Nigerian Fraud Letter

The Nigerian Nightmare – Who’s sending you all those scam e-mails?
By Brendan I. Koerner

Perhaps you heard from Daniel A. Oluwa over the past few days. He’s a member of Nigeria’s Federal Audit Committee. He dropped you an e-mail, labeled “Strictly Confidential,” stating that he’s discovered a frozen account containing $42.5 million. Mr. Oluwa wants to snag the loot, but, for unfathomable reasons, he needs a foreign-based partner to act as an intermediary.

Interested?

Merely send along your “bank name, address, account number, swift code, ABA number (if any), beneficiary of account, telephone and fax numbers of bank.” Thirty percent of the booty shall eventually be yours.

If you didn’t receive Oluwa’s electronic plea, maybe you were instead pitched by Dr. Chukwubu Eze, who’s looking for a partner to help him spirit away $33.62 million in illicit oil money.

Or Steve Okon, the purported son of a murdered Zimbabwean diplomat. He’s got the skinny on about $10 million stashed away in an Amsterdam vault. Or any number of women named Mariam who claim to be the widows of either the late Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha or the deceased Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. They need help tapping into some Swiss bank accounts.

As you no doubt guessed, none of these supplicants were on the up-and-up. But you might be surprised to learn that they are, in fact, Nigerian.

Odds are they’re all Lagos-based con artists looking for American dupes greedy enough and dumb enough to spend thousands in pursuit of nonexistent fortunes. They aim to lure you to Nigeria or to a nearby nation where you’ll be cajoled into ponying up endless fees to secure the “riches”$30,000 for a “chemical solvent” to disguise the money or $50,000 for “customs duties.”

When you eventually wise up, faux police barge into your hotel and demand massive bribes in exchange for your freedom. Tapped out? Expect to be held for ransom or murdered.

This swindle is commonly known as “419 fraud,” after the section of the Nigerian penal code covering cons.

According to the anti-spam Software vendor Brightmail, 419 come-ons are the Web’s second-most common form of junk mail, ranking behind only those incessant “herbal Viagra” ads.

Though most people merely laugh at the pleas’ awful grammar and all-caps style (“I WILL LIKE YOU CONTACT MY LAWYER …”), about 1 percent of recipients actually respond. Of that number, enough people fork over enough cash to sustain an industry that ranks in Nigeria’s top five. It is estimated conservatively that the scammers net $100 million per year.

The scam is experiencing a digitally aided heyday, but 419’s roots stretch back to the Jazz Age. It’s an Africanized version of “The Spanish Prisoner,” a classic 1920s scheme in which suckers were convinced that a wealthy scion was rotting in a Barcelona jail. Front some cash to win his freedom, and you’d be amply rewarded for your troubles. Or not.

Nigerian updates on the Spanish Prisoner first appeared in the late 1970s, when photocopied pleas began arriving in American mailboxes. Organized gangs located potential victims by combing through the White Pages, and they paid for the postage with bogus stamps. The volume of letters picked up in the mid-1980s, when Nigeria’s oil industry tanked.

The widespread adoption of the fax machine gave the hucksters an additional means of contacting their prey, and corporate faxes churned out plenty of junk letters beginning, “PLEASE EXCUSE MY INTRUSION INTO YOU BUSINESS LIFE. “

The scam’s transition to e-mail began around 1996. At first, because of Nigeria’s lackluster telecommunications infrastructure household phones are a rarity, to say nothing of dial-up Internet access only the old organized gangs could afford to participate. But in the past two to three years, cyber cafes have sprung up all over Lagos and other major Nigerian cities.

Information technology has lowered the barriers to entry for Nigerians hoping for a share of the 419 haul, just as it’s helped countless Americans indulge their fantasies of becoming self-taught electronic musicians, video auteurs, or MP3 swappers.

Brains, not money, are the scam’s only prerequisite now, thanks to the Internet’s inherently democratic nature.

