The Associated Press
updated 10/3/2003 8:18:00 AM ET 2003-10-03T12:18:00

West African fraudsters, long known worldwide for mass-mailings that lure the gullible with get-rich-quick schemes, now appear to be rolling out updated tactics: tapping email networks and posing as big London banks.

BRITAIN’S NATIONAL Criminal Intelligence Service said Friday it was investigating a new technique by swindlers who send emails under the name of a top executive of a major company from an authentic-looking email address.

A bogus email was recently sent out across the UK and abroad, purportedly from a top executive of Barclays Plc, one of Britain’s biggest banks, from an email address that appeared to belong to the bank.

The email requested permission for the bank to park $30 million temporarily in the recipient’s bank account in return for a large share of the money.

Once victims are hooked, they are then asked to put up hefty sums for air fares or other pretences.

Barclays is not the only British bank targeted by cyber fraudsters, a law enforcement official told Reuters.

“We know of banks having been hit in the U.S. and banks having been hit in Australia. Now the problem is coming here,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

The intelligence service, which estimates British victims of this sort of scheme on average lost 22,000 pounds ($36,700) each last year, said banks had become a target because of their high profile and the trust they evoke.

“That’s important to the fraudsters. Banks are among the UK’s most trusted institutions and trust is a big commodity you can trade off for fraud,” a spokesman for the intelligence service said. “They (banks) are the most worrying target.”

PHONY WEB SITES

Lloyds TSB, another of the country’s five biggest banks, said on Friday it too had been targeted this month by a similar scam in which fraudsters sent mass emails from a phony Lloyds account referring recipients to a phony Lloyds Web site.

The site asked users to enter bank account and credit card details, Lloyds spokesman Emile Abu-Shakra said, adding it was shut down by police the same day it was discovered and none of the bank’s customers lost money on it.

The intelligence service said it was unclear who was behind the Barclays email scam but it bore the hallmarks of West African fraudsters, especially Nigerians who decades ago pioneered schemes using traditional mail and counterfeit letter-head stationery.

“This particular ’email spoofing’ is something which was brought to our attention in the last few months but it’s a trend we identified well over a year ago,” the service spokesman said.

Barclays, which has posted a warning about the scam on its Web site, said it was taking the latest threat to its customers seriously.

“It’s clearly a development and a refinement,” a bank spokesman said of the email schemes.

The intelligence service said West African fraudsters had tricked Britons out of millions of pounds and that the latest email subterfuge could prove even more tempting.

“Funnily enough, a lot of very, very rich people fall for this type of scheme — very high net-worth individuals who are usually self-made,” he said. “These people are accustomed to taking the sort of risk that you or I are not prepared to take.”

© 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.

© 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments