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419: The world of the Nigerian fraudster

Vanguard By CHIOMA GABRIEL - 15-01-24 Click here for original article       Back to Articles

Their modus operandi is unique. It could be that man in your neighbourhood who doesn't seem to have any visible means of livelihood but lives big and drives the best cars. He might even have a business front but lives larger than the business that you begin to wonder if his lifestyle is strictly derived from that business you know.

Or, it could be that man you see around everyday when workers and businessmen are leaving their homes in the early morning who does not go anywhere but lives like a prince in your neighbourhood.

They also come in other forms. Suddenly, you realise that somebody is using your email account to solicit funds from your facebook friends, your colleagues or other contacts in your email.

Or maybe, you are worshipping in a church but you are not sure if the man on the pulpit is called by God or whether the church is just another business enterprise where people are milked dry and dumped. It happens.

Perhaps, you have been receiving text messages from unknown sources informing you of an inheritance you don't know about being paid into your bank account and leaving a number for you to contact for details that could lead to maximizing the benefits of that inheritance and before you know it, you are duped!

It could also be a text message informing you about winning a lottery you never entered into or using things they think you are familiar with to hoodwink you!

Sometimes too, it could be a rich married woman being lured into a love web with the motive to dupe her of her resources or that of her husband via blackmail whether the love scene is real or make-believe.

The stories and the experiences are endless. All over the world, Nigerians are dreaded due to a few bad eggs that have mastered the scam game.

Overseas, it is believed that scamming is the country's third largest export industry, the 'sweetheart swindle' being the most devastating. Not only are women taken for thousands of dollars, but their families are torn apart, their hearts broken and their ability to trust damaged.

Whether they call it 419, Obtaining By Trick, OBT or Yahoo-Yahoo, it is the same story. People are using the internet to perpetrate scams that deprive many of their hard earned money, destroy businesses and make nonsense of their lives.

In the newspapers and the internet everyday, stories are read of Nigerians of all ages who wreak the life of other Nigerians and foreigners through the advance fee fraud running into millions of Naira, Dollars, Pounds Sterling and Euros.

Scammers have developed new ways to try to convince people that their money-grubbing cons are really genuine.

Nigerians are duped everyday through business and love scams. Foreigners are the worse victims.

On weekly, nay daily basis, new variations of the so-called Nigerian 419 scam (named for the section of the Nigerian constitution that deals with this crime) appear.

Some scammers are pretty clever but with healthy skepticism, one can still see through them.

One thing is very clear though. Every swindle is driven by a desire for easy money; it's the one thing the swindler and the swindled have in common. Advance-fee fraud is an especially durable con. In an early variation, the Spanish Prisoner Letter, which dates to the sixteenth century, scammers wrote to English gentry and pleaded for help in freeing a fictitious wealthy countryman who was imprisoned in Spain. Today, the con usually relies on e-mail and is often called a 419 scheme, after the anti-fraud section of the criminal code in Nigeria, because it flourishes here.

Sometime ago, a Nigerian comedian, Nkem Owoh released a song which was the title track in a film he played a lead role. He taunted Westerners with the lyrics "I go chop your dollar. I go take your money and disappear. Four-one-nine is just a game. You are the loser and I am the winner."

Most 419 letters and emails originate from or are traced back to Nigeria but some originate from other nations, mostly also West African nations such as Ghana, Togo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast ( Cote D'Ivoire ) etc. In most cases 419 emails from other nations, even European nations like the UK, the Netherlands, Spain etc. are also Nigerian in that the "Home Office" of the 419ers involved is Nigeria regardless of the apparent source of the contact materials. But there are occasionally some "local" copycats trying to emulate the success of the Nigerians, generally not very successfully.

EFCC

In a desperate effort to contain the embarrassment of internet scammers, the Nigerian government established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Monies stolen by 419 operations are very rarely recovered from Nigeria, although the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) when led by Nuhu Ribadu and Ibrahim Lamorde made some welcome progress in that regard for several years prior to 2008.