Unfortunately for the gullible of the world, Lagos teems with bright, underemployed youths who grasp that concept. No longer the sole domain of professional criminals, 419 has become a cozy family business, Nigeria’s version of the Greek diner or Irish pub. For $1 per hour, alone 419er can use a cyber cafe terminal to send out duplicitous spam, eliminating the need for sizeable startup capital (even fake postage stamps cost something).

Spam “bots,” or automated programs, comb the Internet in search of e-mail addresses, replacing the need to spend hours upon hours thumbing through American or European phone books. E-mail accounts can be obtained for free via services like Hotmail or Yahoo!, and they’re untraceable when registered with false information and used from a public terminal.

Some 419ers with rudimentary HTML skills have even begun to set up fake Web pages to bolster their scams. A site for the fictitious “Dominion of Melchizedek” recently bilked thousands of Filipinos in a bogus passport con.

Not surprisingly, the number of 419 letters received by Americans has soared. The Secret Service reported a 900 percent increase in the volume of Nigerian scam spam between 2000 and 2001. The U.S. government is so rankled by 419 spam that it’s given the Nigerian government an ultimatum: Do something about the problem by November or face economic sanctions.

Although last year only 16 Americans claimed financial losses, totaling $345,000, that’s probably a fraction of the full amount. Most victims are too embarrassed by their own stupidity to ever come forward. Heartless as it may sound, there’s a silver lining to the digitization of 419. The proliferation of cybercafes in Nigeria can be linked directly to the demand supplied by 419ers, who form the establishments’ core clientele.

Walk into an Internet cafe in Lagos, and chances are that a good percentage of the terminals are occupied by men masquerading as Laurent Kabila’s long-lost son or as a rogue official at the Central Bank of Nigeria. The wiring of Nigeria is America’s appetite for porn helped shepherd the commercial Internet through its infancy. AOL made it through its lean, early years only because of adult chat rooms and spicy picture downloads (which kept the meter running during the era of per-hour access fees).

Someday 419 will abate, when young, educated Nigerians have better economic prospects and foreign Internet users get it through their thick skulls that, no, you’re not going to rake in millions by flying to Nigeria and fronting some stranger your life savings. And when that day comes, there will be a thriving Internet culture for Nigerians to use for more legitimate purposes. If the Daniel A. Oluwas of the world has the technical chops to work a 419 scam, they can surely get an e-commerce site going.

This letter is only one of several styles of letters appearing in email and through the Post office mail. No one is immune to these people. Do not even try your hand at a phone call to these people. You may well regret it.

More information

Sample Email

FROM: ENGR. CHRIS MADIBO.

CONFIDENTIAL
BUSINESS REQUEST.

I am making this contact based on the information I gathered from the business contact trade centre representative office here in Nigeria, where I got your e- mail address.

I have been mandated by my colleagues to seek for a very reliable and trustworthy person or a foreign company that can assist us in a very confidential business transaction, that will be of financial benefit to both parties based on mutual trust and co-operation.

I am the executive secretary of the contract review panel and payment recommendation board of the federal ministry of mines and solid mineral resources. We were appointed by the present civilian government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, as a result of the petition filed by foreign contractors, to review the contracts that were awarded by the past military government of the late general Sani Abacha to foreign companies from 1997 to 2000 and make recommendation for payment of the contract amount owed the foreign companies/contractors from the fund allocated for foreign debt payment in this year’s budget.

In the course of our assignment we discovered that some of these contracts claims were grossly inflated and over invoice by those foreign companies, of course in active collusion with the past military regime. We have made a recommendation that these foreign contractors be paid their actual contract amount by the finance ministry, while the over-inflated sum should be returned to the federal Government account.

However I and my colleagues have set aside the sum of US$ 16,500,000.00 (Sixteen Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars) out of the over-inflated total amount for our utilisation, so as to secure our future, because we are poorly paid civil servants.

