Online Scam“She wanted her portion of a $51m lotto win to be distributed among those people. And my name was on there.”

As heard on Today with Sarah McInerney

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We all probably reckon that we’re too smart to fall for the online equivalent of the Nigerian Prince scam, but is that really the case? Said Nigerian Prince (and his henchmen) have long since migrated online, of course, and with so much of the workforce in these pandemic times working from home, internet security may not be as robust in your sitting room as it is at your desk. Today with Sarah McInerney reporter Brian O’Connell spoke exclusively to a woman who fell for a very targeted, sophisticated online scam and he joined Sarah on Tuesday to share the cautionary tale.

“I’ve spoken to one woman who, over the last 9 months, fell victim to a very sophisticated and a very well-planned scam and that has seen her lose, unfortunately, a significant amount of money.”

The scam began when retired lecturer Madeleine Albert got an email back in October. The email mentioned a grant and Madeleine looked at it, given her background in education, but then she disregarded it. Four months later she got a follow-up email, asking if she was interested in the grant. So Madeleine thought she’d take a look and see what it was all about:

“The connection was about a man in California whose wife was dying and he had gotten a message from her that when she died she had a list of names that she wanted her portion of a $51m lotto win to be distributed among those people. And my name was on there.”

Madeleine was told that she was in line to receive a “grant” in the amount of $550,000. Who wouldn’t want half a million dollars out of the blue? The man told Madeleine that the money was a tax-free sum that would go into a Swiss bank account. In order for Madeleine to open a Swiss bank account and thus access her windfall, she needed to pay €350. Brian told Sarah that the scammers knew exactly what they were doing:

“They provided her with fake forms, with fake letters as proof. They even sent her a form with a fake US government seal and she had to sign that, saying she wasn’t going to use any of the money for terrorist activities. So they’d really gone to great lengths to set up this scam.”

And so Madeleine paid the money and opened the Swiss bank account. At this stage the scammers were phoning her as well as emailing her. They kept her updated periodically and then, she told Brian, there was more money to be paid:

“Then I got a message saying that, it’s all ready to go but you have to pay something to the Irish government that’s a kind of a, not a tax, but like a verification that they do – I mean, he used real strange language – and that was $4,000.”

You can see, as Brian put it to Sarah, where this is going. At this stage, the scammers had got $4,350 from Madeleine, but they weren’t finished yet. Altogether, Madeleine ended up giving the scammers $26,000. It’s a frightening amount of money to lose and the gardaí have told Madeleine that there’s little chance that she’ll see any of her money again. Brian asked her for her advice to anyone who might be, as she was, tempted by an offer in their inbox:

“My advice would – and I’m going to follow it myself – would be not to respond to anybody who sends you an email that you don’t know.”

Brian also spoke to Paul C Dwyer of Cyber Risk International about how to avoid this type of scam and you can hear that, as well as the full piece about the unfortunate Madeleine, here.

Niall Ó Sioradáin

© The Listener 2020

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