We would all like to be rich, very rich and to get that way by having the money handed to us on a plate. What a dream. Until nine months ago, James never knew that such ‘free money’ was advertised through scamming over the Net.
International scamming is a huge business, and growing by the day, perhaps in keeping with tough economic times. The business is big enough to involve one layer of corrupted individuals on top of another, equally corrupted layer of individuals. In fact, life is so complicated for them at times because they themselves don’t know who is scamming whom!
We have been royally scammed out of a lot of money, initially because of ignorance and later because my husband believes, absolutely, that there is someone out there who wants to give him a handsome sum of money for nothing. He just has to keep going until he finds that person and strikes it rich.
There are scams and warnings posted all over the internet, but I thought you might be interested in a very personal experience which has evolved into a habit akin to a ‘gambling’ addiction.
Below is a list of ten warnings to heed should you ever be tempted to enter into any kind of arrangement with a business man looking for a partner via the net, to share in a large windfall. I will outline how we were fooled – totally.
Top Ten Warning Signs
1.You never get anything for nothing (beware of any proposal coming via a non-specific server, e.g. yahoo.com or gmail.com).
2.Never let your business partner choose the bank where you will do business.
3.Never believe that a reputable bank is a reputable bank.
4.Never pay any money up front.
5.Never transport money to pay for suspect returns via MoneyGram or other electronic money transfer organizations.
6.Never believe that your business partner has put up any money to secure this deal before getting you involved.
7.Never accept any document as being “an official document”.
8.Never agree to pay any legal fees to a lawyer, no matter what it is for.
9.Never believe that the person on the other end of the phone is who he says he is.
10.Never forward any personal information to any person.
WARNING # 1: YOU NEVER GET ANYTHING FOR NOTHING, ESPECIALLY MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.
Last May, 2008, my husband handed me the printout of a letter he had received from a PW, who lives in Hong Kong and has many aliases.
PW introduced himself and his family (accompanied by a charming family photograph) to James, and suggested that James might be interested in a business deal with him. This business deal was nothing less than transferring the enormous sum of US$123,750,000.00 out of the clutches of a bank in China, to the Western World. If James was agreeable to enter into this deal, PW would give him 40% of the total money!
My mouth fell open and I roared with laughter! I told my husband to forget it, because there was no way this was going to happen. It was a scam, nothing more and nothing less. I suggested a little bit of research would support that theory. Not to be outdone, James went away, did due diligence, and came back with some pretty legitimate reasons why this was not a scam. Of course, had sense prevailed and I had not started to count the dollars in the bank, I would have realized that there were no legitimate reasons at all.
WARNING #2: NEVER LET YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER CHOOSE THE BANK.
James entered into a verbal agreement to help PW with the transfer of this money to an off-shore account in the UK. Several possible banks were discussed, and we had a choice in this selection, but for some reason the final choice was made by PW and it was the Clydesdale Bank. He further suggested we get in touch with a Mr. PC, the operations manager, who would help us to open the account. This, of course, was fine with us. The bottom line was that we had no idea how to conduct business with an offshore bank. PW knew this and he had to have control, as revealed in the next paragraph.
WARNING #3: NEVER BELIEVE THAT A REPUTABLE BANK IS, IN FACT, A REPUTABLE BANK.
I duly checked into all the information available about the Clydesdale bank. It was well known in the UK and a member of the National Australia Bank Group. Further investigation revealed there were three Mr. PCs listed as employees of the bank. The bank logo, letterhead and account statement descriptions were all beyond reproach. I was quite satisfied with my research results and never suspected that there was a problem. We were blissfully unaware that PW had built a little gold mine of scam operations under the very nose of the Clydesdale Bank who knew nothing about this sub-set enterprise.
This was borne out when my husband went for a holiday in Europe and visited the Clydesdale bank through which we had supposedly been dealing. He established that there was no trace of any bank account in our name and certainly no Mr. PC in Guernsey. While sympathetic towards my husband, Clydesdale did not seem in the least bit concerned about the scammers using their bank for their nefarious activities. This attitude bothers me.
Since that time, James has corresponded with other mainstream banks, such as Barclay’s, Nat West and HSBC where scammers appear to be running a covert operation under a respectable banner.
WARNING # 4: NEVER PROVIDE UP-FRONT MONEY, ESPECIALLY AN ACTIVATION FEE OF ANY SORT.
This is where the scammers get their money, if they can. An activation fee is the amount of money required to open a bank account before any other sum of money is deposited. The activation fee varies from scam to scam.