What we need is the person, whose foreign company we will slot in amongst our recommended list for payment.

This is exactly why I have contacted you. We will use our position and influence to take care of the documentations and all other official paperwork, so you do not have to worry about that, Provided you have an account that the fund can be transferred and that you have absolute control over the account. Note that all the modalities for this transaction has perfected.

For using your company name and account you shall be entitled to 20% of the total amount, while we take 75% and the remains 5% will be set aside to settle all sundry and incidental bills that may be expended for the actualisation of this transaction (i.e. documentation cost, communication bills etc).

If you are interested in working with me on this transaction, please signify through my return e-mail address, so that I can provide you with more detailed information on steps to take to realise this transaction within the next two weeks .

I await your prompt reply.

My best regard
Engr. Chris Madibo.

Or Another Example

FROM THE DESK OF:
MR CHU SENGCHEN,
BANK OF OVERSEAS CHINESE
TAIPEI,TAIWAN

ATTN:please email me via my correspondence office box:
[email protected]

I am Mr Chu Sengchen,Bank Manager, Bank Of Overseas Chinese North Shyn Lin District, Taipei, Taiwan. I have urgent and very confidential business proposition for you.

On June 6, 1998, a British Oil consultant/contractor with the Chinese Solid Minerals Corporation, Mr. David Abel made a Fixed Deposit of the sum of US$10,000,000.00 (Ten Million United States Dollars) which accumulated to the sum of US $20,160,176.00 (Twenty Million, One hundred and sixty thousand, One hundred and seventy six United States Dollars for twelve calendar months in my branch.

I sent a routine notification to his forwarding address but got no reply.After a month, we sent a reminder and finally we discovered from his contract employers, the Chinese Solid Minerals Corporation that Mr. David Abel died from an automobile accident. On further investigation, I found out that he died without making a WILL, and all attempts to trace his next of kin was fruitless. I therefore made further investigation and discovered that Mr. David Abel did not declare any kin or relations in all his official documents, including his Bank Deposit paperwork in my Bank. This sum of US$20,160,176.00 is still sitting in my Bank and the interest is being rolled over with the principal sum at the end of each year. No one will ever come forward to claim it. According to Laws of Republic of China, at the expiration of 6(six) years, the money will revert to the ownership of the Chinese Government if nobody applies to claim the fund.

Consequently, my proposal is that I will like you as a foreigner to stand in as the next of kin to Mr.David Abel so that the fruits of this old man’s labor will not get into the hands of some corrupt government officials. This is simple, I will like you to provide immediately your full names and address so that the attorney will prepare the necessary documents and affidavits that will put you in place as the next of kin.

We shall employ the services of an attorney for drafting and notarization of the WILL and to obtain the necessary documents and letter of probate/administration in your favor for the transfer. A bank account in any part of the world that you will provide will then facilitate the transfer of this money to you as the beneficiary/next of kin.

There is no risk at all as all the paperwork for this transaction will be done by the attorney and my position as the Branch Manager guarantees the successful execution of this transaction. If you are interested, please reply immediately via the private email address above. Upon your response, I shall then provide you with more details and relevant documents that will help you understand the transaction.

Please send me your confidential telephone and fax numbers for easy communication.Please observe utmost confidentiality, and rest assured that this transaction would be most profitable for both of us because I shall require your assistance to invest my share in your country.

Awaiting your urgent reply via my correspondence email
[email protected]
For personal/security reasons…..

Thanks and regards,
Mr.chu seng chen

In the scheme, these people attempt to obtain your financial information and your account number and when they do they wire transfer your money to Nigeria. You now have no money.

To read more go to the Secret Service site or the snopes.com nigerian scam site .

For more information, you can also visit go to http://www.crimes-of-persuasion.com/Crimes/Business/nigerian.htm or the United States Secret ServiceI website at http://www.ustreas.gov/usss/alert419.shtml.