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Similar situation...customer asked for my help; wanted to scan his drivers license and what looked like a work ID so he could respond to an e-mail telling him he'd won some foreign lottery prize. Danger, Will Robinson. I went to Snopes, printed this out and handed it to him.

More than this I cannot do.

Hello Patrick:

I am a public librarian and I was in a similar situation with an older patron who was trying to reply to a "secret email account" set up for him by someone "really important" in an "anti-terrorist group" who could not reveal his identity. (The quotes refer to information that the elderly patron gave me in the course of working with his email account)

The older gentleman was being asked to supply his credit card account information, to fund national security efforts designed to reveal secret terrorist arsenals around the nation.

Since the patron had asked me to help him log on to this "secret email account" several times, and had showed me his email messages in the process of trying to send them, I felt comfortable asking him some subtle questions about the email recipient, the purported owner of the "anti-terrorist fund."

First, I asked him if he knew the person asking for the money personally. He said that he had a long-time association with him over similiar efforts.

Secondly, I asked him if he would feel comfortable discussing his decision to share his credit card account information with this man, with a trusted relative or a member of law enforcement. He felt confident that he could trust the recipient.

Lastly, I copied information on internet safety for him, especially those articles related to anti-terrorist scams and other urban terrorist myths. It was my feeling that this scam was being perpetuated by someone who was playing off a recent urban myth curculating on hidden terrorist arsenals, a few years ago.

After providing him with this information, I asked my supervisors for more guidance as to reporting the incident. They felt that the man had been given enough information to make a reasoned decision on his own.

I have to admit, I have always wondered what happened and whether I should have bumped my knowledge up to someone in law enforcement more knowledgeable about Internet Scams. This seemed like making the decision for my patron, when he had already chosen another path with the information I had given him.

I hope this helps, Patick.

Patrick - thanks for sending in the question to the blog's email. I hope others respond with their thoughts. Legally, I can't come up with any constraints on asking patrons questions about their activities, unless your library has a written policy concerning staff inquiries to patrons. Otherwise I believe this is largely in the realm of ethical debate. Since you happen to be in the Bay area, you might try to attend this seminar Monday at Stanford to see if your involvement in any way is aiding and abetting: Eugene Volokh, Crime-Facilitating Speech Monday October 25, 2004 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. Stanford Law School Room 180 Free and Open to all!
http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/events/archives/eugene_volokh.shtml ... If you can't make it, note that the talk is based on Volokh's forthcoming article, Crime Facilitating Speech, Stanford Law Review Feb. 2005

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