Every day, millions of Americans get emails something like this: The alleged dying widow of a crooked Nigerian government oil minister wants to put $10 million into your bank account, if you'll just provide your number and access code (which will let the fake "widow" bleed out your money).
We don't know how many people are fleeced by these brazen frauds. Evidently some are; the scams wouldn't continue if they produced no loot.
The FBI and other watchdogs list hundreds of different online swindles -- from crooks who pose as lovers on dating sites, to others who collect money for bargain goods or luxury cars that aren't delivered, to others who obtain your credit card numbers for illicit buying sprees, etc.
Now a slick new scam has arisen -- one that seems convincingly real: Swindlers copy genuine Facebook pages of big-money evangelists, then use the photos and writing to make duplicate sites that beg churchgoers for donations for overseas orphanages, hospitals and other church charities. Honest believers who mail checks or money orders are rooked.
A Kansas City Star report says this swindle has victimized followers of evangelists Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, John Hagee and many others. When the real ministers discover the phony sites and complain, Facebook removes them -- but new ones pop up faster than they can be purged.
The Rev. Adam Hamilton, leader of the 18,000-member Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City -- America's largest Methodist congregation -- denounced the scammers in a sermon titled "Evil in the Name of God." A watchdog site called "Facecrooks" tells of victims who sent money.
It's dismaying that a certain number of people are human snakes, eager to concoct convincing lies to trick people out of money. Legendary humorist Will Rogers understood how vile the tricksters are, and remarked: "I would rather be the man who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the man who sold it."
As the Internet grows constantly more central to daily life, be wary of all invitations asking for checks, money orders or credit card numbers.