Scams date back for centuries: Beware

This newspaper, and many others, periodically warn readers to beware of scams that scarf up your money and give you nothing in return.

Many of us think that the crimes are new, often using modern communication devices.

But the Wall Street Journal recently published an article headed “The Age-Old Secrets of Modern Scams,” pointing out that trickery was developed long before yesterday.

This summer, there have been headlines that explained that scammers have been infiltrating the Twitter accounts of public figures like Barack Obama, Elon Musk and Kim Kardashian West.

The offers urge naïve victims to send bitcoin and get paid double.

Online bitcoin scammers impersonate Musk more often than any other individual, according to data compiled by the website bitcoinwhoswho.com

Some 415 unique bitcoin addresses this year have been associated with impostor scams featuring Musk or his companies Tesla and SpaceX.

When a 17-year-old from Tampa, Fla., was charged July 31 with orchestrating the scheme, prosecutors called him a “mastermind” of a “massive fraud … designed to steal money from regular Americans.”

Experts say that the victims should have studied the history of forgery to hold on to their money. Whether the medium is papyrus, canvas or a digital screen, impostor scams succeed less because of technical skill — like breaking into a high-profile account or imitating an artist’s brush strokes — than because of the ability to tell a convincing story, to plant a lie in an otherwise true tale.

In April 1983, the German magazine Stern began publishing what it believed was a cache of Hitler’s lost diaries — 60 volumes, for which it had paid some $4 million.

In 2012, a papyrus fragment known as the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” turned out to be a modern forgery.

A Harvard Divinity School professor named Karen King announced the discovery at a scholarly conference in Rome, arguing that Christians might have composed the text in the second century.

Four years later, Dr. King acknowledged that she’d been duped.

The motives of con artists are as various as those of their victims. But whether the come-on is biblical or bitcoin, the best of them gild their stories with details drawn from the real world — to blind us to the one crucial detail that isn’t.

It’s a good idea to follow the warning that “if it seems too good to be true, it is.”

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