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Scams & Cons


A fraudulent business scheme devised to directly or indirectly take your money, property, personal information, or the ultimate... your identity.

Click on the title to see the complete hoax text, a description, brief history, reporting date in a new browser window. In many cases, the hoax description site may also include reactions from hoax subjects, an extensive history, and provide links to additional analysis and interviews.

How to Spot a Scam



World Currency Cartel - This scam would be laughable if only people hadn't fallen for it. A group calling itself the World Currency Cartel (aka Wealth Exchange Inc. of Beverly Hills CA) will show you how you can continually quadruple your money by taking advantage of a flaw in the system. This incredible offer will only cost you $29 + $5 for shipping unless you are responding after 8/15/99, then the fee rises to $195 + $5 shipping. This is a hoax. Of course you will never see your money again, let alone a membership card. The supposed testimonials from some of America's most respected financial publications should be anyone's first clue - they are poorly written and contain many grammatical errors. The link that CIAC provides on it's site is no longer valid.

4-1-9 Advance Fee Fraud / Nigerian Scam - This scam has taken many different forms since it's inception in the 1920's, but they all work the same way. The scam begins when you receive an email from someone in a foreign country (usually Nigeria, but more recently Iraq). They supposedly have a large amont of money that they need to get out of their country, and you can help by opening a legitimate bank account to transfer their money into. Of course the type of account you'll need to open requires a substantial initial deposit... which you'll provide. For all your effort you get to keep a good percentage of their transfered funds. This scam ends when they clean out the account without ever making a deposit. This is a scam. Check out CIAC's description and links, then link to the U.S. Secret Service for their very detailed Public Awareness Advisory.

CIAC offers the text of the other variants of this scam, and Scam-o-Rama submits this letter supposedly from the Emir of Bahrain, one of hundreds they detail on their site, where they also try to scam the scammers. editor Douglas Cruickshank, offers his take on this scam. reports that there is a variant of this scam aimed at Mormons as discussed in a Better Business Bureau article.

As usual, has an in-depth discussion of this scam on it's web site with additional links to the "419 Coalition" web site, Better Business Bureau's "Nigerian Rip-off" article, and "Nigerian Letter Scams Go High-Tech" article.

The link that CIAC provides to a "Baptist pastor" variant is no longer valid.

You Are the Winner of a Foreign Lottery - In this scam you are informed that you drew the lucky numbers in a foreign lottery... even though you don't remember entering. In follow-up email you are informed that there is a procesing fee. This is a hoax. Versions of this scam come from "De Lotto Netherlands", "Delotto Netherlands Sweepstakes Lottery", "Diamond Lotto South Africa", "Alpha Lottery International", Weltlotto-Firma World Lotto / International Programs", and the "International Lotto Commission" in collaboration with "El Gordo de la Primitiva". Note that the "official" announcements are loaded with faux legalese, are poorly written, and contain the American English spellings of words rather than the expected Euro-English spellings... foreign - unlikely. has a very good discussion of this type of hoax along with it's history.

Area Code 809 Scam - This scam gulls phone customers into placing calls to area codes in the Caribbean that result in exorbitant long distance charges. The ruse begins when you find a message on your answering machine, voice mail, or pager telling you that you have won a prize, or that someone has died or been arrested. You are asked to call a phone number in the 242, 284, 787, or 809 area codes, where the answering party tries to keep you on the line for as long as possible. Charges can be as outrageous as $2,425.00 per minute, and it's not unusual for the total to be more than $24,000.00. Since such foreign calls are not regulated by U.S. laws you are stuck with the bill. This is a hoax.

Read more about this scam at the National Fraud Information Center, and at the AT&T Fraud Education web site. Look up area codes at the Telecommunications Research & Action Center (TRAC).

Spam Scams - We've all been scammed by this one... a seemingly legal disclaimer at th bottom of an unsolicited email that reads:

"This message is sent in compliance with the new email bill section 301. Under Bill S.1618 TITLE III passed by the 105th U.S. Congress this message cannot be considered Spam as long as we include the way to be removed, Paragraph (a)(c) of S.1618. Further transmissions to you by the sender of this email may be stopped at no cost to you by sending request to be removed to"

This is a hoax. Not only is this disclaimer NOT legal, the legislation cited is a mix of other laws... non of which deal with spam. "Bill section 301", "Bill S. 1618", and "Title III" are all unrelated.

When you attempt to remove your email address by following the instructions given, your name is added to even more junk mail lists.

Cartridge Donation Scam - This scam claims that for every used pinter cartridge you send to an address in Fairfax VA, they will donate a $1 to the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund (a real fund). This is a hoax. There are lots of twists and turns in this story as detailed on CIAC's site.

