Nigerian Letter

Although it may seem as if this scam only began in earnest with the invention of email, in fact, the scam itself is just a variation of a scam that is more than four hundred years old when it was called the Spanish Prisoner Con.  At that time a letter was sent to the targeted victim purportedly from someone on behalf of a wealthy aristocrat who was imprisoned in Spain under a false name.  The identity of the nobleman was not revealed for security reasons, but the victim was asked to help raise money to obtain the release of the aristocrat, who, it was promised, would reward the money-contributing victim with great sums of money and, in some versions of the con, the Spanish prisoner’s beautiful daughter in marriage.

In the more recent incarnations of this scam, you receive an email in which you are promised great sums of money if you assist a Nigerian in his effort to transfer money out of his country.  Other variations include the movement of embezzled funds by corrupt officials, a dying gentleman who wants to make charitable gifts or a minor bank official who is trying to move the money of deceased foreigners out of his bank without the government taking it.  Similar scams have managed to keep up with the news by having the money to be moved tied to fallen dictators such as Sadaam Hussein or Moamar Khadaffi.

What all of these scams have in common is that soon after agreeing to help, you learn that money is needed to be sent by you for lawyer fees, bribes, insurance and other costs.  The reward is always just around the corner and the fees keep mounting.


There are a number of ways to confirm that the email you are receiving is a scam including a careful review of the email address, however, you do not need to even go that far in your considerations.  Although you may want to open the email (so long as you do not click on to any links) for sheer entertainment purposes, all of these scenarios are scams.  Just ask yourself, why are you being singled out for this email?  You are not.  The emails are sent out all over the Internet.  Don’t be a victim.  Do not respond to the email in any fashion.  If you do, you will be hounded.

What is a Ponzi Scheme?

It worked for Charles Ponzi, it worked many years later for Bernie Madoff and it still works today.  This scam is as profitable as it is simple.  It is a classic pyramid scheme whereby you are promised returns that may appear too good to be true (and indeed that is the case), but you know of investors who have made incredible profits by investing with the scam artist.  The problem is that the money used to pay off early investors does not come from successful investing, but rather by paying the early investors with the money of later investors.  Usually there are no investments at all.


If you are retaining the services of an investment advisor, make sure he or she is not acting both as your broker investment advisor and also the broker dealer.  By giving this kind of control of your money to a single person, you enhance the possibility of fraud.  Also, never invest in anything you do not truly understand.  This rule was broken by many intelligent people who invested with Bernie Madoff although they did not understand how his investment strategy worked.  Anyone who actually carefully evaluated Madoff’s investment strategy and the returns it provided would be able to see that it was a scam.

What is the Hitman Scam?

This scam keeps reoccurring around the country and people still are falling victim to it.  It starts when you receive an email from a purported hit man who informs you that he has been hired by someone you know to kill you.  However, the hit man then tells you that he will refrain from killing you if you pay him a sum of money.  In the past the amount has ranged from $80,000 to $150,000.  Not only is this a scam, but the FBI has traced many of these emails to Eastern Europe, far from where you may live.


If you get one of these emails contact the FBI and the Internet Crime Complain Center at

What is Smishing?

Smishing is similar to phishing on your computer, but this time the scammers message comes as a text message on your cell phone.  Often it comes purportedly from your bank telling you that your account has been frozen and then asks you to provide personal information or your account will be frozen.  Smishing is also used by scammers, particularly during the holidays to appear to provide free coupons or free coupons.


Never respond to a smishing message.  By so doing you only succeed in telling the scammer that you are out there.  Never provide personal information in response to a text message from anyone.  If you believe the message may be legitimate, contact the entity at a telephone number or website that you know is accurate.  Don’t download coupons from emails or text messages.  Again, if you think it may be legitimate, go to the website of the company that you know is legitimate and download the coupons there.

What is Medical Identity theft?

Medical identity theft occurs when your medical insurance information becomes compromised.  The effects can be tremendously harmful.  In addition to the usual damage to your credit for unpaid bills, your medical records may become tainted with the faulty medical information of the identity stealing patient.  Your own health care can be jeopardized by receiving improper treatment based upon the medical information of the identity thief that appears on your record.  And as difficult as credit reports are to correct following an identity theft, correcting medical records can be next to impossible due to medical privacy laws.


