Earlier today I received the following email from a lovely gentleman who called himself Mr Helenkoka Idaho. The email appears to have been sent to my Facebook account and forwarded onto my Gmail where it was caught in the spam folder. It was clearly a very poor attempt at a scam but I couldn’t just ignore it; not with a 50/50 share of $9.5million USD at stake!
Knowing full well that there is no Toshifumi Borthwick in my extended family, I felt silly for Googling the name just to be sure. No, none exists (or existed?), at least not a Toshifumi Borthwick with any internet presence. I wasn’t expecting one as Borthwick is a Scottish name, Toshifumi is Japanese and this made up man had an account in Togo of all places. Seems a little too Geographically random doesn’t it? This is because the first “phishing” emails are usually always generated by a spam bot and the Helenkoka Idaho would have likely been computer generated too.
You should never reply to fraudsters in case they turn nasty but I had to see if I could get the asshole to respond to me despite my email being weird and outlandish. Any normal person would surely recognise the stupidity and call me out on it. So I set up a fake email address, called myself David and tried to strike up conversation with him (or her, could be a girl but for the rest of the article I will assume it’s a man):
I even set up the throwaway google account with a suitably stupid email address (in the same style as his) to address his desire for secrecy but mainly to prevent him getting my real email – the spam letter had come through Facebook email after all – and I could close down the fake account if things got ugly.
In case the first half of my response was too idiotic, I tried to catch his attention again by mentioning I had been scammed before and asking him if he knew of any friends who would like some money to travel to live with a millionaire. With the glaring silliness I was sure that would be the end of it but no, scammers are greedy and less than 24 hours later the following came through:
He must have noticed the weirdness in my first response as he commented: “I must say that I do not contact your family by mistake!” However the scammer is not a beast that gives up easily and he continues. He writes how he would be stupid to give up this opportunity which is a clever way of getting the potential victim (me in this case) to think that they would be stupid if they don’t go along with it and gives a deadline of the end of the year in which to complete the deal before others could claim the money. The first requests are for my address, occupation and my telephone number. Notice he is not asking for my bank details, this would be a red flag for most victims so instead a request for the copy of my identity follows and this is where things start to get dangerous. With the three bits of info and a copy of the passport or driving licence a world of identity theft opens up for him. He could try contacting various companies with my address and date of birth and, if they fall for the blag, he could begin to get access to my online accounts. He might even apply for credit in my name which could be disastrous and, even if the applications get blocked, would affect my credit score.
It was a friday night so I allowed myself a chuckle and then went back to enjoying my weekend. This clearly concerned Mr Idaho as he thought he had a hooked a victim and by Sunday I had received the following:
I couldn’t leave poor Mr Idaho in his state of torment so I decided to email him one last time.
Surely he would give up now? I had gone “full retard” (see the film Tropic Thunder if you haven’t already) on him and he was undoubtedly going to realise I was messing about. Bizarrely he emailed me back just a few hours later with the following:
Such sweet sincere condolences from a man who would rob me blind if given half a chance! What I have noticed is, despite my full understanding that this is a regular old scam – the tried and tested “Nigerian Prince” or advance-fee fraud scam (aka 419 scam) – there is a tiny bit of me that wondered “what if” (<– important link if you’ve never heard of XKCD)? What if I ended up with $4.2m dollars? Or worse, what if I ignored him and lost the opportunity to be a multimillionaire?
It may sound strange to you but there is a reason why so many people fall for these scams and surprisingly it is not greed. It is the same reason people play the lottery (or fear flying) despite it being more likely you’ll have identical quadruplets or become an astronaut than win the lottery! It is because we like to believe things that are statistically very unlikely to happen to us, are considerably more so. We want to feel special, chosen or lucky (even unlucky in the case of aviophobia*). Ask anyone what they would spend their winnings on if they won the lottery and I guarantee they will reel of a list without thinking and it’s because we have all thought about it and in our heads we’ve already planned where the money will go. Never be ashamed if you think you have been caught up in a scam. If you have sent money you should stop emailing the person/persons immediately and report it to the police. If you are in the UK you can report scams at the ActionFraud website, or by calling ActionFraud on 0300 123 2040, where you will be given advice and guided through the steps to secure your bank accounts and prevent any further loss.
Anyhow, it’s been a busy few weeks since my last exchange with Mr Helenkoka Idaho. I haven’t emailed him back but I am still receiving regular check ups from him (copied text from his “worried about you” email). I’m keen to see if I he will still take the bait if I get back in touch but I’m all out of ideas as how to continue. If any of you have any thoughts please leave a comment below and I will certainly give it a shot.
*By the way you are 10 times more likely to go to ER with a pogo stick related injury than die in a plane crash. I have struggled with a fear of flying and will be making a post soon about how I eventually got over it with the help of the Easyjet “Fearless Flyer” course and I highly recommend the course for anyone with a phobia of flying.