“…if the just man is good at keeping money, he is good at stealing it.” Plato, Book I, The Republic
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Pretend for a minute that you want to create an online scam that will line your pockets with a significant amount of money. How would you create this scam? Who would you target? Would you involve your friends or keep it to yourself? And perhaps most importantly, when would you end it; i.e., take the money and run?
I’ve Tried That is a site dedicated to spotting and reporting online scams. Since 2007, the scams that have been featured on this site include everything from classic Nigerian “you’ve got cash!” emails to data entry to even colon cleansing (complete with a photo you don’t want to see while eating). As different as all these scams are, however, they all take advantage of one or more of the following six elements to lure you in:
User ignorance: Faecal encephalopathy is a serious medical condition that may be affecting you and your family members, but our associates have the cure.
Voice of authority/experience: Dr. Homer J. Simpson, who studied nuclear engineering at the prestigious Saint Regis University, has worked at a nuclear power plant for 10+ years. He is nationally recognized as a nuclear power plant safety expert.
Emotional appeal: Still stuck in that low-paying job while your boss buys a flashier car every year? What would you do with an extra $1,000 every week? Our system helps you make money while you sleep! “Stick it to the man” and quit your job today!
A hint of truth: Smoking leads to almost all cases of small cell lung cancer (SCLC), a very aggressive form of cancer. Luckily, our retinoic acid products inhibit lung cancer, allowing you to smoke without worry.
Exclusivity: It took years for our senior officers to learn how this revolutionary system operates. However, its secrets can now be yours when you join our VIP members-only club.
Limited time: Act now while supplies last. We have only 30 cases of iron pyrite jewelry on hand. Operators are standing by.
Given the information provided above as well as my constant exposure to all kinds of online scams, I’ve come up with the following five scam ideas and how they could be perpetrated. Keep in mind that this information is only theoretical and is meant to help you learn about and spot scams.
Do not attempt the following ideas at home!
1. The new and improved Nigerian email scam.
Send people emails giving them a sob story about some person who is orphaned and can’t withdraw his/her money- but add a contemporary twist. For example, make a plea for a young girl who is being held against her wishes by the Taliban and can’t withdraw the huge sum of money she has inherited in the U.K.- money that would help free her. Or, decry a dog slaughter operation here in the U.S. that would be instantly shut down if some groups could just gain access to their locked funds.
The possibilities are endless- and someone is bound to bite. Once you accumulate a few interested parties, have them forward you money for bogus expenses like taxes, processing costs, legal fees, etc. At some point, you might even gain access to a bank account or the personal information of your email recipients. Drain those accounts and/or steal identities.
2. Fake services company.
Create and purchase a domain name that resembles a high ranking services site. For example, Seomoz.org is a rather well-established SEO services company. Working off of this site, you could create the domain name Seomoz.org/business. This allows your site to be easily found online and establishes credibility. Then, you start emailing small business websites and offering them a service package for only $499/year. Be sure to have the business click only on a special “discount” link that you provide through your website or email correspondence.
Once you collect a sufficient number of Paypal payments, transfer all assets to a bank account created especially for this purpose (using someone else’s personal information that was hopefully gained from scam #1). Sit on your bogus website for a month, sending out periodic emails to your “clients” asking for specs about their websites (e.g., what keywords they want to be ranked for) and other filler newsletters and company announcements. After that month has passed, close down your website and bank account.
3. Compromised account scam.
Send emails to people notifying them that their Paypal, eBay, Amazon etc. account has been compromised and the company needs to re-verify critical account records like the person’s name, log in information, password, etc. The few emails that come back to you with this pertinent information will be worth their weight in gold.
Alternately, if you have some programming skills, create a spyware link that leads the user to a fake account site resembling what would be seen on Paypal, eBay, Amazon, etc. On this site, the user inputs all his/her personal information and transmits it to you. In such a case, you would gain valuable information and be able to install a spyware program on the user’s computer, enabling you to monitor all his/her future keystrokes.
4. Sell a bogus product.
Create a fake product and sell it online. Some examples include diet patches/wraps, miracle creams and nutritional supplements. Making such products at home is easy and all you need is a merchant account that accepts credit cards. Make the refund time at least 6 months or longer, thus lulling customers into putting aside their purchase receipt and eventually forgetting about it or losing it. Testimonials and referrals can be gathered from your friends.
You could even go all out and schedule a webinar or seminar where you hand-pick audience members for questions or praise about your product- audience members that just happen to be your friends. Making and selling a fake product is perhaps one of the easiest scams to perpetrate because many individuals will actually benefit from the product thanks to the placebo effect (i.e., improvement in health through simple belief that the product is working).
5. Sell a bogus product- and create an MLM around it.
Why make money on a bogus product alone when you can also make money from member recruits? Create your own multi-level marketing scheme by recruiting people to buy and sell your product directly. Use your friends for testimonials about how this product and business changed their lives. Your friends can also be used as downline (customer) decoys so that the MLM recruits start making a little money and keep buying bulk product from you.
Learn How to Make Legitimate Money Online Instead
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The Bottom Line
In summary, always remember that scammers rely on your vulnerabilities (e.g., ignorance, lack of time) and vices (e.g., greed, laziness) to make money. Before clicking on a web link or providing any personal information, do your homework or call the company directly. Install a spyware/malware protection program on your computer as well. Limit what you reveal online while at a publicly used computer. In short, being vigilant and aware of what scammers might do online protects you from losing your money, time and personal information.
Oh, and don’t create your own online scam.
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