies that offer such small income potential.
Today’s post is by I’ve Tried That reviewer extraordinaire, Miyako. She is the Web master at http://www.gokugirl.com, an Anime fan site. Check it out. Another reviewer, Barney, had a less favorable take on Postcardprofits.com. I’ll post his remarks on Wednesday.
When I started this review I thought, “There is no way someone could make $52,923 in five days by mailing postcards. That’s almost $10,600 per day! Who is this Luke Jaten guy? Does ‘Direct Marketing Group Inc.’ even exist?”
The most interesting thing I’ve discovered about this program is that it actually seems legit. The postal address on the terms and conditions page is real and DMG Inc. is actually located there (according to Google Maps). There are video testimonials. Jaten’s eBay seller account has been ID verified and his listings qualify for 100% PayPal buyer protection. His positive feedback is 100%. He has sold ten copies of his multidisc course on eBay for the same price that it’s being offered for on postcardprofits.com, but he supposedly threw in something called a project license for free. From what I understand, the license gives the purchaser permission to use one of Jaten’s “projects” that he has already developed and tested. It’s worth at least $1500, but the purchasers of the “Buy It Now” auction were so special that he wanted to give it away to them. The eBay auction information is essentially a transcription of his sales pitch from the video on the Postcard Profits website.
After signing up with your name and precious credit card information and paying $4 for shipping, you enter into a 30 day trial period. If you return the course within that time frame you pay nothing. If not, you are billed $59.99 in five (weekly? monthly? yearly?) installments. On top of this, if you try your best and don’t make at least $10,000 in 90 days, he will not only refund the money you spent on the course, but will also FedEx you a check for $500 just to say “thanks for trying it out.”
What Luke Jaten is selling is not a program where you profit simply from the act of mailing out postcards. It’s a course on how to use postcards to convince people to buy your products. And he never promises anything else. It’s true that the name of the site is as misleading as the terminology he uses to refer to postcard marketing (“postcard project”), but if you pay close attention to the video (or to the transcript) then you won’t be taken by surprise. The eBay listing isn’t clear on whether a product comes with the free license.
This DOES NOT mean that he is squeaky clean. Some of his business practices are on the shady side. He claims in the eBay auction information that you don’t need an actual product or an idea for one to get started. The last time I checked, it was illegal to sell merchandise that you didn’t have. [Note by Joe: I suppose you could use his tactics to sell products as an affiliate. That means you don’t technically “own” the product, but you still have the right to sell it.]
After Googling information from his site, I found three more websites dedicated to the Postcard Profits course. The sites are 1) postcardprofits.com, 2) postcardprofits247.com, 3) makingmoneywithpostcards.com, 4) profitswithpostcards.com, 5) simplepostcardprofits.com. Only #1 and #3 are in the Go Daddy WHOIS database as being the property of DMG Inc. #4 contains information in the footer that points to Relevant Marketing Group as the owner, but the organization doesn’t exist. Even without Googling them, it’s easy to be skeptical as there is absolutely no contact information listed on the website besides an e-mail address. Googling the organization with double quotes turns up three sites, one of which is supposedly the home page (relevantmarketinggroup.com). The entire site consists of a single page with a single link labeled “Postcard Profits” that points to website #4 above. Website #2 references two different phone numbers that connect to the same prerecorded sales pitch, four written testimonials from people who are different from the ones on site #1, and the sales pitch transcript. It is also the only site to mention a mailing list. I signed up for it.
There seem to be two phone numbers that will connect you to an actual person. One number was found on the Better Business Bureau website (and, yes, there have been complaints filed against them) while the other was found on the terms and conditions page of postcardprofits.com. I received the same voice mail message after dialing each number that said everyone was currently out of the office. I wonder if it’s worth trying again.
As almost a side note, Luke Jaten and Matt Trainer from TheMarketingMoron.com seem to be friends. The video on postcardprofits.com is copyrighted to Matt Trainer and Trainer conducted a 38 minute web cam interview with Jaten that was supposed to be about Postcard Profits but instead focused almost entirely on Pay-Per-Click advertising and Google Ad Sense. The video is supposed to have a second part, but I doubt there will be one as the first part was posted to Trainer’s blog in April. There was also some sort of seminar on Postcard Profits in Phoenix, AZ in May with both Jaten and Trainer. I have yet to find commentary about it.
If you have done very much searching online for medical transcription jobs, you have probably heard of Transam Associates. Maybe you have even heard from them, like our reader, Teresa.
Like many of you, she posted her resume online and has started to hear back from scum sucking bottom feederscesspool worms people claiming to be recruiters.
Here, for your education and edification, I include the email they sent her along with my editorial commentary [in brackets and bold]:
Subject: Medical Transcription – Will Train – No Experience! [“No Experience!” Here is the first red flag. In a tight economy, employers are more concerned than ever about getting the most bang for their buck when it comes to employees. Legitimate employers who are indeed willing to hire with no experience aren’t going to shout about it. It will come up in the interview if you impress the hell out of the interviewer.]
via Beyond Job Alert
Thank you for your sharing your Beyond resume for this work at home Job Alert! We are a medical transcription company.
After reviewing your resume we are interested. [Uh-oh, second red flag. Not that Teresa doesn’t have a killer resume—I’m sure she does. But this just doesn’t sound like the language of a real employer to me. While jobs in which employers chase the employee are certainly real, I believe based on years of experience that they are rare. You chase the employer. That’s the way it works in the large majority of cases.]