Ribadu and Lamorde were, however, replaced by Mrs. Farida Waziri as head of the EFCC in early 2008. Under her leadership, the EFCC was not as active in counter-419 matters as it was under Ribadu and Lamorde. The performance of EFCC in the area of recovery and repatriation of 419ed monies had waned. Mrs. Waziri was replaced in November 2011.

Ibrahim Lamorde returned to the EFCC as Director of Operations in December 2010, and replaced Waziri as Director of the EFCC in November 2011.

Advance fee fraud is still thriving

On April 16 2012, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission claimed it secured the conviction of over 288 persons due to internet fraud. The EFCC also said four fugitives were extradited to the United States while another 234 cases were still being prosecuted. Lamorde put the counterfeit financial instruments seized by the EFCC in collaboration with the Nigeria Postal Service, at $24m, £858,937 and E1,195, 218,214 respectively.

The anti-graft body boss said, "We must collaborate to, at least, survive the onslaught and then fight back from the position of strength conferred by pooled resources, shared intelligence, joint operations and other efforts such as this."

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, also said Nigeria was leading the fight against cyber crime and other economic and financial crimes in West Africa and across the world.

Adoke said, "While we cannot deny the involvement of some Nigerians in these unwholesome practices, we vehemently reject the tendency on the part of nationals of some countries even within ECOWAS sub-region to label Nigeria a 419 nation.

"Our law enforcement agencies have recorded giant strides in the enforcement of these laws as evidenced by the increased arrest, prosecution and conviction of internet fraud related offences recorded monthly."

Nigeria has continued to live under the continual embarrassment of the activities of fraudsters and internet scammers.

A statement posted on the Internet by the U.S. State Department, states that 419 schemes began to proliferate in the mid-nineteen-eighties, when a collapse in oil prices caused severe economic upheaval in Nigeria. The people who are literate, English-speaking, and living with widespread government corruption--faced poverty and rising unemployment. These conditions created a culture of scammers, some of them violent.

Victims are often encouraged to travel to Nigeria or to other countries, where they fall victim to kidnapping, extortion, and, in rare cases, murder.

In the nineteen-nineties, at least fifteen foreign businessmen, including one American, were killed after being lured to Nigeria by 419 scammers according to the US State Department.

But Nigerian officials tended to blame the victims.

"There would be no 419 scam if there are no greedy, credulous and criminally-minded victims ready to reap where they did not sow," the Nigerian Embassy in Washington was quoted to have said in a 2003 statement. The following year, Nuhu Ribadu, the then chairman of Nigeria's Economic & Financial Crimes Commission, noted that not one scammer was behind bars. That year also, Ribadu's commission convicted two crime bosses who had enticed a Brazilian banker to spend two hundred and forty-two million dollars of his employer's money on a fictitious airport-development deal.

Today's Nigerian scammers try to convince people with the "real" thing -- $100 bills.

One of the most common, longest-standing Nigerian scams is the invitation to share in some ill-gotten gains. To get your hands, supposedly, on the dough, you have to either supply personal bank account details (for ID theft) or make a money-wire or credit card payment to get the money released (which, of course, doesn't exist). To deal with the inevitable skepticism, the scammers often supply a link to a true story, usually about someone (the benefactor) being killed in a road accident.

Every week, there are scores of reports about Nigerian scams. They come in several variation which include: Hacking into Facebook accounts, then sending messages to all the listed friends claiming the account owner is in trouble and asking for cash to be wired for their rescue; collecting names and email addresses of people who leave messages on obituary site guest books and contacting them with a request for money, supposedly on behalf of the bereaved person; sending complimentary messages to bloggers and article authors (both online and in print) as a way of establishing a friendship that, sooner or later, results in a cash-call attached to a tale of woe; offering to buy your Internet domain name, then asking you to visit a site (their site) where you have to pay to have it valued; and using Microsoft Word documents as attachments. These contain details of the scam story but, because they are not in the main body of the email, they often don't get picked up by scam detectors in your security software.

