Fight back against fraudsters
In these pressing times who can resist the opportunity of money for nothing: to get the fast train to riches without having to invest all hopes and pound coins on lottery tickets?
Who wouldn't be tempted by a $10 million bonus for helping to release the money-laundering profits of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, or another $25 million for supporting similar efforts by the family of General Sani Abacha to recover their ill-gotten gains from Swiss bank accounts?
There was a time when such opportunities came in the shape of badly written letters from West Africa; now it's an industrial-scale email scam.
All that aside, it's been a fortuitous time for me. I have been offered free iPads and impossibly cheap teeth-whitening products, received three notifications of legacies, and won a number of lotteries from faraway countries such as Canada and Spain.
Taking advantage of all my four-leaf clover opportunities would make me the net recipient of over £100 million.
Playing the conmen
I remember when I met one of the London-based Nigerian fraudsters. They were expecting me to hand over £15,000 in cash to help them get their millions out of Nigeria.
In a scene from Checkpoint Charlie outside a Shell petrol station in north London, I gave the agreed password: "Is the doctor well?"
The young woman, who was in her twenties and dressed in office garb, responded: "The doctor is well and sends his greetings to you and your family."
I had responded to just one of the hundreds of email scams along similar lines I receive every month. In truth, I did it principally out of boredom.
I pretended to be naive and vulnerable, and deliberately played hard to catch, so they wouldn't smell a rat.
After a long dance over the phone, I suggested I would hand over £20,000 cash in person rather than by money transfer – their preferred route.
In return, I was to receive a commission of £15 million for assisting them to get some monstrous amount of money out of the country.
The young woman looked at my briefcase. I handed it over. "Here's the money – when will I get my millions?"
I asked, barely holding in my laughter. The woman said the doctor would be in touch. He made contact shortly after the handover. He had received only Monopoly money and wasn't happy.
No arrests were made, but we did put one face to an international scam – a rare triumph.
Everyone is at risk
Never before have people been so vulnerable to fraud. We are realistically just a couple of clicks away from losing our bank balances to fake websites or any number of fraudsters targeting everything from eBay to dating websites.
The frustrating thing is that there is an endless number of scams and very little investigative work being done to put the perpetrators in jail.
The number of attempted frauds, from phone calls to web scams and identity fraud, is so extensive it seems like a losing battle.
One police force said that it didn't investigate internet frauds unless sums in excess of £1 million were involved, but most scams are for much smaller sums.
That is a situation we cannot accept. We can fight back, and in this column we will take the fight to the fraudsters and the regulators alike.
We will shout from the rooftops for more online protection for consumers, both from the government and from all the major online players. When I was working undercover with drug dealers and gangsters I played a long game.
I expect this fight against fraudsters and scammers will last for a long time too, and I ask you for your help in identifying them and halting them in their tracks.
Join me and Moneywise in our crusade to protect you: have you been scammed or have you had your suspicions aroused by cold callers probing for personal details?
Let us know by dropping me a line at the following email address... firstname.lastname@example.org
This is more usually a feature of car insurance but it can also crop up in contents, mobile phone and pet insurance policies. An excess is the amount of money you have to pay before the insurance company starts paying out. The excess makes up the first part of a claim, so if your excess is £100 and your claim is for £500, you would pay the first £100 and the insurer the remaining £400. Many online insures let you set your own excess, but the lower the excess, the more expensive the premium will be.