Transam Associates provides precise medical transcription of voice files that doctors dictate for hospitals, clinics and doctor offices. [Maybe. But its Web site is so cheesy that if I were a clinic looking for a transcription service, I would not give it a second glance. This leads me to believe that Transam is not really interested in doing transcription.]
Transam Associates also conducts its own training program that prepares individuals for the medical transcription profession. This training is done online in the comfort of your own home. A personal trainer is provided to guide individuals in the training program through a Live Chat environment.
As a recruiter for this national transcription service, I am seeking full-and part-time, home-based medical transcriptionists. We are committed to providing a work environment where medical transcriptionists can grow and be respected for the professionals they are. [But can you provide jobs? Not according to some of the complaint sites I’ve been reading.]
This is for entry level individuals and if you are not yet qualified, we’ll provide tuition FREE training and a personal trainer that you’ll need to become qualified. Once you meet our criteria, which will be defined for you before you begin, you will be certified by us as an accomplished medical transcriptionist and can begin to work for Transam Associates, Inc. Our special books and software are required.
[Remaining paragraphs deleted because we’re not going to do their advertising for them.]
After transcribing this sample we will answer all your questions.
You are asked to transcribe a simple audio file and submit it to Transam for consideration. I can’t prove it, but my hunch is they would accept just about anything as a transcription of the audio file.
Why? Because Transam Associates is not looking for transcriptionists. It’s looking for people to sell its software to.
After you submit your sample transcription, you will receive another email that says it was true and accurate and worthy of moving forward (their words, not mine), and inviting you to request an application agreement.
The agreement is too long and boring to reproduce here, but it boils down to this the following. Transam claims to be able to train you in medical transcription and then to set you up with paying jobs.
First, however, you must by the proprietary Transam software, which apparently runs about $500. Here is one user’s experience:
They will do no more than rip you off money by making you buy their MT software and never putting peole into real work situations. The only thing they care for is for your MONEY from your purchase of their equipment(total of $490). This is obviously a SCAM. They want the money upfront and they offer NO refunds for any circumstances.
Transam Associates has a BBB rating of C-, for what it’s worth. I don’t put much stock in BBB reports, personally, but if you want to read it, it’s here:
The BBB has received complaints concerning the business’s selling practices and product quality of the software it sells. Specifically, consumers filing complaints with the BBB have stated that the business misrepresents its program. Consumers stated that they are required to purchase medical transcription training software in order to work for the business. Once the software is purchased, the business then requires that they complete practice tests prior to being given paid work by the business. Consumers are not provided work by the business until the business feels they have successfully completed the program. Additionally, consumers have stated that the software the business requires does not work properly.
So, back away from the computer and go for a walk. You are not on the verge of making $4k per month using your typing skills. (Oh, and here is a free bonus tip: MEDICAL TRANSCRIPTION INVOLVES MUCH, MUCH MORE THAN GOOD TYPING SKILLS.) You are about to purchase non-refundable software and a lot of headache.
It’s “the center of the online universe,” proclaims its Web page at nowijango.com
That’s a pretty big claim, even for your Googles, your Yahoos! and your Ivetriedthats.
But coming from a company that hasn’t even officially launched yet, it’s, well, laughable. Kind of like the chihuahua with an attitude that screeches and yaps at the big dogs on the other side of the fence. “Yip! Yip! Yip! Come on over here and see if I don’t tear your ugly heads off your mangy shoulders! Arf! Arf! Arf!”
(True tangent: My in-laws used to have a hihuahua-Pomeranian mix. Mitzi. One day during dinner we heard her start to squeal in the back yard. We rushed out, sure that she was being dismembered by the little brat who lived next door. But there was Mitzi, screaming bloody murder, pinned to the ground by (I kid you not)…a rabbit.)
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against marketing slogans or tag lines. “We lose money so you don’t have to” ring any bells? But your marketing slogan should have some footing in the reality-based world.
Is IJango.com a Scam?
It’s too early to tell. And honestly, I don’t think so. But here’s what we now know that it is: A network marketing company (yes, an MLM) that claims that you can earn money just by doing what you always do online and recruiting other people to do the same.
When you become an “Independent Representative,” you are set up with an iJango “portal,” which is kind of like a home page for all your online activity. Your shopping, searches, social networking, and everything else is done within the iJango portal.
iJango gets paid a commission for all your purchases and traffic and then pays you and your downline (ah, how I hate that term) a percentage.
That’s it in a nutshell. I won’t go into the compensation plan, which I have read twice and still don’t understand. I do understand this, though: To get started with your magical portal to Nirvana, you will have to pay a refundable $50 “application fee.” But if you really want to get serious about your ijango business, you’ll have to pay $149 to become a “Director,” and $19.95 per month thereafter for your “back office maintenance fee.”
The intro video uses all the MLM industry buzzwords, including these perennial favorites:
“Work for yourself but not by yourself!”
“Our success depends on your success!”
“Building wealth depends on being in the right place, at the right time, with the right opportunity!”
[An interchangeable schlocky quote, dubiously attributed to Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, or other rich dude.]
I’m Not Impressed Yet
Nothing here looks new. We’ve seen the model where you supposedly get paid for doing what you were going to do anyway (Amway, My Power Mall). And we’ve seen the promotional videos of people who are “so excited to get started” and who say “it’s a no brainer.”