Normally, if an account is opened at a bank, the deposit made to that account, large or small is the initial deposit. There is no ‘activation fee’ required before you make your initial deposit, but the scammers do require that fee. Some will only charge a paltry $1,500, while others will go up to $24,000 depending upon the type of account you want. You may suggest, logically, that your ‘business partner’ take the activation fee out of the millions he is going to give you. That is definitely a no-go. If you cannot pay the activation fee the scammers drop you like a hot potato.
If you pay the amount required, the scammers thank you, send you notice of a transfer of funds to your nominated bank and you never hear from them again. The money never arrives in your nominated account. You lose all the money you paid them and your reward is absolutely nothing. It is a no win situation.
This is all made possible because the scammers choose a well known bank and operate a sub-set of that same bank. The real bank authorities either don’t know, or don’t care, so it would appear.
Now, lets go back to James and PW and their negotiations. Notices, ‘legal’ documents and transfer information flip-flopped across the Atlantic, while an account at the Clydesdale Bank, Guernsey was set up for us. I was a bit suspicious when we were told that an initial deposit of £2,500 Great British Pounds Sterling was required to activate the account, (at that time we didn’t know about activation fees). I was also puzzled as to why this amount was to be sent via Moneygram to a contact in the Bank’s Head Office in London. Why not bank to bank transfer? However, lulled by the thought of a possible windfall of US $49,000,000.00 coming our way, I agreed that James should send the money and this part of the transaction went through quite successfully.
WARNING #5: NEVER SEND MONEY VIA MONEYGRAM OR ANY OTHER ELECTRONIC MONEY TRANSFER SYSTEM TO PAY FOR THE MILLIONS YOU EXPECT TO RECEIVE.
There was no problem for us transferring money via Moneygram to Clydesdale and everything went according to plan in the transactions with PW. However, in two subsequent transactions James lost a considerable amount of money because he sent up-front fees via a money transfer organization. These organizations accept only cash payment, and send the money to their office in a designated city anywhere in the world. It is up to the sender to provide the recipient with the code to collect the cash on arrival.
All the scammer has to do is to take the claim number, which we have kindly supplied them by e-mail or fax, present it at the office and walk away with the money.
In the current PW story, the money was sent, received and banked. In two subsequent nightmares, the money was ‘stolen’ according to James’s senior ‘business partners’. We know very well that the money was not stolen but pocketed by the scammer and we could do absolutely nothing.
The ‘business partner’ never has a bank account (because he has no money) to enable bank to bank money transfer. That is why we had to use Moneygram. How stupid could we get!
Back to our story about the Clydesdale bank and PW; it never occurred to me to ask why the account couldn’t be opened with the initial deposit of $123 million coming from PW! After all, I had done due diligence and just accepted that activation fees were part of the off-shore bank operation.
The equivalent of £2,500 British Pounds at that time was approximately US $5,000, and fees for Moneygram were added. Somehow we scraped this amount together and sent it off to the bank. The following day, we accessed our account, and sure enough there was a credit of £2,500 British Pounds registered in the account. The impossible now really looked possible!
WARNING #6: NEVER BELIEVE THAT YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER HAS PUT UP ANY MONEY TO SECURE THIS DEAL BEFORE GETTING YOU INVOLVED.
This warning did not apply to the PW situation because there was never any need for him to be involved with such trivialities. He certainly didn’t appear to need the money.
However, in subsequent incidents James was really sucked in with the most heart-rending sob stories of house re-mortgaging or borrowing heavily from friends in order for him, the ‘business partner’ to pay all the costs to date. Naturally, such a financial activity added another element that served the scammers well, that of pressure. They used this to let the scammee know that if he doesn’t settle the transaction within a certain period of time, he, or she, the ‘business partner’ (alias the scammer), is going to lose a lot of money. In retrospect, I wonder if any one of the scammers had a house to mortgage in the first place. I think not.
WARNING #7: NEVER ACCEPT ANY DOCUMENT AS BEING AN OFFICIAL DOCUMENT.
The documents involved with PW looked so official and realistic with the appropriate headings, logos and certification stamps and so it followed with every attempted scam. Somehow, it escaped our minds that the documents sent by e-mail were manufactured to order by the computer. They even had the logos of established banks to make you think you are dealing with the genuine thing.
Never believe any official documents sent by e-mail because they are fake, fake, fake. This is why banks will not use e-mail addresses.
Returning to Clydesdale Bank; a few days after our initial deposit had been posted, the bank notified us that another deposit had been made to our account of $123,750,000.00 and that we were now free to transfer the money to our own bank. Of course, we had to make sure that PW’s share of the money remained in the bank. I just couldn’t believe it – finally, we could do what we wanted to do in our lives. We were walking on air.
