A few weeks ago at work, I was at the greeting/customer service kiosk. I was approached by a young girl, who asked about a routing number for incoming wire transfers. She was very concerned about getting the number correct, because she was expecting a “large transfer” into her account.
Some customers consider $600.00 a “large” sum of money. Others may consider $30,000.00 a drop in the bucket. With this in mind, as I proceeded to procure the number she was asking about, I started a conversation with her. As I do with anyone expecting a wire, I started with a simple question.
*Where are the funds coming from?
There are different codes necessary for international transfers, so this question is necessary to ensure proper fund transference. It also gives me a jumping point for more questions…to delve a little bit deeper, usually without seeming too forward.
After the young girl states that the transfer will be coming from South Africa, my concerns blossom. Which leads to another question.
*Do you have relatives in South Africa?
If relatives or close friends were sending the money, my fears would quickly subside.
She tells me that she DOES NOT know anyone personally in South Africa, but that a lawyer has contacted her regarding an inheritance that a distant relative has left her. Immediately, I know that this poor, naive girl is getting scammed. So my questions get more personal. The next question I ask is purely my curious side being nosy, the others are to help her avoid any identity theft or fraud issues that may arise.
*How much money are you expecting? *Are you positive that this “deceased relative” really existed? *Have you researched the attorney or his company?
After inquiring about the amount of money she was expecting, she leaned toward me and whispered “thirty million five hundred thousand”. My jaw dropped, and I know that as soon as she saw the look of disbelief and concern on my face, she also realized that something was wrong. She was not sure that the “relative” that passed had ever existed. The “lawyer” had not even provided the name of the girl’s relative! When asked if she had researched the attorney or his company, she reached into her backpack, and provided “documentation” about said relative. This piece of paper had little more than the “name” of the attorney, the amount to be wired, and a fake South African notary symbol with an unrecognizable signature and no printed name. Nearly anyone would look at this and discard it immediately, luckily, they found a sucker. Even luckier for her, she came to me.
I first advised her to visit the authorities and see if there is anything they would be able to do. I’m not even sure how she was initially contacted by the “attorney”, but if it was by mail, there may be something that the police can do. I also suggested that she consult with an attorney to see if there may be any legal recourse. I am pretty sure that they would not be able to do much, but it could not hurt to try. My last piece of advice was to go online and try to find out if the law firm that was representing the supposed estate was legitimate. I do not recall the name of the firm, but chances are that with a little bit of research, she would find that no such firm exists, or if they do, there are a number of fraud claims against them that would not be difficult to locate.
Because the girl was looking for a routing number, I asked if she had already provided her account number to the attorney. I already knew the answer, but I needed to hear the affirmation directly from her. After the inevitable “yes”, all that I could do was tell her to keep extremely close tabs on her account activity. At the first sign of anything unusual, I told her to report it to the fraud department. I gave her the necessary phone number and other contact information and reassured her that if this was in fact fraud, she would not be liable for any activity. I also let her know that in a worst case scenario, from the banking perspective, the worst that would happen is having to close her account and re-open a new one. The other worst case scenario is much more grim and involves identity theft. If they have more information than her account number and email address, she could encounter much more grief.
I hate to see this happen to anyone, but isolated cases like this just end up serving as a lesson to so many others.
1) If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
We all get junk emails similar to the one that this girl responded to. Do your homework! If you can not find legimitacy for a particular organization or person, do not follow up on it.
2) Protect your information.
You are your own “brand”. Treat your finances like you are running a business. Do not give away your “company secrets” to people who will use them unwisely.
3) Scams are EVERYWHERE.
Be wary of everyone, especially those you do not know. If you are intrigued by offers like the one above, that means you are greedy. You are just dealing with someone who is greedier (and perhaps smarter) than you. You are not a customer to them, you are a mark. Do not be a mark.