But nothing in the promo materials tells me that it will work. Here’s why, and all MLMs I’ve ever seen have the same weakness:
People that you recruit to be in your downline will be all jazzed and will say things like “no brainer” and “I’m so excited” to perfectly nice friends and family. They will change their habits for a time.
But people who are not in the MLM won’t change their habits just so you can become rich.
From what I understand, you have to recruit 20 customers who are not Independent Representatives. That means you have to convince 20 people to use your iJango portal as the gateway for everything they do online. But why would they? What’s in it for them other than a customizable home page, which they can get many other ways? They might tell you they’ll do it, but they won’t.
Maybe your mother will do it to help you out, but don’t count on it. Not if your mother is as technically inept as mine.
Bottom line, I don’t think Cameron Sharp or Steve Smith (from Excel Communications) are trying to rip you off. But I do think they’ll make plenty of money from people who sign up, even if those who sign up never make a dime.
Want to Make Money from iJango?
Then, here. I’ll give you a free business idea. Pay a licensing fee to Cameron Sharp so that you can print up t-shirts and coffee mugs with clever slogans on them and sell them at iJango conventions to iJango reps with permasmiles are so excited. I’ll give you some for free to get you started: Do you jango?
Who needs coffee? Ijango.
You can’t handle the jango!
I jangoed all night with a hot chick in Belize
If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the jango.
iJango. It’s like Amway but with clicks.
iJango. Not a single vampire.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here is yet another warning post about free government grant programs. Maybe it’s the last one, though, as those crappy programs seem to be on their way out.
The Truth About “Free” Grant Programs
We and other watchdog sites have written extensively about this stuff, so I won’t repeat all the nasty details this time. Just a quick summary for those just coming to the game. Skip to the next heading to get to the good news/bad news part of this post. In a nutshell, here is how the government grants garbage programs work:
You click on an ad or email link that promises easy government money for any purpose under the sun. I even get email messages about this from someone calling himself “President Obama.”
You see a sales page like the one at usagovernmentgrants.org, full of flags and seals to lend legitimacy.
You are urged to send for your free kit (or CD, or ebook, or member access, or whatever). Now! HURRY! BEFORE THE MONEY IS GONE!
You click through and give your name and credit card info to pay the $1.95 shipping and handling charge (for an electronic product…red flag!!)
You failed to read the terms and conditions which might inform you that once your 7-day trial expires, you will be charged up to $82 per month for your ongoing membership.
There is Good News…and Bad
The Good News
The Bad News
Facebook has stopped publishing ads by these misleading grant programs.
Google has not, as you can tell by the paid search results when you search “free government grants,” and by generated ads, maybe even on this page
Grants.gov is the number-one ranked search result when you Google “free government grants” with or without the quotes.
Usagovernmentgrants.org is number two. It is a sales page, or lead-capturing page, for EZ Grant Pro. Its “free” information will cost you $94.38 per month, which includes two paid memberships you didn’t know you were signing up for.
We have all seen them, late night infomercials, websites, and reference guides, advertising “millions in free money” Don’t believe the hype! Although there are many grants on Grants.gov, few of them are available to individuals and none of them are available for personal financial assistance. To find an alphabetical listing of federal personal assistance visit USA.gov website’s Government Benefits, Grants, and Financial Aid page.
Usagovernmentgrants.gov implies just the opposite, and that’s what people want to hear:
If you are in need, out of work, working part time and income doesn’t cover basic expenses, or are ill, all types of grants, loans and in-kind services are provided by the federal government and by private foundations. These funds are available on an emergency basis or long-term basis.
Maybe we won’t have to publish any more grant warnings.
If we keep hearing about people losing their money and having problems canceling their paid memberships, maybe we will.
Look, nobody blames you. The promise of free money that you don’t have to pay back is a hard thing to ignore. But get over it, people! (I had to.) Nobody is going to bail you out by giving you free government grants.
Yes, under very carefully controlled circumstances. You qualify for financial aid as a college student, for example, or you are a business owner trying to reach out to specific targeted groups.
The US Government does NOT give grants to little people like you and me to live our daily lives. It also does not give money to start a business, in direct contradiction to many of the “government grant” claims out there. (To get free money with no strings attached you have to be a huge investment bank with high-paid lobbyists. But I digress.)
But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, says that “money for nothing” grant offers usually are scams, whether you see them in your local paper or a national magazine, or hear about them on the phone.
Some Web sites out there will holler at you that government grants are widely available and easy to get. They even often claim that the government gives grants for starting businesses. This is a direct lie, according to the federal Small Business Administration:
Please Note that the U.S. Small Business Administration does not offer grants to start or expand small businesses, though it does offer a wide variety of loan programs. While the SBA does offer some grant programs, these are generally designed to expand and enhance organizations that provide small business management, technical, or financial assistance. These grants generally support non-profit organizations, intermediary lending institutions, and state and local governments.
Grant Every Day? Um…no
Enter the strange case of governmentgrantsearch.com. That’s the site that Kathryn, the reader from my last post on grants, tangled with and lost to the tune of $100+.
Why “strange case?” Because the site has some good information. The problem is the crap product it promotes: the “Grant Every Day” program. It advertises a “free” CD (+ shipping and handling) with all the information you need to start getting government grants. You can get your first check in as little as one week!
What the heck, right? Three bucks for info. I can handle that. But then I read the fine print and decided not to sign up. Holy Add-ons, Batman! Your “free” CD will cost you $90.89 if you are not careful. Every month.