The one thing you can be sure of with Nigerian scams is that they may not be worded well, but they are big-time sneaky in the way they try to fool people.

And you can be sure Nigerian scammers will find even more new tricks to test your gullibility.

The many stories of the Nigerian con artistes

In the United Kingdom, a conman who posed as a Nigerian prince in high society while masterminding massive immigration scam was jailed for seven years. The story written by Chris Greenwood and published in Daily Mail of UK told the story of the Nigerian-born fake prince, Dr Yilkyes Bala who lived the high life and was chauffeur-driven in a Bentley. But the 'businessman' was a criminal running an immigration racket.

Posing as a member of the Nigerian Royal family, he mingled with diplomats, captains of industry and senior police officers. Dr Yilkyes Bala was chauffeur-driven in a black Bentley and hosted sumptuous dinners at the Dorchester to mix with society's elite. But the supposedly flourishing businessman was an ordinary scammer responsible for an ambitious immigration racket.

Investigators believe he helped more than 100 of his countrymen, including most of his extended family, to enter the UK illegally under false and stolen identities.

At the centre of the scam was a corrupt Home Office worker who sold him genuine, but improperly issued, refugee passports for £1,500 each. Bala then used his network of security companies to give the illegal immigrants references and jobs.

They could then 'hit the jackpot' and obtain a National Insurance number, giving them full citizen's rights and access to State benefits.

But the racket, which continued for up to 16 years, unravelled when the Home Office employee was caught.

Bala, 55, was sentenced to a seven year jail term from August 1st, after a jury convicted him of conspiring to breach immigration laws.

An Australian named Jill got ensnared in the 419 scam in September 2005 when she was contacted by someone pretending to be the Commissioner of Health in Nigeria, who was apparently looking for Australian companies to renovate some hospitals in Lagos. The potential profit in the deal was a cool $1 million.

Jill was already running a successful interior decorating business, she saw this as a great opportunity. She said her scam started in September 2005 when she was contacted by someone pretending to be the Commissioner of Health in Nigeria, who was apparently looking for Australian companies to renovate some hospitals in Lagos. The potential profit in the deal was a cool $1 million.

"I have been in business all my life and feel I'm fairly savvy. One of the things they tell you at a very early stage is that you won't have to part with any money, and like a fool, you believe them," said Jill.

After communicating with the scammers over a long period of time, Jill began to trust her contact. "I really believed they were my friends, how wrong was I," she said. The scammers cost Jill her business and then led to her marriage break up.

"In 2011, my husband and I split because I went public with my experience. He said he didn't want me to expose him and myself to the public, but I felt I had to do it," Jill said.

Another victim, Brian Hay, who heads up the Queensland Police's Fraud and Corporate Crime Group, said most victims were "smart business people" who were over 45 and held professional qualifications.

"We are not talking about stupid people. It's not because they are greedy. They saw an opportunity and got excited".

Also in 2005, Janella Spears, an Oregon woman lost a whooping $400,000 to a Nigerian scammer. Janella Spears, a registered nurse from Sweet Home, Oregon, said she started sending money to the scammers in 2005 after she received an email promising her several million dollars from a long-lost relative. The fraudsters randomly contacted Spears over the internet, claiming they would offer her a substantial cut of $20.5m fortune in return for the cash injection which would help move it out of the country.

For Spears, it started, as it almost always does, with an e-mail. It promised $20 million and in this case, the money was supposedly left behind by her grandfather (J.B. Spears), with whom the family had lost contact over the years.

"So that's what got me to believe it," she said.

Spears didn't know how the sender knew J.B. Spears' name and her relationship with him, but her curiosity was peaked. It turned out to be a lot of money up front, but it started with just $100.The scammers ran Spears through the whole programme. They said President Bush and FBI Director "Robert Muller" (their spelling) were in on the deal and needed her help. They sent official-looking documents and certificates from the Bank of Nigeria and even from the United Nations. Her payment was "guaranteed." Then the amount she would get jumped up to $26.6 million - if she would just send $8,300.

