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Countries from where internet fraud originates and some tips to counter it

September 15, 2008

Someone we knew almost fell for a job offer in Nigeria where the salary offered was $5000 a month – all after a telephonic interview! Being a highly qualified professional who had worked in the best international organisations he believed that he could be offered a job over the telephone…! However after some checking he realised that he had been had. If intelligent people can fall for such offers you can imagine the plight of the common man.

There is no dearth of internet frauds today. A few days ago the Reserve Bank of India warned against fraudsters who offered money on the “pretext of helping in business ventures”. A little later they ask for small amounts of money for different reasons. Forged documents by way of “references” and “receipts” are produced to dupe people.

Internet fraudsters are increasingly targeting Indians as there is a lot of new wealth in India. Instances of India as a source of the frauds is also increasing, some say due to increased internet penetration and broadband availability.

Some Tips to avoid being cheated

1. If you are buying from a website or wanting to participate in a scheme keep these pointers in mind: (Sources [1] and [2])

  • Be on guard against unsolicited offers
  • Don’t be impressed with a fancy website as it is easy to make one
  • Get the physical addresses of people and companies and verify them
  • Be very cautious of sellers outside your own country
  • Don’t trust a site just because it claims to be secure
  • Beware of spam email as spyware often “nests” in it
  • Beware of e-cards from unknown sources as these too can contain spyware
  • Don’t believe that an email comes from a reputed site just because it says so

2. If you are looking for investment advise (Source)

  • Don’t blindly trust investment advise coming via emails, online newsletters or websites as these writers are often paid by the companies concerned
  • Don’t blindly believe the “casual” advise you come across on bulletin boards, discussion or chat forums. These too can be used for this type of fraud. False messages can be posted and often the same person could do it under multiple identities

If you want to invest in any company, it’s best that you yourself investigate each company thoroughly.

3. Look for the warning signs: (Sources: [1]and [2] and [3].

  • Anyone offering you large sums of money, a lucrative job (even if it is a work-at-home opportunity) or offering to invest in your company -  particularly if these offers are unsolicited. These offers often come in forged emails, purporting to come from reputed companies
  • Money demands – for “airport clearance”, “VAT”, “courier charges” and the like

Countries from where the most internet scams originate (Source: [1]): Ukraine, Indonesia, Yugoslavia, Lithunia, Egypt, Romania, Turkey, Russia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Israel and Nigeria.

What about India and China as sources of internet fraud?
Although both countries countries have been in the news lately for the hacking skills of their populace, they are not in the top ten, and even recent figures seem to confirm this.

However, Business Week quotes figures where 31 percent of the world’s unique Web sites with malware are China-based. A BW journalist also writes on his blog that India’s share of hosting such dubious sites may have been “next to nothing” as late as 2005-06 but by the beginning of 2007 India’s share has increased to  3 percent which he feels is due to improving broadband penetration.

America leads in phishing sites of the world.
Phishing is “the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication” and the United States is the world leader here according to this site (2006):

While phishing is not the only way to commit internet fraud it is rather disturbing to see India at 8 percent. And these statistics are already a couple of years old. I won’t be surprised if our share has increased.

(Photo credits: The first photo of the RBI ad is by me and the second image on Phishing is from arstechnica.com)

Related Reading: Beware of cyber stalking – data, tips for prevention and where to complain
People are careless with their personal information online

Other articles on the Internet on this blog.

40 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2008 10:01 am

    Nita,
    It is very unfortunate that people fall for such frauds.
    It is not just Indians who fall for the 419 Scam.

    People fail to realize that making money is not easy, and so fall easily the 419 traps in spite of repeated warnings from authorities.

    -Nikhil

  2. September 15, 2008 10:18 am

    @ Nita

    It could be misleading to assess phishing fraud by the location of the host server. Many people do not necessarily host in their own countries – I know I don’t host in the UK and I know many Indian sites are not hosted in India. As Indians get wealthier, phishing scams, which at the moment target customers of western financial institutions and banks, will definitely grow in India.

    I think both financial literacy and web literacy need to grow in step with each other. Otherwise that old adage of a fool and his money soon parting comes to pass rather quickly.

  3. September 15, 2008 10:18 am

    Nita,
    These fraud were once reported by a news channel here in the States. And I was amazed by the lack of basic knowledge and instincts these people have whilst some one else conning them across the globe. Being wealthy the quicker way is very much in people’s agenda and if they continue in this deadly path of ignorance, the consequences would reveal lethally.

