The SC Magazine inbox, much like any other inbox, is filled daily with a healthy dose of spam email. Advertisements for Viagra and "horny housewives" intermingle with phishing scams offering cash to anyone willing to give away their bank account details.
So when an email arrived in January that seemed more than a little dubious, SC decided to reply. The resulting two-month investigation highlighted the lengths to which scammers will go in order to get your money – as well as proving that some are not so bright.
"Good day? I know this message will come as a surprise to you. I am the chief auditor of African Development Bank."
So began our encounter with someone calling himself Frank Dube. Dube's story was that he had gained access to the account of a dead American, and needed a way to get the money out of his country. For helping him out, we would receive a quarter of $27 million. We asked Dube to prove his credentials.
He responded within hours, but seemed unwilling to answer our question. Instead, he needed "your full names and address, your private telephone/mobile and fax numbers."
Dube's English is not the best – all his mistakes have been left in – but it is good enough for him to ask for a phone number. But instead of giving him what he wanted, we asked about online scams.
"Should I be worried Frank?" we asked. "What is phishing?" Dube ignored the question, but SC had his full attention. And now we were brothers.
"Well my brother, it is quite obvious this kind of opportunity... might make you worried... My good friend, I want you to send me your full account details... I hope you understands me."
A few emails and subtle taunts later, we become concerned that Dube might be getting tetchy – maybe giving him an address and phone number would help? And what if that address was the U.K.'s National Hi-Tech Crime Unit?
Dube did not bat an eyelid.
"I was pleased with the pieces of information you furnished me. It gives me courage enough to now entrust you with this fund," he said. As Dube seemed wary of releasing money to someone he did not trust, he was no doubt pleased when he received a picture of "Me and my girlfriend," featuring a butch transvestite with his arm around a skinny young man.
Now, somewhat disconcertingly, it was no longer "my brother," but "my dear." Our exchange continued for a couple of weeks until Dube phoned the SC office, on a mobile phone, giving away his number. Would he be willing to give away more? We decided that a financial incentive of our own would be fitting.
"I'm in a great deal of trouble Frank. I entered the National Lottery on Saturday and I won! But because I owe so much tax, the taxman will take this money away from me. I need somewhere to send it Frank, and you are my only hope. I know I can trust you. All I need are your account details," we wrote.
Dube phoned us immediately.
"Are you serious?"
"Wait there, my brother." And so SC ended up with the account details and private phone number of a 419 scammer, which we duly passed to the police.
A week later a forlorn Dube called again and asked where the money was. "I'm afraid he's left the country, Frank," we told him. "He won the lottery."