The following day, when the excitement had subsided and we could actually process our thoughts again, I went into the account to make a transfer of some of the money to our North American account. I was given explicit instructions how to do this and followed them to the letter.
I watched the computer apparently processing my request, and it came back to tell me I didn’t have an access code, needed before the transaction could be processed. The Bank provided me with instructions for getting an access code. Following everything to the letter again, I made my application, consoling myself with the thought that, after all, nothing ever runs smoothly.
The following day I was advised that, before I could have an access code, three pieces of documentation were required to satisfy the Financial Services Authority that the money was not obtained fraudulently. Frantically, I phoned Mr. PC who calmed my nerves and indicated that this was just a matter of routine with large sums of money. Who was I to argue?
Zapping off this request to PW for the three documents required by the Financial Services Authority, I somehow didn’t see this as any big deal. Two of the documents were provided to me the following day, and eventually, after sorting out my computer, we received the third document which happened to be the qualifications of his legal counsel.
WARNING # 8: NEVER AGREE TO PAY ANY LEGAL FEES TO A LAWYER OBTAINED BY YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER, NO MATTER WHAT SERVICE HE AGREES TO RENDER.
While not applicable in the Clydesdale and PW case, there have been many instances when James’s ‘business partner’ advised him to obtain the services of lawyer. Naturally, the business partner referred him to someone in the legal profession he knew.
A lawyer was needed because large sums of money were being transferred from one bank to another, and were immediately suspect under the Money Laundering and Fraud regulations. Therefore, it is the lawyer who produces the necessary certificates through official channels to allow the smooth transfer of the money.
It is an entirely different matter that the money never arrives in your particular bank anyway.
Once you have accepted the legal services of a lawyer, they dig in and never let you go, demanding almost as much from you in fees as the ‘business partner’. If you suggest to them that their fees can come out of the massive amount of money you are about to receive, they tell you flatly that it is not possible because they must have their fees up-front.
Our hero, who is now completely hooked on the whole process and has totally ignored all our warnings is now heading for the winning trophy.
WARNING #9: NEVER BELIEVE THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE PHONE OR E-MAIL IS WHO HE OR SHE CLAIMS TO BE.
The number of different professions we have encountered in this scamming business is unbelievable. There have been bank officials, from the lowest to the highest. There have been barristers, reverends, reverend fathers, doctors of philosophy, Government officials, again from the lowest to the highest – which includes two presidents. Further, they are very convincing about their line of work, and they speak with an authority that tolerates very little argument.
So, how can you verify any information about them? This is very difficult. I have looked at bank and organization websites, particularly if the partner is a bank official, but I always draw a blank. These websites seem to be so full of information, you forget what you are looking for in the first place! I also check the Google spam pages and they can be helpful. If you find your ‘partner’ listed as a scam artist, there are no more decisions to be made. Forget about the deal.
Other than getting specific information about themselves, which they are not about to give you, there is really nothing you can do except to believe that they are who they say they are.
Now, returning to our saga of James, PW and Clydesdale. Mr PC had given James a contact at the Financial Services Authority. Mr. X called James as soon as he received the three documents and informed us in order for us to access the money, we were going to have to find £110,000 British Pounds! This was the sum of money necessary to engage Financial Services in clearing the money for the bank.
Finally, it dawned on us – we were never going to see one penny of any of the money that PW had sent, because there was no money. It was all one big, giant, enormous scam – probably perpetrated on many other people who had opened themselves to the opportunity and were stupid enough, like we were, to be fooled.
A day later, Mr. PC phoned and asked us where the £110,000 was, and James let him know, in no uncertain terms, that we knew about the scam. Immediately he hung up and we never heard from him or anyone else again.
We lost $5,300. in this adventure that we could ill-afford to lose. Presumably this was split among the small coterie of scammers.
FINAL WARNING #10: NEVER FORWARD ANY PERSONAL INFORMATION TO ANYONE.
The above information includes methods of identification, e,g, a copy of the information page of your passport; driver’s licenses; bank account numbers and information; credit card numbers and any other material useful for the scammers.
Passport and driver’s license details can prompt identity theft which nobody wants. Credit card details are encouragement for purchases to be run up to the maximum on your credit card. Bank account numbers – that’s asking for trouble. Your account could be compromised at any time.
One final warning on this sad, sad state of affairs. James has never given up trying. He firmly believes one day his ship will come in and he will be there waiting. With this attitude comes all the problems that an addiction creates in a family and the addict will never be swayed.
As I’ve said before, this is an insidious business; please, dear readers, keep away from all things scam.