Spears sent the money

More promises and teases of multi-millions followed, with each one dependent on her sending yet more money. Most of the missives were rife with mis-spellings. When Spears began to doubt them, she got letters from the President of Nigeria, FBI Director Mueller, and President Bush. Terrorists could get the money if she did not help, Bush's letter said. Spears continued to send funds. All the letters were fake, of course, and she continued to wipe out her husband's retirement account, mortgaged the house and took a loan out on the family car. Both were already paid for.

For more than two years, Spears sent tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Everyone she knew, including law enforcement officials, her family and bank officials, told her to stop, that it was all a scam. She persisted.

An undercover investigator who worked on the case said greed helped blind Spears to the reality of the situation, which he called the worst example of the scam he's ever seen.

He also said he has seen people become obsessed with the scam before. They are so desperate to recoup their losses with the big payout that they descend into a vicious cycle of sending money in hopes the false promises will turn out to be real.

Spears said it would take her at least three to four years to dig out of the debt she ran up in pursuit of the non-existent pot of Nigerian gold.

A Canadian story

In 2009, a Canadian man in a well celebrated scam lost $150,000 to Nigerian Lottery Scam. John Rempel of Leamington, Ontario, got an email way back in July, 2007 from someone claiming to be a lawyer with a client named David Rempel who died in a 2005 bomb attack in London, England, and left behind $12.8 million dollars. The scammer said it was a long-lost relative of the victim, or the deceased millionaire had no relatives so they sought someone who shared the same last name.

The unidentified lawyer said his client had no family but wanted to leave the money to a Rempel. It was John's lucky day.

"It sounded all good so I called him," said John. "He sounded very happy and said God bless you. But, then the Advance Fee Fraud came in."

The man told him he had to pay $2,500 to transfer the money into his name. He then had to stump for several more documents some of which cost $5,000. The scammer told Rempel he had to open a bank account in London, with a minimum $5,000 deposit. He said some of the money had been transferred into the account for "safe keeping".

The scammers then upped the ante, sending an email from a "government department" claiming he owed $250,000 tax on his inheritance. Rempel's contact assured him he'd "negotiated the fee down to $25,0003 .

Rempel decided to travel to London to check that the deal was legit. He made his way to Mexico, where his uncle who owned a farm gave him cash and money for a plane ticket. He said: "I had $10,000 in cash in my pocket and my uncle sent another $25,000 when I was over there."

Once in London, Rempel met "some people" and handed over the $10k. The next day, the 419ers showed their target a suitcase they said contained $10.6m in shrink-wrapped US bills. Rempel demanded further proof, at which point one scammer extracted a bill and "cleansed" it with a liquid "formula" which "washed off some kind of stamp". The process converted the cash into "legal tender", Rempel was told.

Rempel said: "I was like holy crap, is that mine? They said 'yes sir, it's yours.' It all sounded legit.

Rempel went back to his hotel room with the magic formula to wait for the 419ers "so they could cleanse all his money". They, of course, disappeared, later claiming they'd "been held up".

The victim then managed to drop the bottle containing the formula, breaking it. He rang his contact who said he'd get further supplies. Rempel flew back to Leamington and waited several weeks until a call which confirmed more formula was available for $120,000. Rempel said: "I thought, 'let's work on it, nothing is impossible.'"

The 419ers told Rempel they "were willing to meet associates in different countries to get cash for the formula", but that they'd need several plane tickets, at $6,000 a person.

The scammers subsequently confirmed they'd collected $100,000, but were still $20,000 short. Apparently, there was "a guy in Nigeria who had it, but another plane ticket was required". The contact then insisted he could only get $15,000 of the balance and "begged" Rempel for the remaining $5,000.

Rempel obliged, borrowing the money and defaulting on his credit card and car payments.

A week later, Rempel got the call he'd been waiting for - the cash was ready to go if he could just find an extra $6,900 for "travel costs and to rent trunks to ship the money".

