Clever people ‘are easier to con’

Doctors, architects, engineers and other white-collar professionals are being conned by e-mail fraudsters who lure them into contributing to fake ventures after taking their details from conference websites.

The Times
Jack Malvern
March 17 2008, 12:00am, 

A report on e-mail scams indicates that the high-achieving professionals are frequently defrauded, contrary to the widely held belief that the poorly educated and financially desperate are most vulnerable.
The research, carried out by Ultrascan, an IT fraud agency based in the Netherlands, also showed a strong correlation between white-collar victims and a recent or life-changing family trauma, which appeared to have impaired their judgment.

The review of 362 of the most serious cases, in which victims lost more than £150,000, found that 85 per cent had suffered a parent-related trauma either death or an acrimonious separation.

The report concludes that those who have suffered a bereavement appear to be more likely to be duped.

Advance-fee fraud where the victim is asked to pay up before receiving benefits is the most successful type of scam in the world and was responsible for victims losing an estimated £2.1 billion in 2007. There were 300,000 fraudsters active globally last year, a rise of 3 per cent from 2006.

One victim, whose father died in a car accident when he was 12, has lost more than $500,000 (£250,000) over seven years despite having the intelligence to gain a doctorate and help to run his family's business. His cousin and former business partner, who has requested anonymity, told The Times that the victim continued to believe that the fraudsters were genuine.

The agency said that poorly educated or financially inexperienced people were not so desirable to scammers because they did not trust their own judgment and soon realised that they had been duped.

Frank Engelsman, Ultrascan-AGI 's specialist in advance-fee fraud, said that doctors were especially vulnerable to scams that encouraged them to do good. They very often fall for a scam that starts with a request to help the less fortunate in the world through good causes, he said. 'To do the bigger scams you need the victims to trust their own capabilities and experience.'

A significant number of high-loss cases involved specialists such as psychiatrists, psychologists and neuro-surgeons, the agency said.

'The 308 victims who said they had suffered child-parent trauma included two police commissioners of large cities, respected entrepreneurs and 17 directors of companies listed on stock exchanges.'

Scammers boasted to one another on internet forums about the educational calibre of their victims, he said.

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