Cash points

Sean Coughlan warns of money scams doing the rounds

The prospect of money for nothing has an undeniable charm. And I've had an email from a reader saying he received just such an offer, but how should he reply? Well, it wasn't quite money for nothing. If he'd carried out what was being proposed, it would have been his money that disappeared for nothing in return. The only consolation was that the offer he had received was a classic fraud, so rife that it has the personal attention of the SO6 specialist crime unit at Scotland Yard.

This teacher was being targeted by the "advanced fee fraud", also known as the "419 scam" or the "Nigerian advanced fee fraud", because these get-rich-quick schemes claim to originate in West Africa (of course, they could really be coming from a bedsit in west London).

But the basic thrust of the con involves an email inviting someone to take part in the transfer of funds from west Africa to a bank account in Britain. There is usually some yarn about difficulties in taking money out the country - and for only the smallest amount of assistance, a percentage of a huge cash transfer is promised.

Once this approach hooks someone's interest, the person is asked to send a fee to help with the transfer, and then more money is requested and so on, until the victims realise they're being suckered. Thousands of pounds have been defrauded this way in what becomes an elaborate and expensive hoax.

Money scams are always trying to hit the right psychological button. Another scheme doing the rounds is aimed at professional women who work together or who are friends, and is sold as a way of helping women build a network of mutual financial support.

These so-called "gifting clubs" or "multi-level marketing" schemes are pushed with a potent mix of self-interest and a sense of sisterly solidarity, which lets you feel politically correct about your greed.

But the underlying principle is pyramid selling, where new entrants pass money to people above them and then hope to receive more from those lower down the chain - until it collapses, leaving a load of people out of pocket.

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