Sunday, November 13, 2011

Don't send money to far-away princes

My cellphone rang as I was getting off the train to head to my office.

"Did you get Klara's email?" the caller asked.

I had. In it, my relative Klara (whose name I've changed) - or someone purporting to be Klara - said she had been mugged while vacationing in London and needed money wired to pay her hotel bill. Word for word, it was exactly the same email I had received from a business associate months earlier. Neither had been in London. The emails were scams.

My caller asked if he should be concerned. I told him not to be since my wife had already been in touch with Klara and she was fine.

Earlier, I received emails from readers telling me about emails they'd received from people who were trying to get riches out of a particular country, but that they needed money wired to them to help them do so.

"My husband thinks these are from the same people who did the famous Nigerian scams," one reader writes, referring to variations of emails that made the rounds promising to transfer substantial sums of cash to your bank account that would be shared with you. All you needed to do was to share banking information.

Another variation involves a Craigslist poster purportedly in search of a nanny. The poster sends a fake check to nanny prospects and then proceeds to get the victim to send cash or goods to an address. Only later do the victims find out that the check was fake and end up on the hook for the money they spent.

Clearly, the scam artists are behaving unethically. There's no ethical upside to committing fraud and sucking unsuspecting victims into parting with their cash - even if the victim is drawn in by the promises of riches or a job.

But a reader wanted to know if she behaved unethically by initially falling for one of the scams. She just barely fell, mind you, having responded to the ad for nannies, but smartened up before actually sending any cash.

Being gullible is not the same as being unethical. Falling victim to a scam artist might be embarrassing, but it does not reflect a moral failure. Even if the victim's motivation is untold riches (one of the Nigerian email scams promises 20 percent of $23 million for allowing a short-term transfer to the victim's bank account), the victim is only guilty of being a bit too starry eyed at an offer that appears too good to be true.

"Is there somewhere you can go to check out the latest scams and maybe add new ones?" asks a reader from Wisconsin.

There is no central source that gathers all scam efforts. But websites such as ( are a great place to check on the veracity of such emails making the rounds. These scams tend to be cyclical and ones that were prominent in the past have a
tendency to pop up unexpectedly years later.

Whenever an email that appears to be a scam alleges to come from a particular organization or mentions an organization in the text of he email, the right thing is to report that email to that organization. Scams will never go away entirely, but if prospective victims are vigilant about reporting them when they do arise, the chances are greater that people will not all victim to the scams in the future.

Jeffrey L. Seglin is the author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal
Responsibility in Today's Business
. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to

(c) 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

1 comment:

Bill Jacobson said...

You didn't present an ethical question for us t respond to, Jeffrey. :(

Bill Jacobson
Anaheim, CA