Dear sir: I have been requested by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company to contact you for assistance in resolving a matter. The Nigerian National Petroleum Company has recently concluded a large number of contracts for oil exploration in the sub-Sahara region. The contracts have immediately produced moneys equaling US$40,000,000.
Does this letter sound all too familiar? If it does, it is because according to the FBI, millions of dollars have been swindled from gullible people in similar scams. The ‘Nigerian 419 scam’ often involves an individual representing an organization, who for various reasons, is willing to release a large sum of money for a small up-front payment.
The motives given by scammers for needing the money range from believable to absurd. In one invitation, a family of oil barons needed to flee the country and move to a bungalow in America. In another story, a lawyer was writing on behalf of a Nigerian cosmonaut stuck on a Soviet-era space station, who needed thousands of dollars to return to his earth-based trust fund.
Fraud attempts such as this are alarming to the Christian populace because scammers are increasingly validating their randomly-sent emails with claims of faithful ties. For example, one such email was sent with the wording, “I felt as if the Lord has called me to contact you and to help your ministry. There must be a greater reason that we have been allowed to meet.” Though the Lord calls us Christians to be as innocent as the lamb, he also calls us to be as shrewd as the snake. When somebody comes to us in the name of the faith, we must not forget to scrutinize their words, to test them if they are from the Lord or from Satan.
Because of the innocence that Christians have, we tend to be more gullible and believing than the skeptical world. Coupled with our doctrinal belief in miracles, it is not beyond our imagination to think that millions of dollars would be suddenly given to us. However, it is this very susceptibility on which the world preys upon, and we must stand vigilant and not be fooled by these too-good-to-be-true scams.
Another growing online scam is the fraudulent practice of “phishing.” Due to holes within the Microsoft Windows operating system and Internet Explorer browser, ‘phishers’ are able to make increasingly realistic but fake web sites designed to trick the common internet user.
In one phishing scam, an email is sent to you saying that your PayPal account information must be updated with current credit card information (PayPal is a popular online money transfer website). If you click on the provided web address, you are presented with a site that looks just like PayPal, from the layout to even the www.paypal.com URL in the browser navigation bar. If you enter the requested information, the scammers will have both your credit card information as well as access to your PayPal account, which they can use to transfer money to their own accounts.
Though it is commendable that Christians have the heart of giving and the innocence of believing, we still live in a world amongst wolves, amongst people who take advantage of perceived gullibility. The Christian community should be aware that there are scams targeted especially at them, and they should be vigilant when interacting with unknown parties. Though we pray daily to the Lord to “deliver us from evil,” we must also do our own part and be especially careful when dealing with strangers in the world.