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Be wary of e-mails that promise a fortune

Published October 27, 2005

The lengths to which scam artists go and the schemes they come up with never cease to amaze me. The following e-mail appeared in Action's mailbox. Since hardly a week passes without a reader contacting Action to inquire about whether an e-mail or letter trumpeting a lottery win or promising a small fortune could be legitimate, I thought I would debunk this one immediately.

The ploy is new. This time, rather than receiving a share of a huge sum of money in exchange for allowing it to be transferred to my bank account, I have been named the beneficiary in someone's will. Lucky me. Or rather, lucky Action, since that's the e-mail address to which this good news was sent (red flag No. 1: trying to establish a personal relationship).

In short, the e-mail informed me, in very poor English (red flag No. 2: Many of these scams originate overseas), that "Barbara Harrison" was leaving me $9.5-million, half the estate she inherited from her husband, to do the good works of God and to help the needy. The reason she gave for selecting me was to keep her relatives from using her husband's hard-earned money selfishly.

Because Barbara and I have never met (red flag No. 3: trying to establish trust by complimenting me), I have no idea how she knows that I won't use the funds selfishly. Unfortunately, I can't call her and ask (red flag No. 4: The perpetrator is conveniently unavailable): She is scheduled for cancer surgery "today" (red flag No. 5: playing on emotions).

Instead, I'm supposed to contact her solicitor with the news that Barbara and I are friends of long standing and that I'm named in her will (red flag No. 6: Isn't it the job of lawyers to know this kind of information about their clients?). I am to provide my full name, address and fax number (red flag No. 7: asking for personal information).

The e-mail ends by emphasizing that my utmost confidentiality is appreciated because Barbara does not want her husband's relatives or anyone else to know what she has in mind (red flag No. 8: trying to prevent someone from telling me that it's a scam).

Folks, I realize that most of you will recognize this e-mail for what it is and simply delete it. Unfortunately, if the past is an indication, a few people will fall for it. The goal is to make someone wealthy, but that someone is not you. Trust me. "Barbara" hopes that some poor hapless soul will take the bait and respond.

These scams unfold in various ways. Often the victim ends up paying an increasing amount of money in fees and taxes, each time with the promise that the payoff is just around the corner. It never is. Really.

Positive results on missing negatives

Last December, I found four old picture negatives that had great sentimental value to me. They were snapshots taken in the 1920s and '30s by my father, a photographer in Pennsylvania. I went to a local film store to get prints made and was referred to Rocky Mountain Film Lab in Aurora, Colo.

I sent this company an e-mail asking if it could do this work and received a reply that it could, for a nominal cost of $18.60. The e-mail indicated that it might take three to 10 weeks to complete the order, which seemed reasonable. I sent the negatives and a check, which cleared the bank Jan. 10, so I know my order was received.

I have been unable to get my prints. I sent e-mails that were ignored. In April, I wrote a letter, which prompted the company to call with assurances that it had the negatives and the order was in line for completion. Again, nothing transpired.

I returned to the camera store that had recommended this lab. The manager expressed his regrets, took the name of Rocky Mountain Film Lab out of his books, and said he would never again recommend this company to customers.

I sincerely hope you can help me resolve this matter.

- John Fasnacht

In your words: "I am happy to report that I received the photos and negatives that I wrote to Action about a little over two weeks ago. You accomplished in that period what I could not do in 10 months. Apparently a little "squeaking wheel' cannot make as much noise as an expert squeaker. Many thanks for your help!"

And our thanks to you for letting us know that you received your photos; we have not heard from the company. For future reference, we looked up this company's record on the Better Business Bureau Web site, It has an unsatisfactory record caused by unanswered complaints. While some were resolved, the bureau did not receive a response to other complaints. Had you known this in advance, you might have hesitated to entrust your negatives to it.

Action solves problems and gets answers for you. If you have a question, or your own attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, e-mail or call your Action number, 727 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request.

We will not be responsible for personal documents, so please send only photocopies. Readers must provide a full mailing address, including ZIP code. Names of letter writers will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

[Last modified October 26, 2005, 13:04:02]

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