The final contact between Rempel and the scammers was when they called to say they'd arrived at the airport in New York. However, there was a slight snag - security had stopped them and they needed $12,500 for a bribe.

Rempel, still none the wiser but substantially lighter in the wallet, told them: "No way, I'm cleaned out."

In one last desperate act, Rempel drove to the airport with his parents and 10-year-old brother, but found no trace of his friends or the money. They then went home and called the police.

The final cost of Rempel's mix of greed and remarkable stupidity was $55,000 from his uncle in Mexico, $60,000 from his parents to "cover fees for transferring $12.8 million into his name", plus the money he personally lost - a total of $150,000.

He said: "They're in it now because of me. If it wasn't for me, nobody would be in this mess. You think things will work out, but it doesn't. It's a very bad feeling. I had lots of friends. I never get calls anymore from my friends. You know, a bad reputation. I really thought in my heart this was true."

A scam too big

But what was described to be the biggest scam ever by the former chairman of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Alhaji Nuhu Ribadu involved Banco Noroeste S.A. a Brazilian bank which recorded the "single biggest advanced fee fraud case in the whole world". Between May 1995 and February 1998, a total of US$242 million was reportedly stolen from the Banco Noroeste S. A. through offshore banks in the Cayman islands. The money was allegedly remitted by swift transfers through various banks to accounts controlled by Nigerian nationals. The authorisation for all the transfers was done by Nelson Tetsuo Sakaguchi, a senior official at the bank. The Nigerians, in a 419 plan, came up with a fake contract to build an airport in Abuja. They promised Nelson Tetsuo Sakaguchi a big commission in exchange for funding the contract.

The fraud was detected in February 1998 while Sakaguchi was on vacation, in the process of auditing carried out in readiness for the intended sale of the Bank Noroeste to Spanish banking group Banco Santander. Inquiry revealed discrepancies in the bank's books, with at least US$242 million missing. Of this sum, US$190 million had been transferred directly to accounts controlled by the Nigerians or through unlawful money changing operations conducted by Naresh Asnani (a British subject of Indian descent resident in Nigeria) and another Nigerian businessman resident in Enugu.

Following the discoveries, civil actions aimed at recovering the money were commenced in Brazil, Switzerland, Hong Kong, the United States of America and in Nigeria. In addition to the civil actions, criminal complaints were laid in Brazil, Switzerland, USA, Hong Kong and Nigeria.

The accused persons and companies were charged with obtaining by false pretence $190 million from one of the directors of Banco Noroeste Bank.

In prosecution, the Nigerian nationals pleaded guilty to numerous crimes and forfeited $121.5 million dollars in assets. The woman amongst them too pleaded guilty and received a two and half-year sentence after agreeing to give back $48.5 million.

Investigators acting for the bank's shareholders persuaded Sakaguchi to visit New York, ostensibly for a meeting with the shareholders, where he was arrested on an international warrant issued by the Swiss government and extradited to Switzerland to answer money laundering charges. He admitted involvement in the fraud. In December 2002, Naresh Asnani was arrested in Miami, while en route to a meeting with lawyers acting for the shareholders, on an international warrant issued by the Swiss Government. He was extradited to Switzerland to answer similar charges of money-laundering. On October 31 2003, he too admitted involvement in the fraud.

The love scam

Besides the strictly business fraud, there were also many reported love scams. The sweetheart swindle scam, also known as the Nigerian romance scam is the worst.

This one focuses on manipulating the emotions of a person who is seeking love online. These scam artists meet unsuspecting women (and also men) on dating sites. They know exactly what to say to make the victim fall in love with them and trust them completely. Once the scammer has caught his victim in his trap, he begins to ask for small amounts of money to assist him on daily expenses. Over time, these amounts become more. He needs money to pay his medical bills after falling ill, he needs help because he was mugged, he needs your help buying a plane ticket so the two of you can finally be joined together.

