Savvy Consumer: The Nightmare of Nigerian Letter Scams

You receive a letter or e-mail from somebody claiming to be an official (or the relative of an official) with the Nigerian government or a Nigerian company. The writer explains that a government contract has just been fulfilled and there is a surplus -- usually between $10 million and $65 million. You're asked to provide a bank account into which the surplus can be deposited. In exchange, you will receive a commission.

Great deal, right? Of course not. It's a scam.

The Nigerian scammers typically ask targets for their bank name and address, account number and Social Security number "in order to complete the transaction." Those who provide the information soon find that their bank accounts have been emptied and their identities stolen.

Sharp-eyed Dorothy H. was too smart for the scammers. She received a Nigerian letter and called me. For this sweet retiree living in a mobile home park, the letter was first a shock and then a hoot. Here's the actual text of the letter Dorothy received:

Dear Sir:

Request for urgent business transaction

Transfer of $35 million American Dollars

I am the financial comptroller of the Nigerian National Petroleum corporation. This is money we got from gratification of contracts we awarded toward technical assistance analysis supervision and behaviour or the components of the optimized system.

The contract has been completed and the contractor has since been paid remaining the balance of the $35 million American dollars which is our 10% commission for numerous assistance. This money is now ready for payment by transfer to an account that would be provided through the machineries of the Central Bank of Nigeria through our foreign exchange reserve in New York within (48) banking hours.

Now our problem lies that we do not have a foreign account as such an account is against the civil service bureaucracy in Nigeria. We therefore decided to seek your assistance for a hitch- free transfer of this fund to an account you will provide. You would be entitled to 35% for providing an account where the funds would be lodged while 10% is mapped for contingencies/expenses and 55% will be for myself and my colleagues.

If you can assist in this regards, fax to us 234-1-5851214. Your company's account or personal account with the bank name, physical address with telephone, fax and telex lines/numbers and your company's name and physical address with phone and fax numbers.

This business will be carried out on the following terms: You will maintain absolute sincerity and confidentiality. Our share of the fund remitted into your account will be disbursed as we so desire immediately your account is credited.

We got your contact through our National Association Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture. If you are satisfied with the above conditions, send me a reply immediately by fax.

--Mr. Isa Ahmed.

It's a scam so outlandish it's hard to believe anybody falls for it -- but people do. Let me get this straight. You receive a letter from Nigeria. You don't know anyone in Nigeria. You're asked to help launder money. And you actually believe you're going to make money?

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