Probably, most of you have received scam emails wherein you've either won a lottery you didn't buy a ticket for or someone you don't know (or have never heard of) tells you they need your help collecting some large amount of money and, in exchange for your help, they'll generously share some of it with you. These scams fall under the general heading of, "If it sounds too good to be true, it is."
Interestingly, many of these scams originate amongst the population of the good people of Nigeria. Why Nigeria? I might be able to shed some light on that.
Recently, I was in a Goodwill Thrift Store looking for wardrobe, props, whatever. The clerk behind the counter was a young man who, when he spoke, possessed a decidedly African accent. Being I'm a friendly sort who enjoys meeting new people, I asked this young man where, in Africa, he hailed from. He told me he was from Kenya. We chatted a bit and, during the course of the conversation, I asked him if he knew why so many internet scams seemed to come from Nigeria. He told me that the government of Nigeria is quite wealthy--even if much of its population is not--due to its oil industry. Because of this, Nigeria's government makes higher education readily accessibile to it's young people. According to this young man, Nigeria has the highest number of college grads of any nation in Africa. The problem is, the young man told me, there are few jobs in Nigeria and the unemployment rate is very, very high. So, you have all these young people with college degrees and nothing much to do with that education except, it seems, devise internet scams.
The other day, I received an email that included an offer to participate, as a photographer, in some sort of model expo that was to take place in France in April of this year. According to this email, the expo's organizers have seen my work, were quite impressed, and wanted me there, shooting some of the many pretty girls who will participate. In exchange for this, the organizers would be taking care of all my travel, food, and lodging expenses and would pay me 5,000 Euros for my participation.
Sounds great, yes? Probably too good to be true, yes?
Since this (alleged) scam seemed a bit more personalized than the usual cyber-scam and since some of the principals involved claimed to be located in England (although the forthcoming expo is, supposedly, to be held in France) and further since there was a U.K. modeling site listed as one of the expo's organizers, as well as a Cambridge, England, modeling agency, I enlisted the help of Richard and Lin, who reside in the U.K. and who author a favorite photography blog of mine: Fluffytek Photographic Art. (Whether the modeling site or the agency are cyber-grifters and in cahoots on this, I have no idea.)
Lin did a bit of investigating on my behalf and, while both Richard and Lin (like myself) thought the scam email seemed to contain more credible factors than most internet scams of this ilk, Lin thought too many things just didn't add up. I agreed. I also did a bit more research only to find a couple of links, on one of my not-so-favorite modeling sites, Model Mayhem, that seemed to identify similar scams as just that... Scams!
In a nutshell, here's how these scams work: You respond to the scammers inquiries and provide them with some personal info. They, in turn, are delighted that you're interested in participating and will be sending you a bank check that includes some of your pay, as well as monies for travel, etc. You are instructed to deposit the check in your bank account, keep the advance, withdraw the balance and send it to the their travel agents who will then arrange for your travel and accomodations. Later, the bank discovers the check is a fraud, the travel agents disappear, and you're on the hook for the entire amount. What is somewhat clever (and nefarious) about this scam--and why it might sometimes work--is the way it not only appeals to basic, human greed, but also the way it plays on our egos as photographers or models.
A few simple words for all of you: Be careful out there, people!
The pretty girl on the stairs is Devin. As you might guess, Devin is neither an internet scammer nor is she from Nigeria.