Here is the fine print:
See the parts I bolded? Yeah, those are dollar amounts. Have you ever seen prices written out in words? I don’t think I ever have. In my humble opinion, there is only one reason to do it in the fine print: TO HIDE IT. The promoter knows you’ll scan the fine print, but won’t read it carefully. They don’t want to call attention to all the extras by putting $68.13 right there for you to catch.
And not only that, but these add-ons come completely out of the blue. NOWHERE does the page promoting the free CD mention that you are also signing up for a monthly paid membership (what for??) the “SBA Connection” (what the hell is that??), and “Kind Remind.”
This is deceptive, “gotcha” marketing at its worst. FREE CD! Only $2.95 shipping and handling! Then, hidden at the bottom of the page, lots of extra garbage and recurring charges.
But it gets worse. The Terms and Conditions state that the company can sell your information to whomever it wants, and that it can have its telemarketers call you, even if you have opted out of telemarketing:
By submitting personal information at the Website, you agree that such act constitutes an inquiry and/or application for purposes of the Amended Telemarketing Sales Rule (16 CFR §310 et seq.), as amended from time to time (the “Rule”). Notwithstanding that your telephone number may be listed at the Federal Trade Commission’s Do-Not-Call List, you give us the right to contact you via telemarketing in accordance with the Rule.
The Company may disclose, transfer, and sell Individual Information to entities affiliated with us at our discretion.
Don’t give out your bank account information to anyone you don’t know. Scammers pressure people to divulge their bank account information so that they can steal the money in the account. Always keep your bank account information confidential. Don’t share it unless you are familiar with the company and know why the information is necessary.
Don’t pay any money for a “free” government grant. If you have to pay money to claim a “free” government grant, it isn’t really free. A real government agency won’t ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant that you have already been awarded — or to pay for a list of grant-making institutions. The names of agencies and foundations that award grants are available for free at any public library or on the Internet. The only official access point for all federal grant-making agencies is www.grants.gov.
Look-alikes aren’t the real thing. Just because the caller says he’s from the “Federal Grants Administration” doesn’t mean that he is. There is no such government agency. Take a moment to check the blue pages in your telephone directory to bear out your hunch — or not.
Phone numbers can deceive. Some con artists use Internet technology to disguise their area code in caller ID systems. Although it may look like they’re calling from Washington, DC, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
Take control of the calls you receive. If you want to reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive, place your telephone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. To register online, visit www.donotcall.gov. To register by phone, call 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236) from the phone number you wish to register.
File a complaint with the FTC. If you think you may have been a victim of a government grant scam, file a complaint with the FTC online at www.ftc.gov, or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
Sadly, for you and me, there’s no such thing as free money. Don’t fall for the free government grant claims.
Who Wants to Make a High School Boy a Millionaire?
The Nigerian scam affects not only the westerner who gets scammed, but also honest Nigerians who are in search of legitimate work. I have come across work at home jobs that exclude Nigeria from taking part. Clickbank does not accept Nigeria into their programs. PayPal does not allow people to open accounts from Nigeria). When I make inquiries, telling these online programs who I am and where I live, I don’t get any response from them.
What Kinds of Scams Do They Pull?
Here are some products from the Nigerian scam industry:
The Fake Money Order Scam
Back in 2004 in my university days, this scam was the most popular among scammers on campus. The scammer surfs the Internet looking for a date. Depending on the gender of the person he comes across, he poses either as a male or female. For example, if he meets a white or black female, then he’s a white or black male as the case may be, or if meets a white or black male, then the scammer is a white or black female, and the dating begins. The scammer could be chatting with more than one person at the same time to speed up his chances of getting at least one of them to fall for his scam. In one chat box, he might be a white girl, in another chat box, he’s a white male, and still in another, he’s an African American lady.
The stories the scammer tells his dates are the same especially if they happen to be chatting with a white male. He tells his dates that he’s a white lady visiting Africa for the first time on some archaeological expedition, to visit the ruins of ancient Africa and that ‘she’ is a student of UCLA for example, or any other story the scammer can come up with. The dating may last for days, weeks or even months but the main idea is to get the white guy to fall in love with ‘her’. That’s when the real scam kicks in.
The scammer, when he is sure the white guy has fallen in love with him, comes up with a sad story, telling the guy of something bad that happened to ‘her’ while ‘she’ was on the expedition. Now ‘she’ cant return to the U.S., but ‘she’ came to Africa with some money orders and would like the guy to help ‘her’ cash them and send the money back to ‘her’ so ‘she’ can be able to return home.
An ex-course mate of mine after getting this white guy to say “I love u”, told this guy living in the U.S. that ‘she’ was robbed in her hotel room in Africa and was left with nothing. But wait, the robbers didn’t take her money orders. Could he please cash the money orders for ‘her’ and send the cash back to ‘her’ so ‘she’ can return to the U.S.?
“Why, sure thing!” The white date replied. Why would he allow his ‘beloved’ whom he’s just dying to meet to be stranded in Africa? And so the scammer sent the money orders to him. Another former course mate of mine told me that for this scam to work, the guy would have to take the money orders to the bank and not to the post office. If they are cashed at the bank, the bank in turn will take the money orders to the post office to be cashed. There, they would be detected as fakes and the person who cashed them at the bank arrested. I heard the guy was arrested. He tried to make contact with his ‘beloved’ but it was too late. The scammer scrapped his e-mail address, bought a benze and took friends out for drink to celebrate his success.