There was a story of one particular scammer who conned countless women since 2007. He was Roy Innocent Moore and he is a professional Nigerian Romance Scammer. Roy Innocent Moore concocted a persona that was complex and varied slightly from victim to victim. Certain things always remained the same however. His mother was from the UK and he was born in Jamaica. After the death of his father, his family relocated back to the UK and he attended Bradford University for Art. He eventually moved to New York City, married and had a daughter. Depending on which of his victims you speak to, Moore was either a widower or recently divorced. A victim's relative told a US tabloid:

"I first came to hear of his name three years ago when he met a family member of mine on a popular dating website. They were in love almost instantly. Each day, he sent her poetry, and romantic emails filled with promises of their future together. He was staying in Nigeria at the time because he had a contract with the "National Museum" in Lagos.

"As time went by and her love for him deepened, he began to have financial troubles. She was more than willing to assist him, knowing that any money she sent him would be returned to her when he came home to America. He still has not shown up on her doorstep though she has sent him thousands in order to bring him here.

"Though he swears his devotion, she is not his only "love." Several women also came forward and shared their stories. The love they feel for him is real, however he is not. Nigerian romance scammers steal personal photos of people that they claim to be them. They are more than happy to send these to their victims. This results in damage not only to the victim but to the individual who truly is in the photographs.

"The problem with this particular scam is that it is so prevalent. When I reported him to my local FBI headquarters, they expressed sympathy but also said that with this scam it is extremely hard for them to catch the criminal. All information that the scammer provides the victim was fake and therefore difficult to track. These women have lost thousands of dollars to this man, and been manipulated into theft and fraud, and they may never truly know justice, and they will never see that money again.

"I know "Roy Innocent Moore" will more than likely never be caught and prosecuted for his many crimes, but that does not stop me from telling my story. It is my hope, not that he gets thrown in jail, but that by putting out information about him on the internet, it will stop any future victims from falling prey to this criminal."

In another scam, a Nigerian tabloid reported on November 19 2012, how a Nigerian gospel artiste was jailed for defrauding online lovers of 120,000 UK Pounds.

The gospel singer, Oluwamayowa Ajayi, reportedly fleeced four American women he met on the internet dating site of over 120,000 dollars and was jailed for six and a half years at Snakesbrook Crown Court in East London.

Ajayi, 31, who performed under the stage name "Malo Joe" pretended to be an American fighter pilot, a grieving widower and an oil executive to the women he fleeced before the long arms of the law caught up with him.

The crown prosecutor summed up his argument stating how Ajayi lived off the women by lying among others. In one instance, he claimed that he had been held hostage by Niger Delta militants and therefore, his captors needed some ransom before he could be released,otherwise, they would kill him.

Despite the pleas for mercy, it was inevitable that he would be caged. The Judge detailing the seven- count charge ruled that Ajayi had been found guilty by the jury who had found him guilty four days earlier.

In one instance,he tricked and lied to one of his victims who parted with over $100, 000 that he was a businessman who was short of cash and therefore, needed a loan. The woman used some of the money on her credit card and also borrowed from family members to raise the funds.

In another, Ajayi claimed he was in the hands of Niger Delta militants and they would kill him within 20 hours if the woman didn't do anything about the ransom they asked her to pay. She hurriedly sent $500 through Moneygram to Nigeria, where he then cashed the money.

According to the Judge, "all the four women were embarrassed" when each discovered.

Just recently, Kudirat Jose of a Lagos High Court convicted and sentenced Promise Ntuen Ekemini to one year imprisonment for hijacking the e-mail of a lawful owner of a property, located in Western Australia valued at $800,000( Eight Hundred Thousand United States Dollars), and attempting to sell the property. Ntuen Ekemini was arraigned in April, 2014 on a 5-count charge bordering on conspiracy to defraud, attempt to obtain money by false pretences and forgery. Justice Jose found him guilty of all the charges and convicted him.