    People seems to be reckless and irresponsible. Grow up for heaven sake!

    http://wescribble.blogspot.com/

  4. September 15, 2008 10:23 am

    @ Nita

    I re-read my comment and realised how funny the first para reads. :-)

    I should have clarified saying ‘when businesses without mal-intent also do not necessarily host in their own countries, why would fraudsters?’ I wouldn’t be surprised that fraudsters move servers often too, which is a moving target to track.

    The definition of ‘jurisdiction’ on the web is also quite fuzzy. Kazaa used this to protect itself from copyright violation lawsuits for many years. Why wouldn’t fraudsters?

  5. Nitin Mahajan permalink
    September 15, 2008 10:40 am

    My grandfather,who is located in the US,received an email from one of these Nigerian scamsters about 6 months back.
    Being in his late 70s and not very internet savvy,he basically believes everything he comes across on the net.
    This African guy was asking for money to support his wife who,he said,has to walk 25 miles everyday to fetch water.He even sent him her photo.
    Fortunately,one of my grandfather’s more worldly wise friends sat down with him and together they googled “Poor African women” and there she was. :)

    One of my friends,received a letter saying he has won a Spanish lottery worth $130 million,but to kindly part with $250, so that the money can be released in to his account.
    These scamsters had got his address off the internet [he found out as his name was incorrectly spelled on the letter ,same as on the online telephone directory].
    Now this friend of mine,is not gullible at all and prides himself on being an intellectual[ he is too].But he was excited for 4 days till it dawned on him,that you cannot win a lottery,if you haven’t purchased a ticket!

  6. September 15, 2008 10:42 am

    well,some small things which people can do before entering a site is type https and see the certificate of the site they are entering…

  7. September 15, 2008 11:05 am

    It’s not only about the fraud in terms of financials…but the fraud in terms of wrong informations to…which is spreding “information pollution” on the net..
    to get any information we just put a google search..and are exposed to thousands of sites…but are not sure how authentic their information is…..i’ve scene many times blatantly wrong informations on wikipedia

  8. Nitin Mahajan permalink
    September 15, 2008 11:30 am

    @V Mittal,
    //but the fraud in terms of wrong informations to…which is spreding “information pollution”//
    I saw Salman Rushdie at Google Talks where he mentioned the same point about how if you want to research something,one tends to hit a brick wall.You might be able to find it on Youtube.
    The net has a lot of width but lacks in depth.
    Unless you have access to scholarly works through university databases,you have to sift through loads of garbage and are still not guaranteed to find what you want.

  9. September 15, 2008 11:58 am

    As Shefaly also put, I believe its not right to blame a hosting service of being responsible for hosting most of the mal – content on the web, as in usual cases, due to the sheer volume of discounts and offers on US/ S.E Asian hosting services, people all over the world usually end up hosting with these providers v/s the hosting services available within the country of origin of the website.

    A more validated mechanism might be to check the ‘whois’ information of a website (http://www.whois.net/) which might provide better information regarding the website origin.

  10. September 15, 2008 12:29 pm

    I got some scam mails myself. And one of them was hilarious. It was from a widow of man who left her millions of dollars and she wanted me to share the fortune hahaha. She had also attached a photo of big suitcase filled with money :D :D

    Common sense is most crucial ingredient in solution to these money fraud scams. Most of people don’t pay close attention to simple things.

    Why don’t you add *Simply use common sense* to your Tips as #1 ?

    Cheers

  11. September 15, 2008 12:44 pm

    Nita, if I add up the lottery money I won in the past 3 months, I could be competing with Warren Buffet in terms of wealth! But I chose not to mess with people I did not know. I asked myself some questions
    1.How did I win a lottery if I did not buy a ticket
    ?
    2. How did my email address win a lottery ticket – they did not know my name?
    3. If I had won a genuine lottery would I have to part with my bank details?

    No regrets for the path I have taken. All those lottery winnings sounded too good for my kind of luck!

  12. Nitin Mahajan permalink
    September 15, 2008 12:47 pm

    @Suda
    The 2 most common spam emails I get involve penile enlargements and offers to make me an instant millionaire.
    I have yet to come across an email which offers both at the same time!From what I have heard its almost impossible.Now that would be something, wouldn’t it?lol

  13. September 15, 2008 1:01 pm

    I would just say if it sounds too good to be true it probably is not. A lot of phishing takes place exploiting the victims greed. In our brave new world of “instant” we want everything now and not later.

