Don’t get carried away by Nigerian letter scams
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
"First, I must solicit your strictest confidence in this transaction. This is by virtue of its nature as being utterly confidential and ‘TOP SECRET’. You have been recommended by your Country's Chamber of Commerce, and they have assured us in confidence of your ability and reliability to prosecute a transaction of great magnitude involving a pending business transaction requiring maximum confidence. We are top officials of the Federal Government Contract Review Panel who are interested in importation of goods into our country with funds, which are presently trapped in Nigeria.”
Sounds a little strange, doesn’t it? Or maybe it sounds familiar. Maybe you’ve received a similar email or letter from an “international banker,” “a foreign government official,” or the “relative” of a former leader of another country.
These advance fee scams, usually called Nigerian letter scams
after the country in Africa where they originated, have been around for years but remain one of the most common types of fraudulent schemes that my office hears about. The pitches change from time to time to include current events, but most all of them are awkwardly worded letters or emails sent from overseas by someone who pleads for your help getting millions of dollars out of his or her country. All you have to do is provide your bank account number so the funds can be transferred. For your trouble, you’ll be provided with a cut of the money. But if you take the bait, the only money involved will be your own.
One of the latest twists is a letter from someone with a foreign bank claiming that an Iraqi General deposited millions of dollars in the bank and he and his family were killed, leaving no next of kin. The letter writer asks you to give him your personal information so they can get an attorney to draw up papers proving you are the next of kin. The representative of the bank claims he will split the money with you as long as you give him your bank account information.
These offers sound too good to be true because they are. Once the scammers get your bank account number, they quickly drain it rather than filling it with their imaginary millions.
Even here in North Carolina, a number of people have fallen victim to this scam. One man from the Triangle lost more than $300,000 to these crooks, and an entire church congregation in Fayetteville lost thousands of dollars.
In some extreme cases, victims can lose even more than the contents of their bank account. An elderly California man with memory problems had to be taken to court by his children to prevent him from continuing to supply Nigerian letter scammers with tens of thousands of dollars. In another incident, an American citizen was murdered when he traveled to Nigeria in 1995 to try to reclaim money he’d lost to scammers.
There are a number of signs that can help you spot a Nigerian letter scam:
- The writer makes the case sound urgent.
- You’re told that the transaction is confidential and urged to tell no one.
- An associate who works in the U.S., England, or another foreign place may claim to be a go-between for a foreigner with access to great sums of money.
- The scammers request money to cover fee after fee, promising that each fee will be the last one.
These criminals constantly develop new twists to their scams. The scammers may even direct the consumer to a specific wire service outlet in the community that tends to ignore signs that the consumer is being scammed.
If you get any version of these letters, faxes or emails, don’t respond. When you respond to these emails, you also confirm that your email address works and you may even get other fraudulent emails. If you think you’ve been the victim of a Nigerian letter scam, contact the U.S. Secret Service or call my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff are on the lookout for scams that seek to rob unsuspecting North Carolinians. We are here to be of service when you need us, but through consumer education efforts like these columns we hope to help consumers avoid problems from the start.