Online scams getting ever more sophisticated

Every day our business receives an array of emails congratulating us on an extraordinary lottery win, inviting us to disperse the proceeds of a multimillion-dollar estate for a 20 per cent cut or seeking to book six priests in for two weeks with all expenses paid in advance.

We were even contacted last year by the widow of the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who claimed she had inherited a vast sum of money which she would happily share with us.

The scams are incredibly brazen and I often wonder who falls for them, particularly when they purport to come from Nigeria and the grammar and spelling is atrocious.

But, other times they can appear quite authentic. I almost got caught a while ago when a well-spoken woman rang to check our business details for a tourism and travel site. Then she mentioned that our business listing was up for renewal and if I authorised it on the spot we’d get a 25 per cent discount.

Off I trotted to get the credit card, then something clicked in my head. I started to question her more closely and when I asked for a phone number she balked and hung up. 

Sometimes they are extremely sophisticated. Take the recent case of Dimitri de Angelis who duped investors of more than $8.5 million by convincing them his recording company Emporium Music was a “foolproof” scheme that would turn a $100,000 investment into $6 million.

Such notables as Anne Keating, sister of Paul Keating, and former Sydney deputy lord mayor Marcelle Hoff, plus numerous lawyers and businessmen fell for the expensive cars, plush offices, luxurious holiday homes and compelling rhetoric. De Angelis even went so far as to photoshop his face into pictures with Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II.

But it was all a fraud and he is now awaiting sentencing, with a jail term expected.

Scams come in so many forms, it’s often hard to pick them. 

Almost two years ago we signed up with an Australian company that promised to place our motel on the front page of Google. 

We interrogated the sales people, checked the website and received umpteen emails confirming their 90-day money back guarantee.

We thought we had it covered, but, alas, it was a hoax. What we should have done is investigate the credentials of the main man, a convicted hacker and party boy. 

The guarantee proved worthless, and when NSW Fair Trading drew a blank, we moved on to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal.

Two days before the court hearing, party boy rang and promised us action plus a six-month extension. 

We acceded, but it was all for nought. Then the company had the temerity to automatically lock us into another contract. When we refused to pay (we hadn’t supplied credit card details), it called in a debt collection agency. 

By this time we had discovered the internet was viral with similarly disgruntled customers, Google had withdrawn the company’s accreditation and consumer affairs was investigating. 

We booked another date in court. Again the company contacted us and offered to terminate the contract for a cancellation fee. We paid, just to get them out of our lives.

Now the name of this party boy and his duplicitous company sit in my freezer, giving me cold comfort. Just as the law caught up with de Angelis, so it will with this fellow. 

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