Black Inheritance Tax Refund / Slavery Reparation Scam - This is probably the second most widely believed scam of this type. The chain letter claims that the U.S. Government has finally passed a bill that would reimburse all descendants of slaves. The fund supposedly set up for this purpose is named the "Black Inheritance Tax Refund / 40 Acres and a Mule". You are instructed to call an 800 number where, for $100, they will help you apply for this federal reimbursement. This is a hoax. There is NO such fund, nor has the Government or Congress ever decided to establish such a fund or otherwise settle this controversial issue.

PayPal System Update Scam - This scam, and others like it, are extremely dangerous. This email scam asks you to go to a website to update your PayPal information. The message is in HTML, so the link's target, "", isn't readily apparent. This is a hoax. The Russian web site, "", has already been shut down, but had it not been, and you followed the instructions, you would have allowed these crooks to access all the money in your account.

International Driver's License Scam - The creators of these scams want you to believe that an international driver's license can replace your state/ province/ country driver's license... a perfect solution for anyone with a bad driving record, too many points, or other "trouble". This is a hoax. The many variants of this scam claim that the license can never be suspended or revolked; that you can avoid tickets, fines, and mandatory driver's education; that you can use it to get into nightclubs and check into hotels; that you can protect your privacy and hide your identity.

The truth of the matter is that:

a) "International driver's licenses" do not exist as advertised. The document these scams allude to is called an "International Driving Permit" (IDP).

b) An International Driving Permit is a booklet containing 11 language translations of the information found on your real state/province driver's license.

c) To obtain an IDP, you must already have a valid driver's license. The IDP must be used in conjunction with your valid driver's license... i.e. in countries where it matters, law enforcement expects to see both documents.

d) Some countries require IDP's, some prefer that you have one - but don't require it, and some countries don't care. Showing an IDP inside the U.S. is pointless if you're an American, and won't impress any law enforcement officer.

e) Only the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (thru the National Automobile Club) are authorized by the U.S. State Department to issue IDP's to Americans.

f) Obtaining an IDP doesn't erase your points or alter your driving record.

g) Your state/province driver's license can still be suspended or revolked... rendering your IDP useless.

h) You can still be ticketed, fined, arrested, jailed, and be compelled to attend driver's education classes.

i) IDP's are not recognized by businesses as valid ID in the U.S. In foreign countries, if you're underage your IDP will just confirm that fact, making nightclubs off-limits. It will, however, help those of age.

j) If you think you can obtain an IDP with a differnt birthdate... think again, and try falsifying your birthdate in Russian, Chinese, and Arabic!!!!!

k) Your privacy will not be improved, and your identity will not be hidden.

The only thing that will happen is that you will loose all your money.

Check out AAA's Guide to International Driver's Permits.

Troop, Veteran, War Orphan Money Raising Scams - With the start of the Iraq war there are a multitude of new scams (email, web site, telemarketing) that pretend to raise money for "the troops", their loved ones, disabled veterans, homeless veterans, and "war orphans". Other scams purport to be donating a portion of their profits to various legitimate charities like the American Red Cross, and at least one scam is selling $2 "novelty dollars" that they supposedly will be sending to U.S. soldiers in the Middle East for as long as the money keeps coming in. Beware of "Support Our Troops" t-shirts sold online, "Adopt-a-Soldier" programs, and organized efforts to send greeting cards and personal hygiene kits to the troops. Watch for email and web sites that employ hysteria as a way to generate sales. Such sites are selling Potassium Iodide or "nuke pills" to those who think Iraq or maybe even North Korea will be shooting back. Telemarketers are also in on the scams with some posing as government agents, as are door-to-door salesmen offering to build "safe shelters". Check out the Better Business Bureau's advisory at the link above.

KaZaA Gold Scam - There's not much on this yet, but it looks like someone named Sonia Thompson has taken a program called "KaZaALite" (itself said to be an unauthorized hack of Sharman's KaZaA), a free music/video sharing program, and is selling it through the web site for a "one-time fee" of $9.95 for a download, $6.87 for a CD, or $29.95 for a premium download, to unsuspecting web surfers. The site advertises the free non-lite version, but requires a name and email address to enter. Unverified: Once inside, the unsuspecting victim finds that nothing is free. In a few reported cases, those who have made the purchase have found that Ms Thompson apparently defines "one-time fee" as "recurring monthly charge". Not making a purchase starts a flood of computer-generated email from Sonia asking you to buy "her" program. Any way you look at it, this is a scam. The support email address provided for KaZaA Gold is bogus... if you've been taken, try using the following email address to file a complaint with the site owner: soniathompson9@hotmail. Apparently a few people have actually gotten their money back directly from Sonia - a thief with heart? Saavy buyers will not hesitate to dispute the charge with their credit card companies. If you've paid by check or direct debit, you're probably out of luck.

Even though seems to be the only scam, all versions of this program are controversial:

KaZaA Gold - As described above, this is nothing more than a scam. KaZaA Gold is a money-making scheme that sells an otherwise free hack of a legitimate program that is also free. Run, don't walk, away from this web site... and one Ms Sonia Thompson.

