NOTES ON FRAUD --- Your New Best Friend, The Tooth Fairy

An email arrives, out of the blue, announcing that you've fortuitously won $9 million in some mysterious foreign lottery.

Isn't life just filled with surprises!

So, your new best friend is the Tooth Fairy.

Thanks to the email revolution, which has changed the way the world communicates, conmen and scammers have fast, easy and dirt-cheap access to in-boxes by the hundreds of millions.

In the old days, they had to use snail-mail and their success rate was 1-2%. Not bad for any direct mail campaign, but still a costly way of doing business. To make it work, they had to steal phone books from around the world so they knew who to write to. (After the 1966 Atlanta Olympics, for instance, every hotel in town reported dozens of phone books had disappeared from the rooms. Two months later, Atlanta was bombarded with millions of scam letters.)

Then, they had to pay hundreds of people to work under sweatshop conditions addressing envelopes. Not willing to pay for postage, the fraudsters printed counterfeit stamps, which meant that hundreds of thousands of scam letters were regularly intercepted by postal authorities and never delivered.

Today, to reach 15 million people, they can buy that many email addresses for as little as $300-$500, then program a bunch of laptops to spew out emails overnight. Granted, many people rely on spam filters to keep junk out of their in-boxes, so the success rate with email is much lower than with snail mail. But email means the crooks can reach 50 or 100 times as many people for no real cost.

Does it really matter that you've never heard of this lottery you just won?

All you have to do to claim your prize is pay a minimal fee so that a certified check can be over-nighted to you, supposedly by Fedex or UPS, from the official lottery prize office in Spain (or Ireland, Nigeria, Canada, Bangkok, Finland, Peru, some place, any place). The cost of the overnight envelope, including handling, is a mere $92. A small price to pay for life changing money.

But a foolish price to pay for thin air.

Now consider this. If the Tooth Fairy sends out 15 million emails and gets back one positive response for every 10,000, that translates to a return of $1,380,000. Next week, say, only 10 million emails go out. The week after that, perhaps 12 million. And so it goes. Week after week. Because there is always a small percentage of people who will fall for it, this is a full-time, highly lucrative business.

Yes, life is indeed filled with surprises.

Like when you put that first lost tooth under your pillow and found 25-cents there the next morning.

Unfortunately, life is also filled with certain indisputable truths, such as  these three things I know to be true:

* Luck and greed are not the same thing.

* No one is going to send you money just because you have an email address.

* If you didn't buy a ticket, you didn't win the lottery!  


© Jeffrey Robinson, 2010, 2012