The Spam Diaries

News and musings about the fight against spam.
 by Edward Falk

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Spanish Prisoner scam on the rise

Just a heads-up; a variant of the Spanish Prisoner scam has been on the rise lately.

To recap: in the Spanish Prisoner scam, someone writes to you claiming to be a prisoner in a Spanish prison (the scam is said to goes back to the 1500's). If you send bail money, riches will be yours once he returns to freedom.

In the modern variant, the offer either arrives via random spam, or targeted directly to you through the compromised email account of a friend.

The latter form is the most insidious. The email actually comes from someone you know, claiming to be in dire straights of some sort or another. Typically your friend is traveling abroad, the email will say, and has been robbed of cash, credit cards, and ID. You are begged to send cash as quickly as possible so your poor friend doesn't wind up jailed as a vagrant or some other terrible thing.

If you're sharp, you might notice that your friend isn't calling you by your name. Or you might remember that your friend isn't traveling anywhere at all, and in fact you had poker night with them just last night.

If you're a little bit slow on the uptake, you might actually send some money. If that happens, expect to get requests for more (oops, too late, he got arrested for vagrancy and now needs bail money).

The requests for money will continue until you catch on or run out of money to send.

For a good account of the scam, read Gadi Evron's article Facebook Scam: I'm Stranded In London. Send Money!

So remember to be on the lookout. If you get email from a friend asking for emergency money, always double-check via some other channel. A phone call is best.

And if you're the one whose email, facebook, or other account has been used for a scam like this, be sure to contact everybody on your contacts list and warn them. Chances are, the scammer has been hitting every name on the list.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Meanwhile, Ralsky apparently gets to keep most of the money

Yesterday, I wrote that spammer Alan Ralsky had pled guilty to a number of charges, and was facing roughly 3½ years in prison. The latest word comes from an FBI press release which indicates that Ralsky is also facing a $1 million fine.

However, Ralsky is said to have made $3 million on his various scams.

Hmm, let's see ... $3 million minus $1 million — carry the eleven — is wow, a whole lot of money. Not bad wages for 3½ years.

I'll leave it to my readers to draw their own conclusions about the U.S. justice system. I've already drawn mine.

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Spammer Ronnie Scelson arrested, charged with molesting teenage girl

Long-time spammer and all-around scuzzball Ronnie Scelson has been arrested in Slidell, LA and charged with molestation of a juvenile, forcible rape, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a weapon while in possession of narcotics. See WWLTV news article Man arrested after allegedly cuffing teen to chair, molesting her for the full story.

Scelson, you may remember, is known for sending out spam capitalizing on the 9/11 attacks (see Mercury News), then defending himself in this usenet thread.

Update: The Times Picayune has more on the story, adding a rape accusation involving a 15-year-old-girl.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Alan Ralsky pleads guilty in spam scam

A perennial name in spam, Alan Ralsky, has pled guilty to conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering, along with several other defendants. I first mentioned this case in January of last year, when Ralsky was indicted along with his son-in-law and nine other people.

Among other things, Ralsky is said to have made $3 million in a pump-n-dump scheme involving the Chinese stock market. He faces up to 3½ years in prison. It's not known if he gets to keep the $3 million.

See San Jose Mercury News story Man who led spam scam pleads guilty in Detroit for the full details.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Still more on the car warranty scam

Fox News has put names and faces on some more of the car warranty scammers. They are:

Christopher D. Cowart, of Fort Lauderdale, FL. He owns Transcontinental Warranty.

James A. Dunne, of Daytona Beach, FL. He owns Voice Touch along with his wife, Maureen.

Maureen E. Dunne, James Dunne's wife.

Christopher Cowart, of Boca Raton, FL. He owns Transcontinental Warranty.

Damian P. Kohlfeld, of Valparaiso, IN. He is the owner of Network Foundations, which among other things, produced the device used to falsify caller id.

Dunne and Kohlfeld have prior criminal records. All claim to be innocent, insisting what they were doing was legal, or that they were just following orders. The scam brought in between ten and forty million dollars.

It is still unclear what, if any, punishment they will face. My guess is that they'll be fined less than they made in the scam and face no jail time.

Read more: Behind a Massive Robocall Scam, Four Human Faces and A Peek Inside One Telemarketing Firm Ensnared in FTC Lawsuit.