  14. September 15, 2008 2:26 pm

    @Nitin
    Wow, what an idea sirji :D
    I also get pills mails but they are so unprofessional :P that I don’t feel like looking at them before emptying the spam folder.

  15. September 15, 2008 5:00 pm

    Nikhil, Odzer, human greed I guess triumphs and the desire to make a quick buck.

    Shefaly, Aathira, You have brought out an important point…the server doesn’t necessarily mean the “who is” behind it is from the same country. However, those stats site did mention that the single largest company involved in phishing is a south korean company although s korea is not number one in phishing. About the Indian phishing sites, I wonder know many host Indian fraudsters, it would be interesting to find out. That 8 percent seems rather high doesn’t it.

    Nitin, thanks for sharing that experience. Even I wonder how intelligent people lack this basic common sense!

    Vishesh, didn’t get you.

    Vivek Mittal, Wiki can be edited by anybody therefore you will find wrong information there. However to give wiki credit, they do monitor and act on complaints. Unfortunately wiki looks down on blogs and no blog can be cited as a reference. They only accept references of scholarly works, books and other websites in general, not blogs. But then websites can be fraudulent too.

    Suda, Have you noticed that everyone thinks they have common sense?

    Gopinath, :)

  16. September 15, 2008 5:01 pm

    @ Nita

    As usual a good post. :)

    @ Suda

    LOL :) :D

  17. September 15, 2008 5:03 pm

    “Laalach Buri Bala hai”.

    People who want to earn quick money fall for such scams and fraud emails.

    Common Sense is so uncommon nowadays.

    Very informative post Nita.

  18. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 15, 2008 5:07 pm

    Nitin Mahajan,

    In addition to those two kinds, I also regularly get

    (1) invitations to buy “genuine” US university degrees/diplomas without doing coursework or writing exams (possible, according to the mails, because of some loopholes in US law); and

    (2) offers of realistic imitations of high-end brand wrist watches at cheap prices.

    Whoever is sending the last of these is obviously not aware of the futility of mailing such offers to anyone living in India. ;-) The SEZ at Ulhasnagar has been in the business for ages.

    The possibility of buying cheap, “genuine” American degrees may be worth looking into. A lot of the stuff available at steep prices from teaching shops in both India and the west seems to turn out well-trained illiterates; it may be worth the time saved and the money spent to get a piece of paper that serves as a passport to an entry-level job, and then do one’s actual learning on the job. If, after spending two years and lakhs of rupees for an MBA from one of these shops, the salary one gets cannot even cover the EMI on the education loan taken, surely an across-the-counter American degree may be worth the time and money saved, if nothing else.

    Like you, I too have never received the kind of two-in-one offer you fantasize about. But be patient! Nothing is impossible. The odds in favour of the fulfilment of your hope are much better than those of a QED to the monkey-and-typwriter theorem. If I ever get such an e-mail I’d be happy to forward it to you unopened. :-)

    To all readers of this comment: The last sentence above is NOT an invitation to compose and send me spam for forwarding to Nitin :-)

  19. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 15, 2008 5:14 pm

    Odzer:

    //…if it sounds too good to be true it probably is not.//

    That can be interpreted two ways — [1] “not true” and [2] “not too good to be true.” Which one do you mean? :-)

  20. chirax permalink
    September 15, 2008 6:06 pm

    Nigeria hmm…These guys love orkut also. Thanks Nita. Good Heads up, will be very helpful.

  21. September 15, 2008 7:46 pm

    We are the “Who wants to be a millionaire/ Kaun Banega Crorepati” generation. Is it so surprising that many of us are lured by the prospects of easy money as unrealistic as it may seem?

    And, in my attempt to top everyone here with anecdotes about frauds/scams, the best one has to be the sale of land on the moon/mars. Not sure which celestial body it was, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were both!