The deftness with which these people use information on the net to fool people is impressive. Another ex-course mate of mine pretended to be a girl living in Cuba. After growing irritated and tired of his date asking about the area in Cuba ‘she’ comes from, he simply Googled cities in Cuba and told his date ‘she’ was from Santa Clara!
The Credit Card Scam
Only recently, I saw a credit card for the first time in my life. They are not common the way they are in your country. Before then, though I had never seen them, except in movies, I came to be more knowledgeable about them through this same ex-course mate of mine who received hundreds of them from a hacker friend of his. So many were these credit cards that my friend never had enough time to sift through all of them and check their validity.
He copied the details of each credit card one by one, pasted it on a certain site and tried to make a purchase. If the purchase went through, he would then know the credit card was valid and separated them from the rest. If it didn’t go through he simply deleted the expired or invalid credit card.
Night after night, after I was through studying, we would go the café for some ‘Internet shopping’ and to chat with his ‘dates’ before finally retiring to the hostel.
Back then, I also learnt that most companies do not send items paid for with a credit card to a Nigerian address for obvious reasons. So what my friend did was to give these sites a western address. He has a partner over there who would then send the items to Nigeria. He told me that if he were to sell all he had been ordering at a give away price he would make no less than $25,000.
The Nonexistent Product Scam
“….we are a company looking for distributors and sales agents for our polymeric polyol product. Interested persons should please reply via this mail…..” What you have just read are the lines to a scam invented by this same ex course mate of mine. I call this the non existent product scam. He simply looks for distributors and sales agent telling them his company has a product to sell. He gives them a very large figure of the commission they will make as a way of motivating these distributors and sales agents to get buyers, If these distributors and agents find buyers, they are to pay half the price of the product before receiving the product, and the other half after they receive the product. The buyers pay this advance and ZILCH! ZERO! No product is forthcoming because there was none to begin with!
“What the hell is a polymeric polyol? It won’t work,” I told him. He would only receive replies asking what a polymeric polyol was. He told me I was only being cynical. He was right. He got a sales agent and almost made money from this scam.
The Dating or e-Begging Scam
Are you a westerner searching for love across the Atlantic? You happen to succeed in finding one, and you think you are chatting with an African chick? Think again! You might just be dating a Nigerian hustler who is just waiting for you to say “I love you” so ‘she’ can start making financial demands on you.
Like the fake money order scam, this involves posing as a female. Only here, ‘she’ is not a westerner, but a Nigerian girl. Sometimes, the scammer might send the westerner a picture of the girl he is pretending to be, (even when the westerner didn’t ask for one) just to make it all look real. When the scammer is sure you have really gotten to like ‘her’, it is now time to start asking for money. And would he refuse to send a couple of thousand bucks to the ‘girl’ he loves, who is struggling to make ends meet in a harsh economic environment?
Some westerners might be eager to see their dates through a webcam. “Now the scammer is in for it” you might say. Unfortunately, this is not a problem for the scammer as they are equally prepared for this and can go as far as recruiting their own girlfriends into the scam. “At last” the westerner thinks. He can see his African date through the webcam. What he will not see is the real mastermind behind the scam, sitting right next to the girl, but just out of sight of the webcam, telling the girl what to type on the computer. Finally the chatting ends on a happy note and the westerner goes to bed, satisfied to have seen his Nigerian girlfriend. Poor westerner doesn’t know he is dating a man like himself.
The other side to this kind of scam is much easier: I am a Nigerian man. I browse online dating sites and find myself a female date. I don’t need to lie about my gender or my nationality or where I live. I am doing the normal and regular dating everybody else is doing. Only thing is, I am only dating this white girl because I intend to ask her for some cash later on. This may not look like a scam but it is, when you consider that I am in the relationship just for the money. That’s why we call it the e-begging or electronic begging scam.
The Box of Money Scam
This is my favorite scam. I managed to get the picture you see here from a friend who makes up to 500 dollars almost monthly from this scam. Similar to the lottery scam, you receive a message with the picture of a box of money, telling you that you’ve won it, and an ambassador is getting ready to visit your country and hand you your box of money, but that you have to pay a certain amount to redeem your winnings.
This friend also told me that WESTERN UNION MONEY TRANSFER, (the payment channel through which he receives the cash they send) has warned westerners times without number, not to send cash to people they don’t know in Nigeria. But “a fool and his money are soon parted”. So now we have greedy westerners who keep sending money to strangers in Nigeria, knowing very well at the back of their minds that what they are paying for is a scam.
It’s All About Greed
One reason these scammers are so successful is that the people who fall for these scams are themselves greedy. Like I said, they may have it at the back of their minds that the mails they get are scam mails, yet blinded by greed, they lose money to these scammers. Another reason is that they exploit the trust, honesty and forthrightness that is hallmark of most western societies to their advantage.
How to Detect Scams
There are a few ways to detect if a mail is a scam. It’s most likely, a scam mail if
It appeals to the emotions
If the sender is telling you a tragic or pathetic story about something that happened to him and/or his family, then it is most likely a scam. This is meant for you to have compassion for him and let your guard down’ and be moved to help him do whatever it is he is asking you to do in the mail.
It has too many grammatical mistakes or is hardly fluent
The scammers are Nigerians. They may speak English but “English ain’t our mother tongue”. Some of these scammers do not write good English. Why would a senate president, or a bank CEO, or a finance minister, make such grammatical blunders in his mail? Doesn’t he at least have a secretary whose job it is to proof-read what he writes, including his mails before he sends them out?
