If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
There is no such thing as a free monkey.
Recently I got a call from a lady named Betty Childers. Betty was calling to report "a scam on your Web site."
We take that kind of thing very seriously here at Lubbock Online, so I took her information and immediately checked with our classifieds manager.
Betty was responding to an ad that offered to provide a monkey from Cameroon "for free adoption."
The Avalanche-Journal stopped running these ads about a year ago, but versions of them are still floating around the Internet, waiting to trap the unwary.
Betty contacted a man named "Dennis Williamson" at his Yahoo address and eagerly awaited the arrival of her monkey.
A few days later, she was told that Pan American Airlines needed her to pay $220 in "monkey insurance" before they could ship a monkey overseas. (Note: Pan American World Airways went out of business in 1991.)
Time passes, and Betty gets another e-mail, this time claiming that her monkey had been "held up in customs in France" and that it would take another $300 to get him released.
Betty was very upset about having her monkey "held hostage," but she lives on a fixed income and could not afford $300. The broker offered to pay $200 of the fee if Betty could send him another $100, which she did.
So Betty is out $320, and she still doesn't have her monkey.
These kinds of stories are regrettably common.
The most infamous Internet scam is the Nigerian 419 or Advance Fee Fraud scam, where a wealthy foreigner offers to cut you in on a large percentage of a questionable fortune, as long as you provide a couple thousand up front.
It takes a special combination of greed and gullibility to fall for the 419 scam, but the monkey scam is a bit easier to understand.
People give away puppies and kittens all the time, why not try the same thing with a monkey? (The ad describes the monkey as "DNA tasted" which may be my favorite spelling mistake of all time.)
Ultimately, the best way to be safe on the Internet is to use some common sense. Deal with established businesses, don't send money to strangers, and if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
Don't open unsolicited e-mail attachments, and don't forward strange or cute e-mails to other people.
The Web site Snopes.Com has an extensive database of scams, pranks and tricks that have been circulating on the Internet for years. When in doubt, check Snopes first.
Reach Michael Duff at email@example.com.
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