Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Nigerian Scam

In the past two weeks I have been inundated by instant messages from people who have found a new way to perpetuate the Nigerian Scam.

Now, if you aren't familiar with this, it was covered extensively on Dateline last week. The Secret Service and the FBI have web sites devoted to this crime.

Here's how the new version goes:

The scammer messages someone in the U.S. It's apparent they are now going through Yahoo Personals to farm the site for contacts.

They start with a fairly innocent conversation, like most other messengers do when striking up an acquaintance. The eyebrow-raising red flag is the writer's syntax. Stiff, unnatural. Overly familiar. They sound like English is a second language. But they pretend to be from somewhere in the U.S. Scammer #1 claimed to live in Plainwell, MI., but currently is in Nigeria selling computers to a big corporation there. Scammer #2 was "from Texas" but currently in London, also in the computer industry. Scammer #3 "grew up in Oklahoma City" but is in West Africa now. Guess what he does? Gasp. He also sells computers.

From there, they seem to be writing from a script. They use inappropriate endearments, calling me "honey" "my darling" and "dear." They presume a bit of intimacy that they haven't earned in any sense (I'm not talking sexual, I'm talking about them acting as though we've been long, long close friends who are moving into a romance.) All of them have inquired if I like flowers, and ask for an address to send me roses. Or a gift basket of fruits and candies.

If I've responded with anything that throws them off the script, their answer is "OK no problem I am here for you Honey." Can't you just imagine them sitting in a boiler room with a clipboard at their side, script written out with another page of "responses" to draw from if they are confused?

Anyway, after a few days of using endearments, offering gifts, small talk and nonsense, the scam is set into motion.

They close a huge contract which makes them "the happiest man in the whole world." (Another stock phrase found in all of these contacts.) However, there is a problem.
The contractor wishes to close the contract by wiring money into a U.S. bank account. Unfortunately, (sigh) they closed their business account in their home town when they traveled to (Nigeria, London, West Africa...). And they do not have an account in their current location that is acceptable to the contractor. And they do not trust any of their employees to travel to the U.S. to open an account. And they do not have time to fly to New York overnight to open an account themselves (all things I recommended.)

Oh no. The only possible solution is for ME to go to open an account for them in order for the funds to be transferred. It must be to a Wells Fargo or Bank of America. And lo, they include an entire yellow pages entry showing me exactly where each of the Bank of America locations are. It will only cost me $50 or so to open the account, and then once the transfer has been made I can send the money to them.

Yeah. Like I'm going to do that. Heck, I only go to the bank to deposit my paycheck once a month.

Anyway, with the first scammer, I had a lot of fun yanking the chain and making all kinds of plausible suggestions about how to take care of the business himself. I had a little fun, but then things got a little uglier. He started making veiled threats, saying that one of his friends was arrested for committing a very terrible crime, but he was so beloved by the village that he was released. I asked what the crime was; he had beaten an elderly man.

Now, the bank portion of the scam is one thing, but there is a second part to the Nigerian Scam. Victims are often duped into traveling to Nigeria to deliver the funds in person. They are told that a visa is not necessary for entry into the country, so they make the trip overnight. Then they find out the truth. They are abused, beaten, robbed or otherwise harmed by the perps. And then threatened to be turned over to the government because they are lacking a visa, which is a serious crime there. The penalties are severe enough that they basically become enslaved to the perps.

The Nigerian government refuses to cooperate in the prosecution of these crimes, so there is no resolution once the crime is taking place. The U.S. Secret Service and FBI can only prosecute if any part of the crime takes place on U.S. soil -- if a U.S. telephone is used, or a U.S. internet connection, or the U.S. mail is used, there is hope that an investigation can bear fruit. But then the next twist: Most of the scammers use Canadian phones and mail to contact U.S. victims.

I've talked twice to the Secret Service office here in Oklahoma City. Their advice is to delete all the messages and ignore any further contacts. I've also contacted Yahoo to report the misuse of their system. They have eliminated the contacts I've reported, but who knows how quickly these new contacts can be created?

It was an interesting experiment the first go-round, but it's now become a huge nuisance. It is as bad as a swarm of mosquitos now. I just wish there was an "OFF!" spray for internet pests.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I have had similar e-mails porporting to be from a member of the former ruling family in Nigeria saying they have millions of dollars they need to deposit in American banks to keep it from the present government, and say if I act as their go-between I can get a percentage of the millions. I don't fall for those things. I believe it was P T Barnum (or it could have been W C Fields) who once said, "you can't cheat an honest man" meaning, that honest men don't try to find underhanded ways to get rich so scams do not work on them.