Feelings of shame and despair at being conned out of $300,000 by a convincing Nigerian-based email scam led Queensland interior decorator Jill Ambrose to attempt suicide twice.
She survived and is now on a crusade to tell her story so that others are not taken in by the scammers.
The phishing scams have been around for years, and are among the most prominent Internet scams. Criminals ask for donations to a worthy cause, or perhaps pose as an heir who needs help claiming a fortune, and claim to be reaching out online for the aid of a generous soul who will reap a large reward for a small investment.
Speaking at AusCERT 2013 on the Gold Coast of Australia, Ambrose said she was contacted via email in September 2005 by a so-called doctor who was supposed to be the Lagos Commissioner of Health.
Scam unfolded quickly
"He asked if my company would be interested in assisting in renovating some hospitals in Lagos. I was sent pictures of the hospitals and contracts," she said.
"Everything was very straightforward and I was due to fly to Lagos in 2006. All of a sudden I didn't hear from anybody. About four weeks later I get another email saying that the work had been done and $11 million would be coming through to me."
The email said that Ambrose could keep only a million dollars and that the money was being sent to a company in London. She was then told to pick up the funds in Amsterdam.
After flying to Amsterdam, she was taken to a deserted factory by four men and shown a truck that was supposedly loaded with millions of U.S. dollars. The men told Ambrose that the funds would be transferred into her account the next day.
However, on the next day Ambrose was told that the liquid used to wash the money with had congealed and she was told to pay $100,000 to buy new liquid.
"I was left in Amsterdam without any money, I had a bit of leeway on my credit card but that was an uncomfortable situation," she said.
"At the very early stages they say that you're not going to have to part with any money. You're so convinced that you are not being conned that you just do anything."
The last time the scammers contacted Ambrose was in 2008. By that time, she was nearly destitute as the scammers kept asking her to send funds before they would release the $11 million.
Personal fallout and recovery
The scam also led to her husband ending their marriage in 2011 as he did not want Ambrose to go public with the details.
Ambrose has set up a Victims of Crime support group and helps other people who have been conned. She is currently working with a victim who sent $1.3 million to a Nigerian scammer.
"Nearly every person who gets scammed tries to take their life," she said. "They [scammers] are creeps and nobody is safe. The only thing I am pleased about is that my experience has helped me support a lot of people."
See also "Top Five Online Scams."
This story, "A victim of the Nigerian phishing scam tells her tale" was originally published by Computerworld Australia.