How to warn people about internet scams without calling them idiots?
March 21, 2011 8:50 PM   Subscribe

Can someone point me to a simple non-insulting guide to why that kind Nigerian prince is not really going to give you $10,000 for your help with his new oil venture? I need something to hand out at work without calling people idiots.
posted by viggorlijah to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)

Snopes is your go-to source for this kind of thing. I just Googled [snopes nigeria email].
posted by John Cohen at 8:54 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Wikipedia Advance-fee fraud article is pretty decent. The second paragraph will probably be of particular interest.
posted by pompomtom at 8:58 PM on March 21, 2011

Notice that based on that Snopes article, people aren't promised thousands of dollars. They're promised millions of dollars. They allow thousands of dollars to be withdrawn from their accounts, thinking this is nothing next to the millions they stand to rake in.
posted by John Cohen at 9:05 PM on March 21, 2011

Check out the links on the Snopes article too. They're from the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau and such. Sometimes people react better when it's a government agency saying these things than a "random website." Just a suggestion.
posted by patheral at 9:11 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tell them about Leon Sumbitches.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:13 PM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding Snopes! It's short, non-sarcastic, and looks reputable. The FBI page is also short and has the intimidating FBI/.gov authoritative combo.

Someday my relatives will get the picture that forwardspam sent to me = Snopeslink sent to every address listed on the CC line. Someday. Maybe they're just using me as the lazy way to find the link for them.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:13 PM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thirding Snopes (and replying every time with the relevant Snopes link eventually got a friend to stop sending me 'OMG, I'm getting a free laptop, just sign up here, you should get one too!' crap - now, hilariously, she CC's me every time she sends a Snopes link to one of her friends, disdainfully pointing out that they shouldn't believe everything they read).
posted by malibustacey9999 at 9:32 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

"If it sounds too good to be true, that's because it is"
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:52 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

(sorry, that wasn't a guide, but at bottom that's the simplest way to explain it)
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:55 PM on March 21, 2011

Depending on your audience, the most convincing thing you could do probably would be to search in your local newspaper's archives and see if they have run any stories on this in the last ten years - ideally, of the form "John Smith is a longtime area resident who runs an upstanding business and goes to church every Sunday. But he was scammed and he wants to get the word out." -- a real story from a real person in their area may bring the point home.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:55 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

"It's a scam."

There are lots of scams, some of them we're all familiar with but most of us have lots yet to be discovered. It doesn't make a person an idiot to not have come across 'the one about being stranded at the bus station and needing ten dollars'.

So I think you can offer it as, hey, the internet offers us special new scams involving princes from Nigeria! It's not a value judgment -- it's just an experiential thing. Everybody has to come across it for the first time sometime. It's not like we're born knowing these things.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:09 AM on March 22, 2011

Seconding the local news of victims.

Depending on local culture, it may or may not be effective to show them the 419 scam bait sites - the ones where they get the scammers to send in embarrassing photos of themselves. I've been a "send Snopes links to every freaking emailer" person since, well, a really really long time ago, but it wasn't a visceral "this is absolutely a scam" thing in my own head till I saw one of those sites - I had been going along, making decisions based on my own skepticism for all that time. People who aren't naturally suspicious or skeptical could just need irrefutable evidence.
posted by SMPA at 4:00 AM on March 22, 2011

New Yorker: The Perfect Mark, story of a victim.
posted by brownpau at 6:28 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nobody, ever, cold-contacts strangers in order to give them money.
posted by gjc at 6:51 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Came here to also suggest the New Yorker article. Not only is the NYer read by intelligent people, but the article also describes a very intelligent person who fell for the scam (and, therefore, anyone could fall for it).
posted by Melismata at 7:47 AM on March 22, 2011

Related, my colleagues and I developed and have commercialized Anti-Phishing Phil, a micro-game that teaches people how to avoid phishing scams. If you have access to the ACM Digital Library, you can see our paper that shows that Phil is very effective in teaching people how to identify fake web sites.

We also have a follow-up called Anti-Phishing Phyllis which addresses all kinds of email scams, including Nigerian emails, fake banks, update your account, etc (you have to sign up to try Phyllis though).
posted by jasonhong at 8:16 AM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

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