Scams engender fear of legal consequences

Saturday , July 26, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Standard-Examiner contributor

I had a client receive a scam email a couple of weeks ago. This scam isn’t a Nigerian prince (although I think the same person may have drafted the email, given the grammar), but rather a more insidious scam playing off a fear of the legal system.

A burgeoning area of fraud on consumers originates with the online payday loan industry. Many online payday loan companies will sell off the contact information provided when you got the loan. They will also sell off the lists of individuals who may not have repaid the loan, although the loan may have been illegal in the first place. This information then gets diffused among some of the most unethical, illiterate and inconsiderate scam artists on the planet, who will in the future start to phone or email the names on the list.

Deconstructing the scam email illustrates how the scam artists prey on fear of the legal system to illegally extract money from people.

The first sentence of the email was this: “You are going to be legally prosecuted in the Court House within couple of days..” My English teachers would have had a field day with this sentence. First, I guess it is good that you are being legally prosecuted, rather than illegally. Court House is capitalized, so I’m guessing that somewhere in the world there is the definitive, one and only Court House. And like some Nigerian prince who has just learned English, the writer can’t quite get a handle on the indefinite articles in English -- (“a” and “the”), not to mention a double period. So if the bad grammar and capitals don’t have you already terrified, just wait until you hear what will happen next:

“Your SSN is put on hold by US Government.” Does this mean your employer will stop the FICA withholding? Is your actual existence embodied by your Social Security Number? If your SSN being put on hold isn’t enough to frighten you, the email explodes into capital letters:

“UNITED LEGAL INVESTIGATION BUREAU HAS STATED 4 SERIOUS ALLEGATIONS AGAINST YOU UNDER THE DEBT COLLECTION PRACTICES Act, SECTION 349B AND THEY ARE:” This hodgepodge manages to combine the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the word “legal” all into a new terrifying entity that would make any conspiracy theorist proud. In a moment of chutzpah, the letter alludes to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which the email violates many times, but also within the same sentence since its claim to be an affliated law enforcement agency is a violation. Oh, and in case you are wondering, Section 349B doesn’t exist.

So what horrible crimes is the email saying have been committed? According to the email, the biggest crime, again in all capital letters is “E.F.T.” Nothing is more frightening than an acronym that you don’t know the meaning of, so take a look at how the scam email described this horrible crime: “ (4) AND THE BIGGEST ONE IS E.F.T. THAT IS ELECTRONIC FUND TRANSFER.” All I can say, is be careful with your online bill pay, if EFT is a crime.

The email continues telling the recipient they need to tell their boss or probation officer about the horrible EFT they have committed or face consequences “once the case has been downloaded and executed in your name.” Not to quibble, but when I file cases electronically, I upload them, not download. (If you are downloading, the case is already there.)

The entire email reads like someone took legal terms and concepts and threw them in a blender in an attempt to sound scary. If payment arrangements aren’t made, the sender of the email will be “compelled to seek legal representation from our in-house attorney.” (Isn’t the point of an in-house attorney that you don’t need to seek out legal representation?) After demanding over $5,000 in alleged damages, the email decides to read you your Miranda rights, “You have the right to hire an attorney. If you don't have one or if you can't afford then one will be appointed to you.” The email continues the scam by walking the line between a collection letter and an alleged arrest warrant.

The scam also takes the form of phone calls threatening to come in the next 10 minutes and arrest you. Trust me, if the cops are coming to arrest you, they aren’t going to call ahead and ask you to pay them instead.

Even though the email is in violation of numerous state and federal laws, stopping the scam is hard, because the emails originate off shore and the companies that send them have no assets that can be collected against. If there was a United Legal Investigation Bureau, I’d send them after the crooks.

All I’m left with is the last line of the fictitious email: “Copyright © 2006 - 2013 USA.FAST CASH | Privacy | Terms of use.” Yes, that's right, the scammers have copyrighted their scam. Too bad the only satisfaction I’ll get is violating their copyright in the newspaper.

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be reached at 801-392-8200 or

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