KaZaALite - This is an unauthorized hack of Sharman's KaZaA that is distributed by pay-for-use music-sharing sites like Parasidic code found in the legitimate version is supposedly stripped (aka "trimmed") out of this version.

Sharman's KaZaA - Sources indicate that KaZaA's free software (Kazaa 2.1) contains parasidic code (aka "Spyware") that users may want to avoid. Apparently the unauthorized KaZaALite version strips out the parasidic code, thus the "lite".



AOL members should read the information AOL provides in the online help section of their Member Services. While signed on to AOL, click the "Keyword" button and type "help" then click the "Go" button. On the "Member Services" screen click "Online Safety and Security" then select from the list of topics by double-clicking.

From AOL Member Services: Recognizing Online Scams

AOL Database Corruption Scam - This scam email leads you to believe that AOL has experienced a fatal error, and lost most of your account information. The email directs you to a web page where you are asked to re-enter all of your AOL billing information. This is a hoax. To view the fake pop-up and fake AOL Billing Center web page click here.

AOL Give-away Scam - AOL scams are rampant, and most are quickly shut down. This particular one collects your account information under the guise that you are entering an AOL member contest. This is a hoax.

You Have a Secret Admirer Scam - This AOL scam lures you to a non-AOL web site that asks for your personal information. This is a hoax. Click here to view the full text, sender, and subject.

The AOL Insta-Kiss Scam - This AOL scam leads you to believe that an un-named person has sent you an Insta-Kiss. This is a hoax. This scam is recirculating. Some versions of this scam include a message with link(s), some only a link. In any case, DO NOT click the link - actually bringing up the web page that asks for your screen name and password can freeze AOL's software and cause you to "force quit" AOL or restart your computer. Click here to view the full text, sender, and subject.

AOL Prize Patrol Scam - This scam would have you believe that there is such thing as an "AOL Gifts Team", and they have selected you, out of 10,000 other people, to win a big-screen TV, cell phone, stereo, or 2 years of AOL. This is a hoax. Click here to view the full text, sender, and subject.

NOTE: This site was closed down before we could get a screen shot... AOL investigators usually take immediate action when they receive notice of new scams.

Instant Message 888 Number Billing Scam - Via an IM, this scam asks you to call an 888 number. When you call the phone number the message asks for your name, address, full credit card number, and expiration date.

AOL MEMBERS: All valid AOL contact phone numbers can be found at Keyword "Call AOL". AOL asks you to click the "Notify AOL" button on your Instant Message window to report the violation. AOL staff will NEVER ask you for your password or billing information. For more information on the latest scams and schemes, go to Keyword "Neighborhood Watch" and click on "Suggested Safeguards".

Instant Message Petition Hoax - We classify this as a hoax not a scam. Check out the discussion of this type of AOL hoax on our Chain Letters page in the "Petitions" sub section.

AOL Greeting Card Scam - This type of scam uses an email attachment that claims to be an online greeting card. The file is actually a trojan horse program that asks for your billing information as registration before you can read the "greeting card". Any information you enter is sent by the trojan horse to the scammer.

AOL offfers suggestions for spotting a trojan horse in our Malicious Code Alert Center.

Password Stealing Schemes

According to AOL, there are 4 general categories of password stealing schemes intended to trick you (or your computer) into revealing your password. These schemes are sometimes referred to as "password phishing".

The So-Called Online Technical Consultant - This is a fictitious group claiming to help you with problems relating to passwords, line noise, or hackers.

The So-Called Hacker Enforcer - Although AOL does have employees that work to prevent hacking, they would never contact you via an IM or in a private chat room. AOL staff would never ask you for your password.

The So-Called Billing, Credit, or CAT Department - Although AOL does have a billing department, they do NOT use IM's to contact members. AOL staff would never ask you for your password.

The Trojan Horse - Trojan horses come to your mailbox as email attachments disguised as software, screen savers, photos, or some other kind of attachment. If you mistakenly download one of these attachements, the trojan horse program captures your password and mails it back to the hacker's email address. AOL says: Never download files sent to you from people you don't know.

Check out these scam letter samples gathered by AOL.

AOL Billing Scams - This type of scam intends to trick you into giving out your credit card information. Click here to view the full text of one such scam.

800 Number Scheme - This scam is a bit more ingenious. Instead of the email asking for your password or credit card number, you are given a PIN and an 800 number to dial. When you connect and enter the PIN, you hear a very official sounding request to speak your credit card number, password, or some other very personal information. Although it sounds like a legitimate AOL recording, it is not. Check any number you are asked to call against the list of valid AOL phone numbers at Keyword "Call AOL".

BlackJack Scheme / Trojan Horse - AOL has encountered a very destructive trojan horse (BJSETUP.EXE) that not only steals your password, it also renders your computer unuseable. Read about this scam in our Malicious Code Alert Center.


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