Pulp and Paper Canada

Features Research & Innovation
Internet Scams

Discussing some of the more common, and sometimes distressingly successful, Internet scams, will help protect you and your teenagers (and anyone else who may be vulnerable).Much of the Internet fraud ...

July 1, 2003  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Discussing some of the more common, and sometimes distressingly successful, Internet scams, will help protect you and your teenagers (and anyone else who may be vulnerable).

Much of the Internet fraud is just good old-fashioned confidence trickery, using the Internet to communicate instead of a telephone or the mail.

Rule Number One


Avoid doing business with people you do not have a good reason to trust. Even the best-written contract is ineffective in protecting you from competent and determined scam artists. Particularly in the case of consumer products, the vendor writes the contract so the terms are usually favourable for him.

Whom do you trust? Governments and the nationally-known businesses will usually not defraud you. Service may sometimes be poor, or the product may be poor value for money, but they are rarely dishonest. You should always be aware of a vendor’s reputation in this respect before buying. The only real source of good information is other customers. Hence the survival of many local stores, in the face of theoretically more efficient giants.

Rule number two

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

There are a number of semi-standard scams that seem to go on and on. Police report that a significant people lose money to them, and the fact that they continue to circulate indicates that they are profitable.

One of the most common is the “Nigerian money”. An e-mail arrives, usually written in upper case, and always crafted to appear to be from someone with a poor command of English as a second language. He claims to be associated with some deceased dictator (often from Nigeria, hence the name) and to have access to oodles of millions of dollars in a bank account that requires the signature of a foreigner to release. You are asked to contact him, confidentiality assured, with a view to being his nominee for a commission of 20% or so (of millions).

The scam is that, once you respond, you will be asked to pay for some “small” up-front expenses. Police report people losing tens of thousands of dollars this way.

I just received a more sophisticated version from a respectable-sounding London lawyer by the name of James Harryson, who is looking for a Canadian to claim to be the long-lost heir to $30 million.


Over-selling goods is common, as is collecting money and never delivering goods or services at all. This applies to most of the purveyors of wondrous pills that will enlarge your nose (or whatever you want enlarged). They work on the theory that most people swindled will be too embarrassed to take any legal action.

Legal rip-offs

Wonderful (or illicit) services may be offered for a seven-day free trial. A credit card number is requested (with authorization to charge the card) although there is an assurance that this will only be collected if the service used for more than seven days. However, the fine print may state that cancellation requires five or six days notice and there is no legal recourse.

One legal trick is to offer over-priced trash, with a wonderful description and a money-back guarantee. The vendor returns money promptly on demand, but on a check drawn on “The Teenage Pornographic Institute” or such like name. They rely of the fact that only a few people will cash such a check.

Checking sources of scams (and spam)

Many scammers avoid giving you a useful address. If you look into the Internet message header (In Outlook, click on “view” then “options”) you can trace the route of the e-mail. The nodes (which look like e-mail addresses) the message traveled through are listed in reverse order, so the bottom one is the originator’s address. The last two characters in it (after a dot) show the country of registry. For example, “uk” for the United Kingdom, “fr” for France etc. Exceptions are “.net”, “.org”, .com” and “.edu”, which are US registered. A full list of codes is available at http://www.learnthenet.com/english/html/85tldn.htm

This “LearnTheNet.com” site has excellent explanations of the workings of the Internet.

There are several “WhoIs” sites on the Internet that fill provide the name, telephone and address of the owner of the originator’s domain name (the part of his e-mail after the “@” symbol).

The “whois” utility at http://www.zoneedit.com/whois html?ad=googlex will provide many European addresses. Several others domain name search tools are available by searching for “whois” on www.google.com. I have not found a single one that works for every country.

Scam artists often have spurious addresses and/or phone numbers. If the telephone number is valid, responses to calls range from bizarre, to competent confidence tricksters.

The main value of all this searching is to show a friend who may seem ready to trust a scammer that the business lacks substance.

I have however found these address checks useful to determine the source of very amateur spam, such as nuisance e-mail I was receiving from the disgruntled coach of a soccer team that my kids had soundly beaten. With the address, I called and suggested to the owner of the business that one of his employees was sending harassing e-mail, costing us thousands of dollars. It stopped on the threat of legal action.

Rule number three

Remember rules one and two. This may seem obvious, but an amazing number of people are defrauded every year.P&PC

All too many people are scared to do business on the Internet because they are afraid of fraud. In reality, the risks of being defrauded over the Internet are no higher than they are in other forms of personal and corporate business, always assuming common sense is used.#text2#

Print this page


Stories continue below