Email scams attempt to trick computer users into making unwise
Sophos is warning computer users about the danger of internet
scams, following news that a former treasurer of Alcona County,
Michigan, has been arrested after allegedly investing more than
$1.2 million of county funds in Nigerian fraud scams.
56-year-old Thomas Katona, who was treasurer of the county for
thirteen years, has been charged with forgery and multiple counts
of embezzlement. Both charges carry a jail sentence of ten years or
According to Michigan's Attorney General, Mike Cox, county
treasury employees became suspicious of Katona's dealings after
local bank officials informed them that he had directed several
unauthorised transfers to overseas accounts during late 2006.
Beneficiaries allegedly included individuals linked with Nigerian
419 scams. It is claimed that Katona made further payments using
his personal savings, and had previously been advised by bank
officials that he was investing money in fraudulent schemes.
Sophos notes that a shortage of $1.236 million has now been
reported by Alcona County - more than one quarter of its yearly
"Nigerian scam emails promise the world but deliver nothing in
return for the cash that people continue to invest," said Graham Cluley, senior
technology consultant at Sophos. "If the claims against Thomas
Katona are proven in court it may be that thought it was possible
to return the funds that were allegedly embezzled. But irrespective
of his intentions, the upshot is that his County must now suffer a
financial shortfall for the year ahead."
419 scams are named after the relevant section of the Nigerian
penal code where many of the scams originated and are unsolicited
emails where the author offers a large amount of money. Once a
victim has been drawn in, requests are made from the fraudster for
private information which may lead to requests for money, stolen
identities, and financial theft.
"Many people fall victim to email scams due to naivety, but in
this case Katona was warned about the consequences of investing,
and decided to proceed regardless," continued Cluley. "There's not
much that can be done to stop people who serve up their wallets on
a plate to scammers, but clearly handing over your county's money
cannot be tolerated, and hopefully this arrest will serve as an
example to others."
This week Sophos published its
annual Security Threat Report, which detailed many of the
different disguises used by email scammers in their attempts to
commit identity theft and swindle money out of internet users.
Sophos recommends companies protect themselves with a consolidated solution which can defend businesses
from the threats of spam, spyware and malware.