Ekemini got into trouble by impersonating Brian Roderick Daniel, owner of a property located at No. 143, Sprinaway Parade, Falcon, Western Australia and offering his property to buyers on the internet without the consent of the owner. The Australian Police alerted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to monitor a controlled delivery of some documents related to the transactions to Ekemini. He was arrested at the point of collection of the documents.

Even students are in it

The scam stories are not the prerequisite of just a few. Even university undergraduates are into it. In 2007, for instance, a final year student of the Department of Survey and Geo-Informatics Engineering, University of Lagos, Lawal Adekunle Nurudeen, was sentenced to 19 years imprisonment for obtaining $27,900.91 from an Australian woman, Pee Loo Rosalind Summer.

The convict was arraigned before Justice M.O Obadina of Ikeja High Court on 19-count charge bordering on obtaining money by false pretence and forgery.

He was found guilty on all the counts and consequently sentenced to 12 months imprisonment on each count. The convict was also ordered to pay the sums of $5,900, N526, 117.15 and any interest standing to his credit in his savings account with the Ikorodu Branch of a new generation bank, to the victim.

In addition, the convict was asked to pay $250 monthly to the victim until the total sum fraudulently obtained by him was liquidated. His two plots of land lying and situated at Mowo Kekere Ikorodu bought from the proceeds of the crime, were sold and the money realised remitted to the victim.

The Honda prelude car recovered by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from the convict was also sold and its proceeds remitted to the victim.

A statement signed by the then EFCC's Head of Media and Publicity, Femi Babafemi, said the convict who was an undergraduate of UNILAG met the victim on the internet and introduced himself as Engineer Benson Lawson, a Briton working with a multi-national company in Nigeria.

"Along the line the victim, a 56- year old woman from Australia told the convict that she wanted a husband and all the men she had met always disappointed her. The convict, who is married with three children instantly applied and told the victim that she had met her Mr. Right.

"To convince his prey, he told the woman that he was a 57 -year old widower and that few years back, his wife and their only child died in a ghastly motor accident in Lagos. He sent the picture of a white man to the victim to foreclose any suspicions. The victim accepted his proposal and that gave room for the next stage of the 419 heist." Few weeks later, he called the woman to introduce himself as Dr. Saheed Bakare and informed her that her 'fiancé,' Benson Lawson had an accident and needed money for his treatment. The love-struck woman sent some money.

"Two weeks after the convict called the victim and thanked her profusely for her kindness. He now told her that he would like to visit her in Australia so that they could consummate their relationship. He demanded for money for air ticket, police and customs clearances and all sorts. "At the end of the day he duped the woman to the tuned of $47,000 before his arrest and arraignment by EFCC."

A prevailing problem

Despite Nigeria's efforts, the schemes have reached "epidemic proportions. A publication by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said the agency received more than fifty-five thousand complaints about them last year, nearly six times as many as in 2001. The increase is due in part to the Internet, which makes it easy for scammers to reach potential marks in wealthier countries. "If we educate the public to the point where nobody falls for it, then they'll go out of business," Eric Zahren, a spokesman for the Secret Service, the lead U.S. agency in investigating advance-fee frauds, says.

The agency estimates that 419 swindlers gross hundreds of millions of dollars a year, not including losses by victims too embarrassed to complain.

Robert B. Reich, the former Labor Secretary, who has studied the psychology of market behaviour, says, "American culture is uniquely prone to the 'too good to miss' fallacy. 'Opportunity' is our favourite word. What may seem reckless and feckless and hapless to people in many parts of the world seems a justifiable risk to Americans."

The mind-set was best explained by the linguist David W. Maurer in his classic 1940 book, "The Big Con": "As the lust for large and easy profits is fanned into a hot flame, the mark puts all his scruples behind him. He closes out his bank account, liquidates his property, borrows from his friends, embezzles from his employer or his clients. In the mad frenzy of cheating someone else, he is unaware of the fact that he is the real victim, carefully selected and fatted for the kill. Thus arises the trite but none the less sage maxim: 'You can't cheat an honest man.' "

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