MOST of us will be familiar with the old ‘Nigerian Princess’ scam, or similar sob stories which land in our email boxes with depressing regularity.
Typically, victims are sent an email from a fictional overseas dignitary offering a share of a multi-million dollar inheritance if only they help get the money out of the country – by handing over their bank details.
We have wised up to these improbable-sounding stories, but phone, email and social networking scams are becoming ever more subtle.
Readers from Flintshire, Wrexham and Chester contacted the Leader to say they had fallen for email scams, official-looking websites, unsolicited phone calls and been tricked by unscrupulous individuals posting dishonest adverts on social media and legitimate websites like Gumtree.com.
Among the victims was the elderly father of Mark Richardson, 37, of Wrexham.
Mr Richardson said: “I regularly get ‘phishing scam’ emails – messages pretending to be from from banks or official-sounding companies that tempt you into entering your details – but I ignore them. My father, who is 62, is less tech savvy, although he used to be an accountant.
“He was targeted by phone scammers claiming to be from Microsoft. He gave them access to his computer and they showed him what they said were ‘problem files’.
“Fortunately, he realised what was happening when they asked him for money to fix the computer. He pulled his modem out and cut the call.
“He was really embarrassed, because he’s not a gullible character normally, but they make a point of sounding plausible.
“Now he won’t use the computer, just in case.”
Mr Richardson’s father is not alone. Last week, the Leader told of how up to four million UK people a year fall for fraudsters, according to the Citizens Advice Bureau which has branches in Mold, Wrexham and Chester.
Now a Connah’s Quay man is fighting back through the power of satire.
Phil Woods is a founders of The Daily Skid, an online satirical magazine which has also done a certain amount of trade in pulling the wool over people’s eyes – albeit in a harmless and humorous way.
Mr Woods, 42, said: “The site gets up to 500,000 visitors a day. It got a big boost recently when I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about politicians in the Philippines considering changing the name of the country to the ‘Benipines’, as: ‘Naming the country after someone called Philip is both dated and wrong.’
“The media in the Philippines got onto it and we got a lot of messages from people around the world who didn’t quite get the joke.”
But Mr Woods thinks financial scams are no laughing matter.
He said: “My father was targeted by a phone scam. It was the Microsoft virus scam, and basically he handed over several hundred pounds.
“These scammers target the older generation and the less tech-savvy. I think they must work from a list. The only reason I learned about it was because my father rang me up and said he thought something wasn’t right.
“Hundreds of pounds is a lot to lose when you are in your 70s, but what’s worse is the effects after the scam.
“He was very upset. My father had a heart bypass in the late 80s and he’s lucky to have lived this long.
“He suffers from pains and something like this, without wanting to be too dramatic, I really think it could have killed him.”
Mr Woods thinks the best weapon in the fight against scams is knowledge and, if scammers are reaching people, through the internet, then the internet can be used against them.
He has already made fun of the ‘Nigerian Princess’ scam in a popular satirical article, with lines like: “They (the princesses) have sent in the region of 74 billion emails pleading for help from people in the western world, often offering big sums of money in return for assistance.
“Unfortunately, there has been a lack of response from overly-cautious people, meaning these royals must live in abject poverty despite having money tied up in secret bank accounts.”
Now he is trying something a little different, by taking a stab both at bankers and the anonymous scammers behind phishing scams.
He said: “The way we can combat this is to raise awareness of scams, whatever form they take.
“My latest article, which went online this weekend, is a joke revelation that all these emails you get are actually sent out by low-level bankers trying to supplement their income.”
Despite tongue-in-cheek lines suggesting people who fall for these scams are actually making a charitable donation to bankers “struggling on £30 an hour”, the article has a serious side.
It explains what a phishing scam is and how they work.
Mr Woods said: “I have a vision of Britain where OAPs receive special training to deal with scammers.”
In Mr Woods’ vision, elderly people are trained by police officers to ignore email scams, close the door on dodgy dealers and are given a list of excuses when contacted by scammers over the phone.
And first on the list is: “Actually, I don’t have a computer.”
Mr Woods said: “I have a dream of all the scam artists having to shut down their operations because canny OAPs foil them at every turn, and they have to get real jobs.
“Of course, that isn’t likely to happen any time soon.
“We’ll never really stop them. Scammers adapt their techniques, but if we get the message out there and get people to think before they hand over their details and trust, then that’s a way of fighting back.”
With a potential readership of half a million, Mr Woods hopes to reach as many people as possible and remind family members to speak to elderly relatives about the issue.
See full story in the Leader