Internet Dating and Romance Scams

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Wedding Dress Scam

Published: September 16, 2009 12:00 PM Updated: September 16, 2009 4:10 PM This is a story about a wedding dress, an online payment service, a Nigerian conman and a lesson to always, always listen to your mom. Chrysta Pratt, 34, lives in North Cowichan with her husband and nine-month-old son. Married a little more than a year ago and in need of some financial help, she put her wedding dress for sale on several free sites and almost immediately got a bite from her posting on Kijiji. “I bought the dress for $1,400 and sold it for just more than $1,000US,” Pratt recalled Thursday. That happened when a man contacted her and agreed to pay the price that was asked. “He was from Nigeria, and that should have been my first clue,” said Pratt, who’s well aware of an avalanche of scams originating from the republic situated in west Africa. The man agreed to send the money through PayPal, an e-commerce business that allows payments and money transfers to be made via the Internet. “My mom originally told me to be careful doing this online because there are people who will try to take you,” Pratt said. “But I thought everything is confirmed through PayPal, not to worry because it’s a secure website.” She believed that right up until the time she received an email from PayPal. “I mailed the dress at 3:20 p.m. Wednesday afternoon,” said Pratt, who noted she received the second email that same evening. It read, verbatim: “We encounter little problem while crediting your PayPal account. You have a pending payment of $1,070.00 USD but we have a problem crediting your account with that amount because the status of your PayPal account is not a business user which make your account has limit but this amount seems to be above your limit, this will not make us credit your account until you expand your limit.” Thrown by the broken English of the text and smelling a rat, Pratt called PayPal and was told the e-commerce company had not sent the email. Knowing she’d been scammed, Pratt contacted Canada Post, which said “they couldn’t help me because once I signed off on (the package) and sent it, it was no longer mine, it belonged to the person I sent it to.” The RCMP was unable to help. “Police said they needed a warrant to get the package, because the package isn’t considered evidence and there are no fingerprints from the (alleged crook) and there is nothing to connect the dots to say the deal was fraudulent,” Pratt said. “Welcome to cyberspace,” said Cpl. Louis Robertson, a spokesman for PhoneBusters, a national anti-fraud call centre operated by the Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP. “We’re entering a new era, a new dimension in law enforcement here,” he said. “We have a lot of international barriers and a lot of sticks in the wheel.” Robertson said the global scope and the fluidity of crooks, combined with countless other obstacles makes it almost impossible for cops to track and arrest online fraudsters. “Until all the international countries can sit down and decide a common approach it will always be difficult,” he said. For now, Pratt said she just has to live with the fact she was taken. “I feel stupid,” she said. “I know this kind of thing happens to a lot of people, but I really do feel like I should have known sooner.” Resigned to the fact the dress is gone and she’ll probably never see the money for it, Pratt decided to go public with her story as a warning to others. But she still must suffer one more humiliation. “I wondered if I should call my mom (in Newfoundland) and tell her she was right,” Pratt said. “You know how people hate to admit mom is right about anything, well I’m like that too.” Internet a mess Canadians are bilked to the tune of about a billion dollars each year because of scams, many emanating from the Internet, said a fraud expert. “And that’s only the tip of the tip of the iceberg,” said Cpl. Louis Robertson, a spokesman for PhoneBusters, a national anti-fraud call centre that began monitoring cons of all types — and helping victims — in 1993. The most voracious swindlers currently fish the Internet more than anywhere else, and are responsible for bilking “billions of dollars. In 2007 police around the world said Internet frauds increased by a whopping 40 per cent, but law enforcement is lagging far behind, Robertson said. “We have to wake up as soon as possible because fraudsters recognize the Internet approach is a marvelous means of communications — and there are no borders and no jurisdictions or police officers there,” he said, noting the world’s nations can’t seem to get together to address the problem. “It’s a mess, just a big mess — the problem is (law enforcement) is probably 10 years behind the ball in investigating cyber fraud properly and we need to tackle this problem on an international level.”

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October 10, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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