CyberWatch Column


Online Get-Rich-Quick Schemes


Professor of Computer Information Systems

Norwich University, Northfield, VT

This is another in a continuing series devoted to how ordinary people can protect themselves when using the Internet.

Get-rich schemes on the ‘Net play on the victims’ wishful thinking, lack of skepticism and usually lack of plain common sense.  There have been claims that you can earn a quarter of a million dollars a year – grooming poodles in your home.  Become a millionaire – working four hours a week – sending out promotional literature for products you don’t even have to sell.  Some such schemes are promulgated by dangerous people; for example, some extremist militia groups have been charging people hundreds of dollars to learn how to defraud the government by claiming liens on government property and then claiming the nonsensical liens as collateral for loans.  Other criminals circulate programs for generating fraudulent credit-card numbers and using them to steal goods for fun and profit (they never mention jail).

To illustrate the kind of trouble kids can get into using these techniques, consider the case of Drew Henry Madden.  In 1996, this 16-year-old Australian boy from Brisbane started defrauding businesses using stolen and forged credit-card numbers just after leaving school. He stole $18,000 of goods and in February 1997, pled guilty to 104 counts of fraud and was sentenced to a year in jail  However, further frauds were discovered and it turned out that he had stolen an additional $100,000 in goods and services.  In October 1997, he pleaded guilty to an additional 294 counts of fraud.  He was given an additional suspended sentence.  His defense attorney blamed poor security for the losses:  " Madden started with very minor credit card fraud, but it escalated alarmingly, because the safeguards were so inadequate."  Despite the youngster's unusual revenue stream, his mother appeared to have accepted his globe-trotting ways and massive purchases of lottery tickets without comment.  At one point, she told reporters, “"If we were a wealthy family he'd be at a private school, where his talents could be directed properly."

Some people have bad luck or bad judgement and develop bad credit histories or end up in bankruptcy.  They can be susceptible to criminals who charge money to teach victims how to falsify their rotten credit records so they can obtain yet more fraudulent credit, all they while claiming that their illegal methods are 100% legal.  On the contrary, such “File Segregation” by creating new identities is definitely illegal and may result in fines or even jail sentences.   

A relatively new kind of fraud on the Internet is the diploma mill.  These organizations pretend to be educational institutions; actually, they are fraudulent people (often one individual) who sells bogus documents purporting to represent degrees or certificates and which fool no one but the purchaser.

Practical Guidelines:


* Thanks to Maria Davis for spotting a dead link and providing the useful reference to the creditscore document.