Image by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid
Named after the Nigerian legal code under which they fall, 419 scams, or 'advance fee frauds', are confidence tricks that attempt to relieve the unsuspecting, and greedy, of their hard-earned reddies by convincing them to advance money in lieu of receiving a bigger settlement thereafter. They usually come in the form of badly-written emails from the relatives of a deceased, wealthy individual, but if this story's anything to go by, the scams are getting more insidious. Gadi Evron was told by a friend via Facebook's IM service that she had been robbed at gunpoint in London, and needed money immediately to pay her hotel bill so she could get to the airport on time. Though credible at first, the story quickly fell apart when she started demanding a Western Union money transfer, and Evron realised the person was not whom she seemed. He later discovered that her account had been hacked, and when he contacted a colleague at Facebook security he was told the "held at gunpoint in London" is the latest viral scam doing the rounds.
We're not sure whether to be concerned or flattered by this. London isn't the safest metropolis on Earth, but is our city so synonymous to the American popualce with gun crime and danger that the mere suggestion of armed robbery on the streets plausible enough to have them reaching for the chequebook? It's certainly not unheard of, but happens on a much less frequent scale than, say, your average large US city. Or perhaps we should revel in the fact that, if this scam gets big, Americans might actually stop seeing us as charmingly accented, fey, flop-fringed fops who fight only in Queensberry rule-style fisticuffs, and view London instead as a dark place haunted by shankers and gunmen who wouldn't feel out of place in an episode of The Wire.