Almost Scammed by the “Former President of Taiwan”

The New Nigerian Prince Scam, and How to Avoid Online Scams

Dear Philip, I am contacting you on behalf of the formal personal assistant to the former President of Taiwan (Mr. Chen Shui-bian) on private matters. She humbly requests your assistance. An investment was placed under his management 5 years ago by Mr. Chen Shui-bian. He needs your assistance in investing these funds. If you are interested, kindly Email Benjamin Boi the personal assistant AT ( xxxx @gmail.com ) For briefs and procedures because she has no LinkedIn account.

After decades of being warned about Nigerian Prince 尼日利亞騙徒 scams, you might think the world’s most aggressive yet least successful criminals gave up already. Instead, they keep getting a little smarter.

The basic version of the hustle is someone offers you a large sum of money to help them transfer money out of another country.

It’s a type of advance fee scam. The scammer usually has an elaborate excuse for why they can’t get their money. First, provide funds to un-lock the funds. Over time, as the con artist gains trust, obstacles arise, and more money is given.

It became known as the Nigerian Prince scam because the most widespread version came from Nigeria. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help the Prince retrieve his rightful currency. 🙄.

As more people figured out there’s no such thing as a Nigerian prince, edits of the scam emerged from other countries.

“Wealthy orphans claiming to need an adult sponsor, lottery winners saying they’re required to share their winnings with others, and inheritances trapped in banks due to civil war” — Nigerian Scams, Scamwatch

The newest twist is swapping fake royalty with a real person — say hello to former Taiwan president Chen Shui-Bian 陳水扁. The Taiwan President Scam targets English-speaking people living in Taiwan. While the con artist could make up any name, this one chose Alan Davey. Names that are easier to pronounce, it seems, are more trustworthy.

The Nigerian Prince Scam, Taiwan-ized

Scams Involving Political Figures are More Believable

Borrowing a real name makes the scheme more plausible, but choosing someone like president Chen Shui-Bian makes it believable. Until recently, Chen was serving a life sentence for bribery, money laundering, and embezzlement of $15M USD. It’s since been commuted for medical reasons.

Former president Chen Shui-Bian in handcuffs (Wall Street Journal)

Big businesses and government officials involved in the Chen case included leaders of Hsinchu Science Park 新竹科學園區, Taipei Financial Center Corporation 台北金融大樓公司, and Chinatrust Financial Holding Company 中信金控.

Chen is not the first politician to be sentenced for using their public position for illegal personal gain. Both presidents before and after him were also accused of financial crimes. Chen was only the first to be convicted. No wonder my parents didn’t want me to go into politics.

Past President(Alleged) Financial Crimes

Symptoms of a Young Democracy

Taiwan’s young democracy may not be sophisticated enough to prevent some kinds of illegal activities. The first direct presidential election was only in 1996. And not all politicians or businesspeople are crooks. Power has a way of corrupting people!

“Elected officials — both at national and local levels in Taiwan — are always at the bottom of public opinion surveys when it comes to corruption perceptions on the 26 categories of public servants. While petty corruption has been minimised thanks to the public awareness and robust civil society, grand corruption in Taiwan, which is colluded between politicians and those in the business sector, is still a serious matter.” — Ernie Ko, associate professor at National Taiwan University of Arts, for Taiwan Insight

Additionally, there’s the matter of perspective. Some things that are illegal in the U.S. seem to happen more often in Taiwan — it’s just positioned differently, which is a slippery slope.

Taiwanese currency in red envelopes (Everypixel)

For example, using a red envelope stuffed with money to show appreciation for a favor, or to speed things up. The “way things work around here” is usually a sign someone is trying to manipulate a situation, and it proves to be this way often enough that a survey by Transparency International shows:

  • 26% of Taiwanese people believe corruption is increasing
  • More than half say the judiciary system is corrupt
  • 54% feel the government is doing badly in fighting corruption

Life is unfair, but to more than half of Taiwanese people, so is society. If you give people anywhere an easy opportunity to claw something back from an unfair system, some will try.

Why Do People Keep Falling for This Scam?

Blame it on Human Nature

Yes, many people feel Taiwanese society is unfair, but all kinds of people are ensnared by advance fee scams. In the U.S., ADT Security Services reported in 2018, Americans lost more than $700,000 USD to these scams, with each victim losing ~$2,133. No data (yet) on Taiwan, although Taiwan has its own history with running phone scams from other countries.

It’s human nature. People can be fools, in the name of greed. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” Being greedy and clever enough to profit from these opportunities before others, usually leads to admiration — one of the mayn reasons society celebrates entrepreneurs.

Scams like this prey on some of the worst things about ourselves. Now and then, scams reach people who aren’t thinking with a clear mind. We simply want to believe the universe is delivering a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity. Including, a friend’s business professor. This should come as no big surprise — we all know schools don’t teach street smarts. And as law and policy makers know, humanity is vulnerable to its worst impulses. When morality and profit face off, usually profit comes out the winner.

Lonely Hearts

Sure as time, people get streetwise, but so do scammers. They became smarter at choosing targets who are more open to believing certain stories. According to Scamwatch, amongst the typical stories are, “wealthy orphans claiming to need an adult sponsor, lottery winners saying they’re required to share their winnings with others, and inheritances trapped in banks due to civil war.”

“I want to offer you a large sum of money”

Todd Williams, an agent with Homeland Security Investigations (U.S.), notes many con artists also have a specific psychographic profile in mind. They “… solicit their victims between the ages of 45- 75, widowed men and women. They choose these individuals because they are lonely, [and] in most occasions, they have access to money.”

Telltale Signs This Was a Scam

All told, the Taiwan President Scam is amateur-level deception. A few other tells in this e-mail make the hustle a little more obvious.

  • Profile Picture. Doing a reverse Google image search reveals that Alan Davey’s profile picture is a stock image.
  • Personal Assistant. “She” is a He named Benjamin Boi.
  • African, not Taiwanese. Benjamin Boi is a rap artist.
  • Mixed Tenses. She humbly requests your assistance. An investment was placed under his management.”
  • Multiple Degrees Apart. “Alan” is contacting me on behalf of “Benjamin,” who is a former (why former and not current?) personal assistant to the president of Taiwan.

How to Avoid Online Scams in Taiwan

The American Institute in Taiwan publishes a list of warning signs for online fraud. If you answer Yes to any of these questions, you might be a target.

  • Have you been communicating with someone over the internet through email, Facebook or chat-rooms but never actually met him/her in person?
  • Has this person started an online friendship/romance or offered you a way to earn money?
  • Does this person always claim to have bad luck — he/she is in a car crash, or arrested, or mugged, or beaten, or hospitalized? Are close family members are dead or unable to assist, or claims to have a young child overseas who is ill or hospitalized?
  • Does this person claim to have been born and raised in the United States or United Kingdom, yet uses poor grammar and spelling, likely indicators of a non-native English speaker?
  • Does this person claim to be in the U.S. or Taiwan but he/she asks that the money be sent to an account in another place or country?
  • Has this person asked you to send them money for ANY REASON?

If you believe you are the victim of online fraud, or want to report information, visit the Taiwan National Police Agency website.

Doing business from West to East, and now the other way around as an American high-tech researcher in Taiwan // philipchang.org

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