What they are asking you to do is illegal
Most westerners may not know this, but some of the help these scammers are asking for is illegal. For instance, they might tell you their father who was a secretary to the federal government of Nigeria was murdered by a dictator and left some few millions in a bank somewhere in Nigeria, and he needs your help in getting it out of the country. Question is, how did his dad (a secretary to the government) come about such money? And why is he desperate to get it out of the country?
Really, there is no one way of spotting scams from Nigeria. Some of these scammers have no other job they do except go to café and send scam mails. For some of them, this is the only thing they do to put food on the table and feed their families. So they will keep coming at you with everything they’ve got until they succeed. You westerners just have to be on guard at all times. Some of my fellow Nigerians that may come across this writeup may hate me for spilling my guts here but I can’t help it.
Nigerians are one of the most gifted and innovative people on earth. Sadly, their ingenuity is mostly used to do bad rather than to do good. A certain talk show host in the U.S. said all Nigerians are fraudulent. In a way, that might be true. We have come to accept corruption, fraud and deceit as part and parcel of our daily lives as you might hear some Nigerians say trash like “I like that so and so governor. Even though he stole money, at least he did one or two few things for my state…” Or “…nobody says they (the government) shouldn’t steal money, but while they steal they should try to do something for the citizens….”
Come October 1 2009, Nigeria will be 49. (A fool at almost )50, we are a people who are docile, cowardly, and thoroughly laid back. Not wanting to struggle to do away with the ultra corrupt government that has long been in place, we are smiling and suffering in silence, preferring only to talk about how corrupt politicians are and how bad the economy is, in street corners, in churches, at news stands, in bars, in beer parlors, and in goat stew joints.
Who Wants to Make a High School Boy a Millionaire?
I once worked for a man who owned a dry-cleaning outfit. He was a car freak and owned a good number of flashy ones. “He can’t be making that much money from his dry-cleaning business to buy such a large number of cars,” I told myself. A colleague was later to tell me the man had one other business he was into. “The laptop our boss brings with him to work is used to correspond with the westerners he intends to scam,” he told me.
And trying to convince friends to leave such things is out of the question. Especially when you consider the fact that some of them grew up in poverty (the economic hardship having taken its toll on them). Since they have no other legitimate means of feeding themselves and their families, you don’t know how or where to begin to make them see reason.
Some of the reasons these Nigerians give for indulging in scams range from the palatable to the outright absurd. They may tell you that “the white man came to Africa, enslaved us and stole our resources to develop their own place, so we are only taking back what the white man took from us.” Or “Hey, we just want a few thousand bucks from these westerners. After all, their economy is better than ours so it won’t hurt them.”
What Is It Like to Scam in Nigeria?
For me, the sooner I get a PC with an Internet connection, the better. Surfing from a café is a risk in itself. It makes me a sitting duck for the cops who, once in a while, raid cafés and arrest scammers, including, if you are unlucky, people who came to do honest work.
I was once nearly a victim of one such raid. They raided one café after another. They stormed into the café where I was. They bent close to your monitor and if what they saw on the screen didn’t seem right to them, they moved you out into a police van waiting just outside the café to join other scam suspects who were rounded up from other cafés. They ordered me to get up and I was frisked (didn’t know what the hell they were looking for). Luckily for me I was not yet sitting behind a monitor as I was waiting for a free space, because who knows? The Nigerian police are an unpredictable lot and had I been sitting behind a monitor I might have been taken away with the others.
One customer quickly hid the flash drive he had with him (must have contained some scam material). Unfortunately for him, one cop thought he saw him hide the flash drive, but didn’t know exactly where and immediately a hunt for the flash drive started. The cops looked behind monitors, under the café tables, behind CPUs, under the chairs. All the while, the cop was angry at his junior partner (who was closer to the customer when he hid the flash drive) for not being fast enough to “catch these boys,” and at the same time exchanging words with the customer himself, who kept insisting he wasn’t even holding a flash drive to begin with. He kept saying he was in the youth corps and only came to check his mails.
Alas! After some minutes the cop found the flash drive. He was right after all! He did see the scammer hide a flash drive! And in the joy of triumph the cop lands the scammer a very hard slap on the cheek, telling him: “Youth corps, huh? I’ll show you I’ve dealt with your likes before!” The scammer is dragged away and into the police van outside. (The youth corps is a one year mandatory service to the country performed by graduates right after they leave the university.)
Can’t The Authorities Do Something?
Justice was served? Not really. Fortunately for these scammers and unfortunately for the rest of society, the police are also not insulated from the economic hardship and grinding poverty in the country. So they carry out such raids mostly when they are in dire need of money themselves, to feed themselves and their families as they are not being sufficiently paid by the Nigerian government. These scammers are taken to the station where, for as little as 30 dollars or more, they buy back their freedom and our scammers are back at the café doing what they know how to do best!
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a federal government agency charged with apprehending and prosecuting corrupt government officials and scammers, as soon as it was established, read out a riot act to the cafes that aid and abet scams. So when approaching a café in Nigeria, it is not uncommon to see notices like the ones below pasted at the entrance or on the walls within the café itself:
“IF YOU ARE CAUGHT SENDING 419 MAILS, WE WILL PERSONALLY EMBARRASS YOU.
THEN WE WILL HAND YOU OVER TO THE APPROPRIATE AUTHORITIES.” [Joe editorial note: I love that! “Personally embarrass you.” Oh, the humanity!]