    The link below is just an example, and just an indication of the phenomenon. It started off as a “serious” real estate enterprise on e-bay!

    http://www.lunarembassy.com/shop/en/shops.lasso?-database=aa654s5677556pr&-layout=US$_pr9981_en&-response=searchresults_en.lasso&-NoResultsError=noproducts_en.lasso&-token.trackindex=1521025&-token.rn=25322476&-token.cs=US$&-token.rs29=33&-token.rscd=LE&-token.firstlogin=&-token.skip=&-show

  22. September 15, 2008 7:50 pm

    @Nitin: You fail to see the silver lining, the hidden gift, my friend. If you are “made” a millionaire, you could afford to pay for the procedure, and if you get the penile enlargement… well, there is lots of money in adult entertainment!

  23. September 15, 2008 8:02 pm

    I handle internet security clients and I know how huge this threat is. Phishing attacks have been replaced by DDOS attacks nowadays.. .Direct Denial Of Service crippled the Times of India office here in bangalore last month! It’s quite scary!

  24. September 15, 2008 9:28 pm

    It is sad to see people falling for such things. The general rule of thumb is don’t try to get to something if you have not requested it. Phishing happens mostly because people don’t follow this golden rule and also because they are greedy and they want that Million dollars in the sweep stake. People should be wary of replying to or accessing/answering unsolicited email requests.

  25. September 16, 2008 12:50 am

    If people realize the ubiquitousness of the two rules below, they wouldnt get trapped into such things.

    1) There are no free lunches
    2) If there are, they are hard to find. You wont get an invite in your mailbox

  26. September 16, 2008 1:26 am

    @ Vivek : I meant that if you get an offer that is so appealing that you can not believe it, than probably the offer is not real.

  27. Nitin Mahajan permalink
    September 16, 2008 3:33 am

    @Vivek Khadpekar
    //If I ever get such an e-mail I’d be happy to forward it to you unopened. :-)//
    Thanks very much for your kindness.I live in hope.Also forwarding it unopened,tells me 2 more things about you and you really seem to have it all!:)

    @Nita,DD
    Lol

  28. Nitin Mahajan permalink
    September 16, 2008 3:44 am

    Facebook,Orkut and Myspace are the biggest threats as personal information is freely available on these sites.

    A lot of these phishing attacks are successful due to the “Dancing Pigs theory”that,given a choice between internet security and dancing pigs on their computer screen,people would always opt for the latter.

    @Nita
    My previous comment seems to have disappeared so just including it again.

    @Vivek Khadpekar
    //If I ever get such an e-mail I’d be happy to forward it to you unopened. :-)//
    Thanks very much for your kindness.I live in hope.Also forwarding it unopened,tells me 2 more things about you and you really seem to have it all!:)

    @Nita,DD
    Lol

  29. September 16, 2008 3:59 am

    Other than the big guys, many scamsters operate at smaller and personal levels (web 2.0 style!). For example, penetrating Indian matrimonial websites such as shaadi.com. I know two guys who were fooled into parting money in their dreams of marrying white skin. We do get good deals on ebay and in once such case the seller offered laptops for $30. Anything that sounds too good to be true, is indeed untrue.

    Blacklisting internet servers is a tricky job these days. My webhost for example has hundreds of other sites hosted. Even if there is one bad boy, the entire host is blacklisted – a practise that was discontinued recently because lots of innocent guys (like me) were caught unaware. It’s a headache to pull your site out of that list.

    Finally, I wonder who these people targeting? People who are new to internet and are overwhelmed by the power it gives. But I have also seen savvy friends being duped for small sums of money. It can really strike anyone because innovation never stops.

    PS: Nita, this is a very practical post you have written in a while! :)

  30. September 16, 2008 7:36 am

    Sakhi, Sharad, Vivek, Chirax, thanks for your comments

    DD, that was funny! And I think this is the first time you have left a funny comment on this blog! :) And as for your advise to Nitin, that tops everything! :D

    Nikhil, thanks. Do you have any idea from which country these phishers and attackers usually originate from? I am very curious!

    Dineshbabu, RK, so many people aren’t following this simple rule and I wonder why! I think it’s similar to not being cheated in real life. One wouldn’t trust a stranger with an offer but I don’t know why people trust an email!

    Nitin, any comment with the // sign go into moderation. And that dancing pig theory sort of explains a few things! :)

    Priyank, unusual to get a long comment from you! Thanks! You have hit the nail on the head. As these guys keep innovating and come up with something new and novel which people have not heard of, someone falls for it! I guess these scams are like viruses, and a new one can trap people. And I love writing such posts, only that they take a long time! I must have spent a whole day just reading about it. And I had to read more slowly that I otherwise do because this is not my subject.

