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Nigerian E-mail Scam Still Dupes People

Sixteen Americans fell victim to the elaborate Nigerian e-mail scam that promises a cut of millions of dollars in over-invoiced contract funds in exchange for bank account numbers and other personal information.

According to the 2001 Internet Fraud Report, about 2,600 people in the U.S reported to being duped by the Nigerian spam scam with 16 reporting actual losses totaling about $345,000 last year. In two unidentified cases, individuals reported being bilked of $78,000 and $74,000.

The report, prepared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), said the Nigerian e-mail fraud represented more than 15 percent of all complaints reported. Complaints are being referred to the U.S Secret Service, the report said.

John Kane, research manager at the National White Collar Crime Center, told InternetNews.com the Nigerian e-mail scam was the "most costly, in terms of losses per incident" in 2001.

Last year, the center processed 16,775 complaints of Internet-related scams. Of that number, Kane said 2,600 people in the U.S complained about receiving the Nigerian letter. "The majority of the people targeted don't participated in the scam but, unfortunately, the promises of quick riches tend to lure some people," Kane said.

The NW3C said all complaints regarding this scam is being forwarded to the U.S Secret Service.

"We're somewhat surprised to find individuals falling victims to this scam. It has been around in letter form since the 1980 but, unfortunately, not a lot of people have heard about it. Because of the large amounts of money being promised and the fact that for some people, the scenario can be realistic, it (the scam) continues," Kane added.

The Nigerian Letter Scam, which hits millions of e-mail inboxes, is a correspondence outlining an opportunity to receive non-existent government funds from alleged dignitaries. It is designed to collect advance fees from the victims.

The senders of the e-mails ask for up-front payoff money to bribe government officials in Nigeria and, in some cases, other African countries like Congo.

"This scam has run since the early 1980's and is also referred to as '419 Fraud' after the relevant section of the Criminal Code of Nigeria, as well as 'Advance Fee Fraud.' Because of the scam, the country of Nigeria ranks 2nd for total complaints reported at the IFCC on businesses by country," the report said.

The scam works as follows:

  1. A letter, e-mail, or fax is sent from an alleged official representing a foreign government or agency.
  2. The letter presents a business proposal to transfer millions of dollars in over- invoiced contract funds into your personal bank account. You are offered a certain percentage of the funds for your help.
  3. The letter presents a business proposal to transfer millions of dollars in over- invoiced contract funds into your personal bank account. You are offered a certain percentage of the funds for your help.
  4. The letter encourages you to travel overseas to complete the details.
  5. The letter also asks you to provide blank company letterhead forms, banking account information, and telephone numbers.
  6. Next, you receive various documents with official looking stamps, seals and logos testifying to the authenticity of the proposal.
  7. Finally, they ask for up-front or advance fees for various taxes, processing fees, license fees, registration fees, attorney fees, etc.

According to Kane, most of the victims reported that monies were electronically withdrawn from the bank accounts provided. "In the case of the individuals who lost $78,000 and $74,000, money was withdrawn. Some people lost several hundred dollars by submitting upfront processing fees," he said.

He said it was highly likely that more than 16 individuals got duped because of the fact that the crime might be underreported. "People tend to feel guilty and ashamed of falling victim to such crimes. With the Nigerian letter crimes, there is an element of the fast cash, get-rich-quick mentality on the part of consumers and it's not a stretch to believe that people lost money but never reported the crime."

The report from the Center said that only about 10 percent of victims of any type of Internet crime actually report the case. It said approximately 10,000 Americans last year reported losing $17.8 million in online scams.