“THE SENDING OF SCAM MAILS IS NOT ALLOWED IN THIS CAFÉ “
“THE USE OF E-MAIL EXTRACTORS IS NOT ALLOWED IN THIS CAFÉ”
These notices have become so common that even scammers no longer take notice of them. And café owners, some of whom are scammers themselves, turn a blind eye to what goes on in their cafes either because they have become used to the raids and no longer give a damn because they know the authorities are not serious about dealing with scammers and they have to stay in business, or because they make good money from these customers.
And what do the numbers 419 mean? It’s a reference to section 419 of the Nigerian constitution that deals with advance fee fraud. So when you hear a Nigerian say “I was 419ed”, he means he got scammed. Or you hear him say “that guy is a 419” or “he’s a 419er”, it means the person is a scammer. The numbers have since become a synonym for lies, cheating, deceit, fraud etc.
These people also do clean up after themselves. After they are done with the computer, they restart it before leaving the café. I asked a friend why he does this and he said restarting the computer destroys any evidence of scam, making his work untraceable. Simply put, by restarting the computers the scammers are covering their tracks.
Why Isn’t Everyone Doing It?
Please don’t get the impression that’s it’s been a holiday for all scammers. I know people who have been into scam for years, sunk all they had into it and are yet to make it. There are scammers that have been tried and are in the can.
And like every other industry, the Nigerian scam industry has spawned its own terminology. When you hear a scammer use the word ‘MAGA’ (pronounced mahgah) or the word MUGU (pronounced moogoo) he is referring to the westerner he is about to scam or has already scammed. The word ‘HAMMER’ has come to mean to “make it big” among scammers.
Part 3 will discuss specific examples of Nigerian scams Mr. Okeke has witnessed.
[Preface by Joe: We are pleased to offer this series about Nigerian scams from an honest-to-goodness Nigerian, Mr. Chekwube Okeke. He has a degree in business administration and notes that his first name means “Put your trust in God.” He has generously offered us this information free of charge, and I know you’ll be interested in what he reveals. I have lightly edited the text for correctness and organization.]
Who Wants to Make a High School Boy a Millionaire?
Here I am doing this piece in an Internet café. The guy occupying the space right next to me is preparing a scam e-mail. It contains the picture of a famous bank CEO and the logo of the bank itself. He is posing as the bank CEO. Whoever is unfortunate enough to receive the mail (most probably, a westerner) will get the false impression that he is corresponding with a bank CEO in Nigeria.
What I am describing is nothing uncommon among scammers in Nigeria. All over the café there are people preparing scam mails, posing as bank CEOs, central bank governors, ambassadors, businessmen, accountants, senate presidents, pastors, priests, etc. Among these scammers are students in their school uniforms. I am not exaggerating and this is also nothing new.
Just a few yards from the café is a police post. “It should deter these scammers from coming to the café, you would say. It doesn’t. “Why not?” you ask. Please keep reading this piece and you will find out.
The View from My World
Surfing from a café in Nigeria, you get to witness a lot of drama. I have seen a scammer smash his handset in ecstasy on confirming the cash he had long been waiting for had arrived. I have seen scammers faking their accents and intonation pretending to be white men on the phone with their intended victims. I have seen scammers pretending to be white ladies visiting Africa for the first time when they meet a male westerner online. I have seen scammers pretending to be females looking for a date online, or pretending to be white males, depending on the gender of the person they meet online. (More on these later.)
The Nigerian scam has turned out to be very lucrative for its perpetrators. Yes, it was once the third largest industry in Nigeria. A Nigerian paper once reported that America loses about 100,000 dollars to these scammers daily.
The westerners who receive and fall for this scam mails ought to know that the tens of thousands of bucks they lose to these scammers might very well translate to millions in my country’s currency. In other words, they are making millionaires out of these scammers, some of whom have become bread winners of their family.
Scamming has become a phenomenon being celebrated by some Nigerians. Oh yes! A well known former U.S. government official unwittingly danced to a popular Nigerian scam song on stage along with the performers at a function held in the U.K. recently.
Again, in another part of Europe, another Nigerian artist performed another popular Nigerian scam song on stage while the Nigerians among the crowd danced and sang along with the artist. After he was done performing, he was asked by the host of the ceremony what the lyrics of the song meant. There were giggles, chuckles, and sniggers coming from the Nigerian crowd as the artist, knowing the embarrassment the truth would cause every one at the ceremony, had to lie to the host about the meaning of the lyrics.
I Know Scammers
This might sound awful to the westerners reading this piece. The truth is, in Nigeria, if you are not a scammer, you must know somebody who is (some Nigerians who may come across this piece may disagree and even argue with me on this one). Just months ago, a friend of mine hit it big, making over 40,000 dollars. Now he is living big and has since moved his family to a better apartment.
“A friend?” Oh yes. A childhood friend for that matter. Everyone knows someone. The person might be your next door neighbor, or that tithe giver who is a church member of yours, or your course mate in the university, or your classmate in high school or your colleague at work, or your boss who may only be using his company as a front to hide the true source of his wealth, or your brother, or your uncle, or your aunt, or your cousin, or your nephew, or even your mom and/or your dad who have been supporting the family with the extra income.
And if you do find out the person is a scammer, it is not talked about in his presence. You maintain the relationship you had with him before you made your discovery. No mention is made of it. Not unless you are a scammer friend of his too or a very close pal. It is just like what you see in mafia movies: here’s this guy who is well known in the neighborhood. He’s the nice guy who is like a friend to all, who tries to help his neighborhood every now and then. But he’s a gangster and thing is, while you are with him you have to act like you don’t know he’s a gangster. You don’t bring up any discussion that’s anywhere near that fact. Not unless you are a fellow gangster or a very close friend.
