Spam is the bane of any emailer's life, clogging up in-boxes with offers of dubious medical 'breakthroughs' and other less savoury invitations.
But often outnumbering even these unsolicited communiques is another frequent visitor. You know the ones: ‘Sirs,’ they typically begin, ‘please help me move my money for a cut of it’.
You would think that given how familiar they are, these sorts of get-rich-quick scams would never work. Well it seems they might, if a recent case in the US with uncomfortable parallels is anything to go by.
A US spammer, who allegedly fraudulently raised over $100,000 through nine million emails, is facing a lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. K C Smith, 20, of Kentucky is accused of using the SEC’s logo to add authenticity to two websites purporting to offer high-return, low-risk investment.
The SEC alleges that, between May 2002 and February 2003, Smith sent nine million spam emails, offering double-digit monthly returns on investments.
The offer came from the fictitious Kyrer Financial Investment firm, and was insured by the also fictitious United States Deposit Insurance Corporation.
It was on the USDIC that Smith used the SEC’s official seal to add authenticity to his offers.
The SEC complaint against Smith alleges that the $102,554 raised was not invested, but used to pay for his personal lifestyle. According to the regulator, he has so far agreed to pay the SEC $107,510 in ‘disgorgement and prejudgement interest’, without admitting or denying the allegations.
The news that Smith was able to raise a six-figure sum through his emails in an apparently fraudulent way will only encourage others.
Some estimates put the value of the email fraud – or 419 scams as they are also known – at a third of the Nigerian economy. If you can send 50 million emails for around £50 – a price quoted by some marketeers – it’s easy to see why they are so common. If 1% show interest and 1% of that 1% get hooked then there are still big profits for the fraudsters.
These emails are an almost hourly reminder of how important it is to protect your own investments and those of your clients. With his apparent appropriation of the SEC logo, the knowledge the Smith case adds is that it is vital to protect your intellectual property too.