Tuesday, August 02, 2005

IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE....



(Nigerian Oil Refinery is on fire)




(This column appeared in the August 4, 2005 THE ALBANY (GA.) JOURNAL)

“URGENT AND CONFIDENTIAL

Greetings,

I am very sorry to impair your peace since you are not expecting to receive any mail from me. However, I was obliged to do so due to the need and urgency of this message. I was priviledge to peruse over your profile today and was greatly impressed on your personality. I crave your indulgence for your thoruogh perusal of a business proposal I am putting froward for your attention. Please do not be embarrassed.

I am Mr. Pete Okonkwo, a senior staff and the Chief Accountant in one of the leading banks in Nigeria. For security reason, I shall disclose you of my bank name when I am certain that you are ready to work with in this project. By virture of my position in our bank, I have an urgent and very confidential business proposal I want to bring for your attention.”


[sic]

This morning I opened my e-mail, and for about the 10,000th time, discovered the e-mail quoted above, a variation of the Nigerian Oil Minister scam. The “hook” or attention grabber in the scam is that the sender has suddenly found himself in possession of millions of dollars from a now deceased depositor:

“A Lebanese Oil consultant/contractor with the Shell Petroleum Development Company in Nigeria, Mr. Hani Saiid El-Ali made a numbered time(Fixed) Deposit for 18 calendar months, valued at US $12,000,000.00 (Twelve Million United States Dollars) in my branch....I sent a reminder and finally discovered from his contract employers, the Shell Petroleum Development Company that Mr. Hani Saiid El-Ali died on 25th December 2003 along with his wife and three children in the Plane crash of Union Transport Africaines Flight Boeing 727 in Cotonou, Benin Republic in West Africa.”

The money will go unclaimed unless you- the sucker- will kindly provide him with:

“A bank account in any part of the world that you will provide will be sufficed to facilitate the transfer of these funds to you as the beneficiary/ next of kin. When this fund is paid into your account we shall share it in the ratio of 60% for me and 30% for you while 10% will be for any incidental expenses on the course of doing this business.”

I originally assumed that if foolish investors provided the bank account information, the money flow would be the reverse of what the greedy opportunist had hoped for and the account would be instantly cleaned out and sent overseas. But the fraud artists who conceived this scheme in the late 1980’s had grander ideas. They anticipated that “smart” investors would set up a new bank account with nothing in it but the base necessary to open an account. The Africans (they really are from Africa, much to my surprise when I read up on the scam) would actually send checks- as much as $85,000- for the victims to deposit. The checks would eventually bounce- but not until after the victims would send thousands of dollars to the crooks. Slowly they would reel in their prey, complaining that a bank official needed a bribe to release the funds, or that some important documents needed to be purchased, or “transaction fees” would have to be paid. The victim, after paying out some money, then more money, would be hesitant to get out of the deal with the possibility of tens of millions of dollars being dangled just out of reach. The details can be found at: http://www.crimes-of-persuasion.com/Crimes/Business/nigerian.htm

The one fact which never ceases to surprise me is how many “smart” and educated people fall victim to such frauds and pyramid schemes. Years ago, a doctor acquaintance of mine lost several hundred thousand dollars in a scheme that promised him a quick and lucrative return on a real estate investment. What I discovered after he related the details was that although some people are eminently capable when it comes to making money, too many are susceptible to get rich quick promises when it comes time to invest.

Last summer, I was approached by a con artist, Ms. Cheryl C., who had a unique method of fleecing money from victims- she approached political candidates with a promise to “fully fund” their campaigns if they “demonstrated their commitment to Israel” by flying there to meet with high public officials. My campaign manager was thrilled when she received phone calls from Ms. C. from “Hawaii” and later “Chicago,” asking to meet with me. Eventually she scheduled an appointment to determine whether I was a suitable candidate for her mysterious investment “group.”

After a conversation lasting several hours which touched mainly on political issues, she set the hook- she would recommend to her shadowy backers that they fund my campaign, but I had to prove my bona fides by paying the sum of $20,000.00 for a trip to Israel. I laughed and remarked that she must have had a really lousy travel agent if that was the best price she could come up with for a plane ticket. Ms. C. responded, in apparent seriousness, that my fee would also cover “access” to top Israeli power brokers and public officials. From her inflection, the word “access” sounded a bit too much like “bribe.”

My internal B.S. radar detector had long since gone off (Federal law prohibited campaign contributions anywhere near what she was promising). Ms. C. seemed genuinely disappointed when I refused her offer and turned down the opportunity to blow $20,000, and she told me to let her know if I changed my mind. For my part, I regretted wasting a few hours of my life that I would never get back, but I comforted myself with the knowledge that I hadn’t put aside my common sense.

A week later, Ms. C. made one last attempt to reel me in, writing:

“I wanted to thank you for your time and hospitality last week. It was very interesting to meet with you and I'm ready to report our conversation to my group this afternoon. If there is anything you would like to add before I go into the meeting at 3:30 (EST) today, please e-mail me back.”

I didn’t bite.

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