It would be a challenge to find someone who has not heard of the infamous “Nigerian Prince scams”, also known as “419 scams” and “scams in advance”. The concept itself dates back to the French Revolution, but it has come a long way due to human gullibility. More recently, it has taken the Internet to deceive dozens of email recipients hoping for a big salary.
Online scams in this category involve the victim receiving emails promising a large sum of money in exchange for alleged business actions that the sender needs. According to the scammers, the money is usually blocked in an offshore account and you are promised a considerable part of it if you are ready to help the individual pay a “small sum” to free him from the bank.
Lately, while browsing through some emails, I have personally come across what I thought was the same type of scam. However, after playing to a certain extent, I learned that online scams from Nigeria have evolved. While some stick to the rich prince’s old ploy, others have come up with more elaborate plans for getting money. If you think cryptocurrency could be involved, then you’re right about the money.
A love scam prepares potential victims
It all started with a dating app. I corresponded with a profile that seemed to be legitimate. Unlike other fake profiles that are obvious to spot, the photos of this person looked like the power of an honest user. The description of the profile was detailed and relevant to the geographic location where the person claimed to live. To add an extra layer of authenticity, the person even called me on the phone to help me gain my trust.
Although things seemed to be going well at the start, there were early signs that they were betrayed: being suspiciously eager to have frequent phone calls from the start, sending messages early in the morning, using WhatsApp instead of SMS and having little contextual understanding. of the city where they claimed to live.
Now feeling suspicious, I wanted to at least know where this person was. Since they claimed to have an MBA and be an investment expert, I created a fake real estate list on a page designed to track their intellectual property and asked them if they thought the house in my link would be a good investment. They took the bait and the results showed me that they were operating from an IP address in Lagos, Nigeria.
The intrigue gets tougher
After establishing that it was indeed a scam and that the person was lying about his real location, I wanted to know his final goal. The individual with whom I spoke claimed to run a cosmetic business and invest in bitcoin investments to supplement his income. The mention of bitcoin piqued my interest.
After some initial jokes, they started to unravel their scam, claiming to have made $ 9,000 with an initial investment of $ 5,000. They then sent me a series of videos of people claiming to have made large sums of money by also investing in bitcoin. I simulated the interest and asked the individual to explain the details, that’s when he said that I had to buy bitcoin first using a cryptographic exchange of my choice. At first, I suspected that they would recommend using a false exchange set up so that people would buy coins that they would never get, but they did not insist on the source of the coins.
Then came the most specific part: I should use a site called “au2traders[dot]com “to invest my bitcoin. The scammer insisted that I use this specific domain to invest cryptocurrency, so I knew the scam was waiting for him.
I then assessed the site and found many easy-to-spot issues that told the story of an online scam. The website was not well developed and appeared to be assembled in a hurry – the links to social media were not working, there were grammatical errors in the text and there was no phone number listed for the support, only an email address for customers supposed to contact in case they have any problems. The website footer didn’t even mention the incorporated name of the company that operates au2traders.
The site also showed a false physical address in New York with an invalid six-digit postal code. 108 Adam Street in New York is located in Brooklyn, with the zip code of 11201.
A search on the X-Force Exchange threat intelligence platform listed this website in the spam category.
I wanted to see who owned the domain and how long it had been created. A quick WHOIS query revealed that it had only been registered 50 days earlier and that the domain was protected using a privacy service that masks the identity and address of the domain owner and replaces them with the service address.
The testimonials on the website described people who apparently continued to do millions of trades and who were now the highest paid. The site also featured photos of the individuals – a nice touch. A simple reverse image search on Google showed me that there were hundreds of copies of these exact same generic images available on various websites on the Internet.
I also searched for a professional network for the employees of this supposed company but only one result appeared, noting a marketer located in New York, the supposed location of the head office with the wrong address.
A scam is a scam
I went ahead and opened an account on the site to glean more information on what seemed to be a rather gray area. The site required a minimum deposit of $ 300 to start trading, and there were options for trading in different cryptocurrencies.
Although I am not sure how the scam works after depositing a bitcoin on the platform, all the information I have collected on the website leads me to believe that it was configured by someone one who seeks to receive anonymized cryptocurrency payments from users who would never see their money again.
The very long “Terms and Conditions” page on the website warns the reader that they are trading in binary options and may lose some or all of their investment. Many strange rules apply to any attempt to withdraw money from the platform. He also noted that the service is not available to residents of the United States or Canada, but the business is said to be located in New York.
Binary options are subject to fraud in their applications and are banned by regulators in many jurisdictions around the world. The FBI has investigated binary options scams and some cases have been linked to criminal syndicates. Testimony from an FBI agent on a recent case of binary options fraud revealed tactics very similar to what I had seen in my own review of this scheme.
Indeed, online scams have come a long way, and grooming potential victims via amorous scams is just the tip of the iceberg. A word for the wise: Stay alert on all off-topic communications with people online. Keep your heart and your hard earned money safe from airline fraud.