The new scam victims are no longer naïve individuals who have had their money stolen. Now they’re just gullible people involved in money deals.
Gone are the days of 419 scams , where so-called Nigerian correspondents swindle naive people out of tens of thousands of euros? It seems that the new form of scam is more imaginative, in that the scammer no longer seeks to extract money directly from the victim. He acquires the money by other illegal means (credit card theft, hacking into bank or paypal accounts, etc.), but uses the victim as a mule.
When it comes to drug trafficking, a mule is a person who smuggles drugs through checkpoints. It is therefore in the trafficker’s interest to choose the most innocent-looking mule possible, so as not to alert the controllers. Likewise, the mule must be totally enclosed, and must not know who his sponsor is. When it comes to Internet fraud, the hardest part is not the fraud itself, but being able to profit from the fruits of fraud while remaining untraceable. To receive money or packages purchased with a stolen credit card, you need an identity and an address, both of which can be easily traced. This is where the mules come in, whom the scammers convince to accept and keep a package or sum of money in their home until it is picked up at a future date.
The principle is the same as for a traditional scam. The scammer makes contact with a potential mule. It’s worth noting the immense contribution made by social networks such as Facebook or Second Life, which make the task of scammers much easier, since not only can the mule’s interests be found there, but he or she can also be contacted more easily than by sending a conventional e-mail, which people are increasingly wary of. Let’s imagine a typical example: a scammer will determine from a person’s profile that he or she is interested in humanitarian work for Third World schools. He then devised a personalized scam, posing as a school principal in Africa who needed laptops for his school. Where the classic scammer will ask the victim to send him money, the new scammer will have already obtained the money in another way, and will tell his victim that generous benefactors have already acquired the hardware in question, but that for shipping reasons (e.g., because it’s cheaper to consolidate goods in a container), the hardware has to be stored temporarily in France. Unfortunately, the school principal doesn’t know anyone in France, and taking the equipment to a specialized warehouse would be too expensive. So he’s looking for someone who can receive and store them until all the goods are ready for shipment, at which point a forwarding agent will collect them from the victim. The victim has every reason to believe in the sincerity of his correspondent, since it is the latter who apparently bears the risks by storing expensive equipment with a complete stranger, agrees to have the merchandise sent to his home in his name, and agrees to keep it until it is picked up. In reality, he becomes an accomplice and a fence, and risks serious legal trouble if he fails to prove the scam. The scammer, on the other hand, quietly collects the goods, posing as a forwarding agent, and disappears with them into thin air.
Because the mules don’t feel swindled (no attempt is made to steal money, and the scammers sometimes even pay them money in compensation), and are moreover solicited in areas that are dear to them (thanks to social networks among other things), this form of scam will become increasingly widespread in the future, and will enable Internet fraudsters of all kinds to launder the money or proceeds resulting from their sinister actions.