Secret Service Counters Nigerian Scams

Wizard says he spent $4,000 total to play along with four different scams.Now he hopes to recoup his losses with the book. Altogether, he says he was promised $32 billion.

For souvenirs, he has a swath of forged and faxed documents. They include a certificate of ownership for $25 million in a security vault in Benin, various diplomatic papers signed, stamped and approved, and a “get out of jail card” that says the money he would be getting was free of money laundering or drug money.

“I’m thinking, cool, wallpaper,” he says.

A rare, more sinister variant seen primarily in Europe is the Threat Scam. Victims are sent “notifications of assassination” from letter writers purporting to be from an international security service that has received information that the letter’s recipient is about to be kidnapped and murdered.

How do you get these mystery murderers off your back? Pay thousands to the security service, and they’ll take care of it.

There is no evidence the threats have ever been carried out, says a State Department publication.

Spreading the Word

Many victims who realize they’ve been taken never report their losses to the authorities out of embarrassment or fear they’ve violated some U.S. law, officials say.

U.S. authorities have published materials encouraging people to report suspected advanced fee fraud scams so they can target the criminals and try to prevent others from being taken. The U.S. Department of Commerce has a hotline available for discussing possible scams.

“We get on average at least one call a day from a U.S. company, trying to find out whether these things are legitimate or not,” says the Commerce official. “About 90 percent of the time we determine that it is not legitimate.”

“If it’s unsolicited, and large amounts of money are connected to it, and it’s a confusing letter, it’s almost certainly a scam,” he says.

Which is not to say that 90 percent of all offers coming out of Nigeria are not legitimate, says Edward Casselle, Commerce Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa.

“Most Nigerian companies are honest and legitimate entities, but unfortunately, a small number of ‘scam artists’ operating out of Nigeria tarnish the country’s image as a place to do international business,” says Casselle.

To help U.S. companies avoid the bad apples, the Commerce Department also offers U.S. companies a market-research service called International Company Profile, which checks the bona fides of Nigerian individuals or companies or deals.

“I would like to think that we’re having an impact on this, in the education arena. But on the other hand, we’re not seeing any decline in it, in terms of victims,” says Caldwell.

For counseling about possible 4-1-9 scams, call the Nigerian desk officer at the U.S. Department of Commerce at (202) 482-5149.

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