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How low can online scammers go?

In the world of the cynical online phishing scam ploy, is pretending to be a Marine stationed in Afghanistan a new low?

I have become used to receiving urgent messages from people who have a sudden a desperate need for the use of my bank account.

There are tales of Nigerian wills and family disputes in Hong Kong. And I cannot even count the number of times I have won the UK Lottery.

I often wonder what sort of folks are behind these wizard wheezes, how long they take to concoct their bilge and whether they sit there hoping, like wizened insurance salesmen in sweaty nylon shirts, for that one big success that will make their year.

However, reader Julian Gomez has pointed me in the direction of what some might consider a new low in attempted online theft.

There are nasty, demented minds out there writing e-mails purporting to be from U.S. Marines stationed in Afghanistan.

Gomez received one that went like this: "When on a routine mission of search and destroy, we stumbled upon a concealed barrel with piles of weapon and ammunition, my men and I agreed that the money be shared, the sum of $900,000.00 (Nine hundred thousand dollars) now happens to be my share."

CC Nina Hale

If you are not already sucked in by this exciting tale, the writer brings in an international flavor: "I have the cooperation of a German diplomat working here for its evacuation to a safer country, though, I have not disclosed the true contents of the package to him. He believes it to be personal effects of an Asian American who died in an air raid."

So, perhaps carelessly, the writer is already admitting he is a liar. However, like the creme-de-la-creme of liars, he wants is to be able to trust you: "I need someone I can trust to receive this package as a relative to this dead Asian American, there is a secured way of getting the package out to a safer country for you to pick up."

All you have to do, therefore, is to pretend to be the relative of a dead Asian-American Marine. What could be simpler?

However, there is one crucial stricture: "One passionate appeal I will make to you is not to discuss this matter with a third party, should you have reasons to reject this offer, please destroy this mail as any leakage of its content could spell doom for me. I do not know how long we will remain here but hopefully before the year runs out, we shall be out."

Yes, the liar, having secured your trust, ends with an appeal to your sympathy.

Of course scam artists have been around since lucre became lucrative. And most people will see this tale to have the height it actually does. However, it takes just one person to fall for it to make it worth the scammer's while--perhaps someone with a special affinity for the military, someone lonely, perhaps aging, perhaps as trusting as the director of the FBI, whose wife prevented him from falling for an online scam.

With the boundaries of reality shows being expanded like the gut of a hot-dog eating champion, mightn't this be the time to get the finest online minds to compete in a show perhaps called "Scammers in the Slammer."

The winner would be the one who, less brawny than the Bounty Hunter but more brainy than Larry Page, smoked out more of these insidious little people from whichever hole they happen to inhabit.

I, for one, would love to watch that show. Wouldn't you?