By now, many users of even the most basic functions of the internet are aware of the potential dangers that can be lurking behind a computer screen. Even those individuals who use their computers for nothing more than email or checking in with friends or family have probably had a few scam attempts cross their desks.

Known jokingly as the “Nigerian prince” emails and somewhat more officially as 419 scams—named for the article in the Nigerian legal code that addresses these crimes—these messages offer recipients untold wealth in exchange for their help in moving money out of the country of origin. There are often very outlandish stories that go with the offer; these promises include everything from the sender is royalty in his country, to being a bank teller in a foreign bank and having access to a deceased billionaire’s fortune, which he coincidentally did not leave to anyone in his will.

These emails play on the recipient’s hope for easy money and lack of computer knowledge, which is why they’re luckily not working as well as they once did. Back when these attempts became popular, however, Americans lost hundreds of millions of dollars a year, according to some estimates.

Unfortunately, a new twist on the 419 scam has stepped in to fill the void caused by better awareness and information about this type of fraud. The script is still the same, sticking to the concept of asking the recipient for help moving a large sum of money with the promise of a significant portion of the wealth. But what has changed is the interesting stories that accompanied the request have gotten a little more sinister: they’re ripped directly out of the headlines, and often involve very tragic events that tug at the victim’s heartstrings.

One such email that has been widely circulated involves US Army Lt. Andrew Ferrara. Those who remember Ferrara’s fascinating story, which was reported in news outlets like the Huffington Post, may recall that he is an active duty soldier stationed in Afghanistan who voluntarily signed on to deploy to the place where his own brother, stationed in the Kumar province, was killed by insurgents.

A 419 scam has been making the rounds of the internet since that time, and it uses not only Lt. Ferrara’s name and very personal story but also a far more compelling revenge angle. In this particular email, the decorated soldier claims that he and his platoon killed several members of the Taliban and then found more than $11 million in their possession. By further appealing to the would-be victim’s sense of right and wrong, the message goes on to state that turning that money over to the Afghani police force means it will only be returned to the Taliban, resulting in the deaths of even more American soldiers.

As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, what makes this scam so horrible is that recipients can easily Google the lieutenant’s name and discover that he is actually a real person and that he’s currently stationed in Afghanistan, lending some credibility to the email. Luckily, the grammar in the email is atrocious and should serve as a warning that this is not legitimate.

The public needs to remember that scammers can only stay in business if their efforts to swindle money actually work. Their energies have increased with the growing numbers of people who have access to the internet, and their tactics have become even more sophisticated. Just remember that there is never any need to send money to someone who contacted you via email, and protect yourself from these types of con artists by arming yourself with knowledge. 

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