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The sums involved are usually in the millions of dollars, and the investor is promised a large share, typically ten to forty percent, in return for assisting the fraudster to retrieve or expatriate the money.Although the vast majority of recipients do not respond to these emails, a very small percentage do, enough to make the fraud worthwhile, as many millions of messages can be sent daily.
In exchange for assistance, the scammer promised to share money with the victim in exchange for a small amount of money to bribe prison guards.
More delays and additional costs are added, always keeping the promise of an imminent large transfer alive, convincing the victim that the money the victim is currently paying is covered several times over by the payoff.
The implication that these payments will be used for "white-collar" crime such as bribery, and even that the money they are being promised is being stolen from a government or royal/wealthy family, often prevents the victim from telling others about the "transaction", as it would involve admitting that they intended to be complicit in an international crime.
Often a photograph used by a scammer is not a picture of any person involved in the scheme.
Multiple "people" involved in schemes are fictitious, and in many cases, one person controls many fictitious personas used in scams.
If a victim makes the payment, the fraudster either invents a series of further fees for the victim, or simply disappears.
While Nigeria is most often the nation referred to in these scams, they originate in other nations as well.
One variant of the scam may date back to the 18th or 19th centuries, as a very similar letter, entitled "The Letter from Jerusalem", is seen in the memoirs of Eugène François Vidocq, a former French criminal and private investigator. One of these, sent via postal mail, was addressed to a woman's husband, and inquired about his health.
Another variant of the scam, dating back to circa 1830, appears very similar to what is passed via email today: "Sir, you will doubtlessly be astonished to be receiving a letter from a person unknown to you, who is about to ask a favour from you...", and goes on to talk of a casket containing 16,000 francs in gold and the diamonds of a late marchioness. It then asked what to do with profits from a .6 million investment, and ended with a telephone number.
Other official-looking letters were sent from a writer who said he was a director of the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
He said he wanted to transfer million to the recipient’s bank account – money that was budgeted but never spent.
An advance-fee scam is a form of fraud and one of the most common types of confidence trick.