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How to Tell If You've Received a Nigerian Email Scam
Hajia Mariam Abacha
OR a letter like this:
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Do you really need to ask this? Isn't it obvious? Well, people never fail to amaze me with the combination of greed and stupidity they demonstrate... so here's the explanation:
You first receive a letter, fax or e-mail from an insider or alleged "official" representing a present or former foreign government or agency. The letter, while appearing transparently bogus and even ridiculous to most, is unfortunately growing in its effectiveness and reach.
Initially targeting businessmen, the scam has now expanded to include the average citizen due to the low cost of email transmission in relation to potential gains. Church officials are also being specifically targeted with uniquely worded offers of charitable bequests. The common thread is that the initial letter sets the stage and is the opening round of a scheme within a scheme.
The following characteristics may be found in these letters.
The Exalted Sender
The sender may claim to be one of the following:
Interestingly, 419 kingpins have perfected the act of inventing odd names that cut across tribes and sometimes religion. Thus, it is not impossible to see names like Mike Ajasin Ikoku as an individual, while others could have as many as seven to ten "operational" names made up from variations of actual bank and ministry personnel.
The names of prominent South African politicians, including former President Nelson Mandela and Finance Minister Trevor Manual, have recently been dragged into a Nigerian 419 letter scam uncovered in Johannesburg.
One Nigerian, who claimed to be the late Oliver Tambo's younger brother, used the names of Mandela, Manual and Jeff Radebe, minister of public enterprises, to con wealthy international businessmen out of their money.
In his letter, "Emmanuel M. Tambo" claims to be a senior legal official at "SA Gold and Diamond Mine and Processing in Krugersdorp" and that he is the "junior" brother of former ANC president, Oliver Tambo.
According to him, freedom fighters such as Mandela, Manuel and Radebe, were honoured for their contribution to the struggle with cabinet posts.
The Opportunity of a Lifetime
New variations of the scheme are being developed all the time but the most
common forms of these fraudulent business proposals fall into these main
They essentially need your distant involvement in some illegal, but mostly white-collar, criminal proposal. They will want to get the money out of Nigeria or other West African country by using you as a conduit "who will benefit greatly from your assistance and cooperation".
It must be noted that while many such scams imply the victims participation in an illegal act there are various forms of so-called "legal" 419 such as the Will Scam, the Real Estate Scam, Scholarship Scam and others for which there is no basis for the victim to be considered a potential criminal and have their claims dismissed or even charged under the 419 act in Nigeria.
You might hear:
"My father left me $40 million in his will, but I have to bribe government officials to get it out."
"The Nigerian National Petroleum Company has discovered oil, and as government employees we want to acquire the land, but we need a front man to purchase it for us."
"We just sold a bunch of crude oil in Nigeria, but we have to bribe the banker to get it out."
"The Nigerian government overpaid on some contract, and we need a front man to get it out of the country before they discover its error."
"Your charity has been named as a beneficiary in the will of a wealthy Nigerian. You just need to send the necessary "proofs of identity"."
"We respectfully invite your kind attention to the transfer of $25 million U.S. into your personal/company offshore account."
Nigerian lottery scams from the Netherlands are on the rise. Several lotteries recently began to put up bogus websites, some of them with pictures of bustling computer rooms or impressive office fronts, claiming to be working for Lee Towers Holdings, after a well-known Dutch Frank Sinatra impersonator, or Johannes Cruyff, the soccer star."
For example, Fortune Trust Finance & Securities opens a whole new world of opportunities providing you with that financial security you can count on," reads a brand new web site. Take a closer look and you understand why. Profiles of "our dedicated Executive Directors" make you laugh: the low res-pictures are noticeably copied from other websites. And the web site's visual effects are totally inappropriate for a trustworthy financial institution.
Fortune Trust Finance & Securities is one of many non-existent companies linked to congratulatory emails, advising victims of their good fortune in winning a million dollar lottery prize. A reply to the email yields a request for thousands of dollars or higher to cover payment of handling, transfer and insurance costs. You guessed it: they take the money and run.
The lottery scams are orchestrated by Nigerians operating from boiler rooms in Amsterdam suburbs. They don't target Dutch victims, but foreigners who do not know that companies such as Fortune Trust Finance & Securities could never be housed at Burdenstreet or Alfonstraat in Amsterdam, addresses mentioned in numerous emails. The phone numbers, however, are real; some will even connect to a satellite phone.
The Dutch fraud squad last year estimated that at least seven Nigerian syndicates - a group of at least a hundred people - are engaged with 419 frauds from Amsterdam; making it one the most important scam hubs of the European continent. Recently five Nigerian men were sentenced for e-mail crimes, including lottery fraud.
Others will let you believe they are accredited by the Dutch Council for Accreditation, prompting this organisation to issue warnings. Germany-based Waruno Mahdi is keeping an eye on several Dutch and UK scam lottery companies at his website. Even The London Metropolitan Police has issued warnings.
The Nigerian Federal Police have set up a special unit to investigate the scheme but due to the reluctance of victims to travel to Nigeria, prosecutions are difficult to institute. The scheme has continued unabated and cases emanating from Japan are now being reported.
In a bid to outsmart Nigerian police surveillance, some of the perpetrators are now operating in the nearby Republic of Benin, Ghana, and Burkina-Faso where foreign nationals now fly into in compliance with the directives of their Nigerian invitees. Accordingly, Interpol has now extended its surveillance to these countries, while alerting their counterparts about the activities of the fraudsters.
The Secret Service, under its mandate to protect U.S. currency and financial institutions, has since 1995 been working with the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Nigerian and other foreign authorities to try to counter the operations, which range from the crude to quite sophisticated.
If you have been victimized by one of these schemes, please forward appropriate written documentation to the:
United States Secret Service,
or telephone (202) 406-5850 fax: (202) 406-8203, (202) 406-6390
Materials sent in should still be labeled No Financial Loss - For Your Database if that is the case and Loss - and whether or not there is a US Connection - if there was a loss. If you are from outside the US, you should also note the country you are from.
If you receive such a letter in the mail, do not respond. Send it to:
Inspection Service Operations Support Group
Anyone in the UK receiving such a letter or e-mail is advised not to reply and forward the correspondence to the
National Criminal Intelligence Service,
or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Specialist Crime OCU Fraud Squad
South African Police
Contact: Captain SC Schambriel
To date, it remains accurate to say that in the vast majority of cases, since the authorities will not recover it for you, once you lose money to the 419ers you will never see it again.
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Copyright J Slemmer 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009
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