What do a Florida lawyer, a California heart surgeon and a New Hampshire accountant have in common? They were all caught up in an international scam that rakes in more the $3 billion a year.
According to Brian Ross, ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent, this e-mail scam—and others just like it—are so seductive that many victims end up losing their life savings or going to prison.
During a three-month 20/20 investigation, Brian uncovered thousands of cons on the Internet, which he says is home to the greatest collection of scam artists ever. These computer-savvy criminals are logging on in Internet cafes around the world. For one story, Brian set his sights on e-mail scams originating in Nigeria, a West African nation that has been plagued by government corruption for decades.
Brian says many times scammers ask their "mark" to send money to them in order to help someone in need—or help them transfer huge sums of money. They promise that if the money comes through, the donor will receive a huge return on his or her investment. "They'll say, 'Here's $15,000. Send me $4,000. You keep the $11,000,'" Brian says. "People think, 'This is pretty good.'"
Unfortunately, the payout usually comes in the form of a counterfeit check...or never comes at all.