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Fraud Alert

West African advanced fee fraud

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How the fraud works

The most common scam begins with a letter bearing a Nigerian postage stamp or frank mark (often forgeries) being sent to a potential victim. E-mails are increasingly being used as they are harder for Law Enforcement agencies to intercept. The writer, usually bearing the title of Doctor, Chief or General, will explain that a 'mutual business associate' has suggested that the writer confidentially contact the addressee.

The letter goes on to explain one of the many scenarios. However, certain aspects are usually constant:

  1. There is a large sum of money waiting to be paid out of Nigerian Government coffers for a contract that has been completed;
  2. The writer purports to be a Government Official or acting on behalf of or with the knowledge of a top Government Official;
  3. The writer is willing to share the sizeable proceeds (usually in excess of $35 million) initially only for supplying a foreign bank account number to be used for the transfer of funds;
  4. Secrecy is an absolute must to protect all concerned parties from corrupt government officials who would seize the money if they knew of its existence.
  5. More often than not, the name of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) figures prominently in the transaction although they are not involved in any manner. Most victims in outlying countries envisage a large bank, complete with lines of customers applying for loans, making deposits and withdrawals. In reality the CBN is a government repository for all national monetary reserves in a similar manner to the Bank of England. The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) is also often mentioned lending an air of credibility to the woven story again without their knowledge.

As mentioned above the amounts involved are usually represented to be in the region of US$35 million, and the percentage to be paid to the victim in the region of one third of the total.

The letters are often littered with spelling mistakes and bad grammar. This is a deliberate ploy by the fraudsters to induce the potential victim to believe that he is dealing with uneducated people who would not have the ability to defraud him/her. Nothing could be further from the truth! The majority of victims prove to be professional business people, doctors and lawyers.

The scam is so simple that it can be stated to be "please help me spirit US $35 million from Nigeria through your bank account and I will give you about US $10 million for your mere participation!"

Those who contact the fraudsters are about to participate in a "hurdle" race with each hurdle increasing in size as the victim is thwarted each time he is close to the end. By the time the victim has overcome all the hurdles he is in such a state of involvement that he is practically throwing his money at the fraudsters just to finish the course.

At the heart of the scam is the advanced fee aspect. This means that just when the money is about to be transferred some unforeseen difficulty suddenly occurs and fees from the victim are necessary to overcome the problem. There can be a variety of fees sought: a bribe to a Government Official, local attorney fees, VAT, insurance, National Economy recovery fund, customs clearance - the list and invention is immense.

The larger sums are often extorted from the victim when for example he is told that the money has been transferred to a facility out of Nigeria, often in London and it will be released to the victim and his 'Nigerian partner', as soon as a 1% or 2% handling fee is paid. This sum can of course be enormous and can come as a shock to a victim who probably still wishes to continue the transaction as he has already paid some advance fee or fees and is now hooked. Think of the word GREED.

If the victim cannot or refuses to pay he is worked on with a series of faxes and phone calls and invariably ends up apologising profusely to the criminals for his inability to proceed as quickly as they want. Victims, some of whom cannot afford to pay any more, at this stage, often borrow large sums from family, friends and by way of loans. Very often they do not tell the true reasons for borrowing and when later interviewed by police cannot give any reason for this other than remaining loyal to the criminals and remembering the confidential aspect.

Remember: "If it sounds too good to be true, then it is!"

Specialist Crime OCU Fraud Squad
Wellington House, 67-73 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6BE