[Joe: In Part 2 of this series, you’ll hear about Mr. Okeke’s experiences in a Nigerian Internet cafe.]
Do you believe in karma? That old idea that there is a sense of justice and balance in the universe which ensures that whatever you dish out, good or bad, comes back to you?
If you do, here’s a warning: Joe’s Book of Karma states, “It doesn’t work with cash gifting schemes.”
What is Cash Gifting?
Cash gifting, or leveraging programs, are supposed to work like this: you pay a fee to join the club. You give cash “gifts” to those at the highest levels of the club. You recruit enough people so that you become one of those high level members and then rake in the cash gifts that the low-level flunkies give you.
Can you imagine anything dumber? Think of it on the playground. The bully, Randy, charges every kid his lunch money to join the special Randy Club. As members, they get the privilege of giving Randy not only their lunch money, but their allowance, too.
Cash gifting is an old idea dressed up in new clothes for the Web. Remember those chain letters from back in the snail mail days? Send $1 to the person at the top of this list, then copy the list, remove that person, add your name to the bottom, and send this letter to 10 friends. In six months, you’ll get $10,000 in the mail. Then it moved to e-mail and PayPal. Now it’s Web based.
Cash Gifting Programs Are Illegal
You’ll find lots of Web sites and forum discussions that say they aren’t. But they claim they are legal because the IRS allows gifts. Well, duh! That’s not the issue. They have been deemed illegal pyramids because there is no product for an end user. There is only money flowing upward so the last sop to join has no chance of getting his money back.
In reality, the clubs are illegal pyramid schemes. New club members give cash “gifts” to the highest-ranking club members, with titles such as “captains.” And they’re promised that if they get additional members to join the club, they, too, will rise to become captains and receive money – far more than they initially paid to join the club — from newer club “friends.”
Cash gifting schemes are the quintessential example of a pyramid scheme. Instead of selling products, cash gifting schemes forego the sale of products and just give people cash, but the premise is the same — like other pyramids, cash gifting schemes are based on the amount of people recruited.
Cash Gifting Web Sites to Avoid
epicwealthsystems.com, cashgiftingprograms.org, 6figurewealth.com, wealthsupersystem.com, secretsofgifting.com. In fact, if you Google Epic Wealth Systems, you’ll find hundreds of pages that look pretty much the same except for the name and picture of the owner at the bottom. That should give you pause.
If you were thinking about joining epicwealthsystems or other cash gifting program, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But if it will make you feel better, I will accept your cash gift. That’s right. Out of the goodness of my heart, you may pay the membership fee or your lunch money directly to me via PayPal: steve[at]ivetriedthat[dot]com. No need to thank me.
Can you make money from home simply by mailing out postcards? How about by mailing envelopes? We’re looking at a couple of programs to sign up for, including moneyformailing.com. We’ll give you the inside story.
I’m skeptical, though. The site is full of red flags. For example, the main page is long on hype, short on detail. If you read it you’ll discover that you can be your own boss, earn as much as you want, get checks every week, say goodbye to money problems, and maybe even get your own pony! (Ok, I might have made up that last one.)
But what will you be doing to make all of your dreams come true? Mailing postcards and brochures from home. When someone you send mail to returns a postcard to the company to sign up for an offer, you get 50% of the sale. That seems straightforward, Joe, so what’s the problem? The problem is the questions they don’t answer:
Where will I get the addresses to mail things to? Joe’s theory: you’ll have to buy mailing lists.
What are the postcards and brochures promoting? The main page doesn’t tell you, but you can find it if you dig for it. They promote work-at-home programs, including…waaaiiit for it…mailing from home!
How many postcards are typically sent to make a sale? I don’t expect they would ever tell you this. But let’s compare it to Internet marketing. In that world, 3% conversion is an okay result. That means that for every 100 people that see an offer, three will make a purchase. So let’s say you’re going to send out 100 pieces to make a sale. 100x.35 (first class postage) = 35.00 in postage alone. That’s not including the value of your time to prepare the mailings and send them out. You’ll have to make a $35 commission per 100 mailings just to break even, and I doubt that’s possible.
But those unanswered questions are not the biggest red flag for me. It’s this:
Q: Why don’t you just mail the postcards?
A: We do! We mail as many postcards as we can every day! We’ve been making six figure incomes for years mailing these same postcards. But the demand for these offers is so big that we cannot reach this ever-growing market by ourselves. We have a small office with under 15 employees and more than 500,000 postcards to mail out at any given time. We need your help to get them out!
I call B.S. People who are making six figures through direct mail use mail processing equipment. 500,000 pieces is nothing for the right machinery. Also, when a business has too much work, it hires enough employees to get the work done so it can make more profit. It doesn’t issue an open-ended invitation for everybody who can operate a mouse to come join the industry. Unless, of course, it’s trying to sell something to everyone who can operate a mouse.
Also, it’s not that “demand for these offers is so big” that they can’t do it themselves. It’s that they have to flood the country a foot deep with junk mail in order to find the few who will read the card and then sign up for an offer. And the more people who send out cards, the less expense for them and the more money they make. It’s a win-win! Or at least it would be if it works.
All this is speculation, mind you. Maybe I’m wrong and it really is as easy as they say it is. We’ll let you know.