  31. September 16, 2008 7:53 am

    @Nita: In today’s world it is very common to get jobs over telephonic conversation. It happens everyday. And I know many people who have got genuine offers to the gulf and other countries. Have gone and joined them as well!

    I didn’t know this. I had heard of ICICI Bank in Mumbai hiring some people even without a telephonic conversation (when they were mass recruiting a few years back at entry/trainee level) based on their resume but somehow I always felt that this applies to junior positions. Correct me if I am wrong. – nita.

  32. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 16, 2008 8:04 am

    Nitin,

    //…forwarding it unopened,tells me 2 more things about you and you really seem to have it all!:)…//

    I am not sure I understand. Does that mean my score now goes from {all — 2} to {all}, or from {all} to {all + 2}?

    Riddles apart, my offer had nothing to do with kindness or altruism. The subject lines of such mails usually provide adequate clues about their contents, not requiring the recipient to open them; though of course I could be proven wrong :-).

  33. Nitin Mahajan permalink
    September 16, 2008 8:43 am

    @Vivek K,
    Nothing too heavy.Just kidding.Forwarding it unopened implies that you already have the 2 things on offer inside the email +Grey matter,which you have in abundance = “All” in my books. :)

  34. September 16, 2008 11:01 am

    Very appropriate post. With the ensuing comments, it is very informative.

    Internet affords a veils of anonymity and its use for commercial fraud is very obvious.

    I read recently that a doctor fell for such a “Make a fortune” mail and lost a substantial amount.

    Whenever any one comes across any “PONZI scheme” (term used for such scams) which promises unrealistic returns, alarm bells should ring loudly.

    There is no free lunch……..ever…..and anywhere.

    In India, we had “Double you Money” and “Teak Plantation” schemes (though not on internet) and the Multi Level Marketing Schemes like the Gold Biscuit…schemes. These are examples of ponzi schemes and constitute a type of economic frauds.

  35. September 16, 2008 8:49 pm

    “Anyone offering you large sums of money”
    This is first and foremost red sign for people…I dont understand that why people think Microsoft (as per a very popular email forward) or some other XYZ will give lots of money if u forward one stupid email??? Are u Bill Gates son in law??? I have seen many of my friends forward that MS mail and i was like what the heck!! Think rationally people! Another such popular junk is “u won xyz lottery” and people take the time to read it!!
    I admire your thinking up of new topics and blogging about them.

  36. September 17, 2008 6:05 pm

    i recieve daily atleast one mail claiming that i have won lottery or i have inherited millions of doloors :P
    now it has started to seem funny :D
    but seriously ppl do believe it. .
    i have a friend who was not acquainted with such fraud mails .he thought it was real and even replied them ..thankfully nothing happened after that .
    and the fact india holds 8 percent is distrurbing as u said..i dont know how many phishing sites i had stepped in :(

  37. September 17, 2008 10:53 pm

    The best way to deal with such mails is to -
    a) Select them
    b) press delete. :)
    But yes I must admit that once I too fell for that “Microsoft distributing its wealth” mail. :(

  38. September 17, 2008 11:18 pm

    @Amit I cant believe you fell for that.

  39. Jake permalink
    February 19, 2009 9:45 pm

    The big question is, how do they find your email address, your real name and other information, the answer is, when u register on for example, online forums, Blogs, Message boards, newsletters e.t.c , your email address and other information concerning you can be sold out to entrepreneurs who want to start something new online, stop posting your email address to people in a forum, e.t.c. you can probably hide your real name. You can choose to have an online name as your nickname, because there are many programs that can find your email easily.

    U can choose to create an email for sign ups .

    Don’t use your important email address to sign up on websites you don’t trust, not necessarily trust but one that is not familiar to the entire world. Because you can spied just with a single mail message to your inbox without your notice and u will end up in shit, there are many spies these days that beat the best antiviruses in the world.

    I have studied something about scam messages your receive. Do this research, register a new email either on yahoo, hotmail or any email provider services online, after registering, do not signup using that email on any website, You will find out that your email will not be exposed and you will never receive any message from any one else apart from your email provider. Thus, try to stay safe. Keep what is important to you.

  40. September 17, 2012 2:18 am

    waooooooooooooo Nigeria is a great country, but unlimited employment, but is not only Nigerians do internet fraud but worldwide. i will advise you not to trust anybody lollllll

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