There’s an old saying that goes, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” and nowhere is that more apparent than on the Internet.
Unavoidable to anyone with an email account, the latest examples of this adage are the ubiquitous “Nigerian” scams.
Termed “4-1-9” or “Advanced Free Fraud” schemes by U.S. Treasury officials, the pattern is the same: a wealthy foreign “dignitary” sends you an emailing, claiming a set of extreme circumstances in which he or she requests your assistance in transferring a large sum of money, with a large reward promised for your efforts.
A great story, to be sure, but it has proved costly to many. In the time it takes to read this article, another individual has fallen prey to these scammers.
Henderson businessman Dan Roberson has experience with these sorts of cases.
“This takes place daily and, unfortunately, people continue to fall for it, especially those that unaware of just how widespread this is,” Roberson said.
Robertson’s own research into these types of scams has produced counterfeit checks for $250,000 with high-quality watermarks that were, in fact, totally useless.
While Robertson has passed along what he has discovered to officials from the Secret Service, his understanding is that the U.S. Government is unable to do anything other than warn citizens.
“I spoke with an agent who told me that ‘we can’t touch them,’ because they are operating out of a sovereign country,” Roberson said. “This thing goes worldwide, it’s just a big scam.”
Lt. Craig Sweeney, criminal investigator for Henderson Police Department says the best tactic is total avoidance.
“I would not even open the e-mail up to read, if you don’t recognize the e-mail address again don’t open it up,” said Sweeney.
Extradition is an extremely complicated process, especially internationally.
“Sometimes the scam will lead to another state but more than likely it is out of the country,” Sweeney said. “If that’s the case, it’s like hitting a brick wall. Unless it is connected to something that is already being looked at more than likely federal action will not take place.
A statement released by U.S. Treasury officials echoes Sweeney’s caution and says that a common misconception is that the victim’s bank account is requested so the culprit can plunder it, but this is not the primary reason for the account request. Instead it’s just the signal that they have hooked another victim.
- In almost every case there is a sense of urgency;
- The victim is enticed to travel to Nigeria or a border country;
- There are many forged official looking documents;
- Most of the correspondence is handled by fax or through the mail;
- Blank letterheads and invoices are requested from the victim along with the banking particulars;
- Any number of Nigerian fees are requested for processing the transaction with each fee purported to be the last required;
- The confidential nature of the transaction is emphasized;
- There are usually claims of strong ties to Nigerian officials;
- A Nigerian residing in the U.S., London or other foreign venue may claim to be a clearinghouse bank for the Central Bank of Nigeria;
- Offices in legitimate government buildings appear to have been used by impostors posing as the real occupants or officials.
The most common forms of these fraudulent business proposals fall into seven main categories:
- Disbursement of money from wills
- Contract fraud (C.O.D. of goods or services)
- Purchase of real estate
- Conversion of hard currency
- Transfer of funds from over invoiced contracts
- Sale of crude oil at below market prices
If you have been victimized by one of these schemes, please forward appropriate written documentation to the United States Secret Service, Financial Crimes Division, 950 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20223, or telephone (202) 406-5850.
But if you have received a letter, and have not lost any monies to this scheme, the Secret Service encourages you to fax a copy of that letter to (202) 406-5031.