Always review your medical insurance bills carefully to uncover any evidence of medical identity theft as quickly as possible.  Ask your physicians what there policy is for data protection as much of medical identity theft has been as the result of an inside job.

What is a Credit Score / Credit Report?

Your credit report is one of the most important documents in your financial life.  The information in your credit report as maintained by the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian is used to calculate your credit score.  This is used by financial institutions to evaluate your credit worthiness and can affect your ability to get a credit card, mortgage loan or a car loan.  It also can affect the rate that you will be charged on such loans.  Your credit score is also used in many states by companies in making employment hiring decisions.  When you are the victim of identity theft, the effect on your credit score can be devastating.  It is a complicated, frustrating and time consuming task to correct your credit report after you have been the victim of identity theft.


Make sure that your credit report and your credit score are accurate.  Get a free copy from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once a year by going to

Welcome to

Scams and fraud have been a part of history since the beginning of time.  Many of the new scams that we see today are not really new at all, but merely variations on old cons.  One such scam that was perpetrated in the 1500s when it was called the Spanish Prisoner Scam has evolved over the years into the Nigerian Letter Scam of today.  Scams relating to medical treatments and diet were as attractive to early American colonists as they are to us, in what we perceive to be more enlightened times.

The old French proverb is indeed correct.  “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”  Age old human desires don’t seem to change.  Clever con artists can manipulate those desires to their own benefit.  Con artists are indeed criminals, but they are also the only criminals we refer to as artists because as much as we deplore their actions, we also recognize their art.

Scam artists adjust their art to paint whatever picture they sense will make us vulnerable to their con.  They have a knowledge of psychology that would make Freud envious.  They know how to appeal to our particular weaknesses and psychological makeup.  They appeal to whatever works.  They construct a network of “people like us” whom we trust; they appeal to our fears; they appeal to our friendship; they appeal to our optimism;  they appeal to our generous, charitable instincts; they appeal to our desire for quick and easy solutions to life’s vexing problems and they appeal to our greed.  Sometimes they even appeal to and exploit that little kernel of dishonesty that many people have.

According to the Federal Trade Commission Americans lose billions of dollars to scams every year.  Interestingly, the largest group of victims is between the ages of 25 and 44; ages when you are young enough to know everything – which, of course, makes you more vulnerable to a scam artist.  Particularly troublesome is a study done by the National Association of Securities Dealers that indicated that wealthy people who are financially literate and astute are actually more likely to taken in by an investment scam.

Smart people can get scammed.  Just ask any of the victims of Bernie Madoff.

The threat of scams and identity theft is not as bad as you think.  It is far worse and getting more serious every day.  Modern technology has been a boon to mankind, but it has even been a bigger boon to scam artists and identity thieves who are able to use the latest technology to scam you and steal your identity from your cell phone and every other mobile device.

Technology may be a part of the problem, but it is also part of the solution.

But the biggest solution is knowledge and skepticism.

And that is where I come in.

I can teach you how to recognize scams and risks of identity theft as well as how to avoid them.  I can provide you with the telltale signs of scams and identity theft and I can alert you to the latest developments in scams and identity theft.

What you don’t know, can hurt you.  I can educate you to spot the dangers in places you may never have considered, such as your television or your cell phone.

And if you have become a victim, I can show you what to do.

In this age of information sharing, everyone is vulnerable to identity theft and scams because even if you are doing everything right, the many companies and institutions with which you do business and operate with in your everyday life may not be protecting you as much as they can.  I can show you how to minimize those risks.

Many years ago I worked as a professor in a college program in the state prison system in Massachusetts.  One of my students was doing two consecutive life sentences, which meant that after he died, he would start his second sentence.  When he told me about this I told him about how I always wondered how that worked.  He said that he had too and that when he was sentenced, he yelled at the judge, “How do you expect me to do two consecutive life sentences” to which the judge responded, “Just do the best you  can.”

There are no guarantees in life and there certainly is no guarantee that you will not become a victim of identity theft or scammed, but by doing the best you can, you can certainly narrow your chances of becoming a victim.