Scam Watch

How impostors swindled families of Nigerians abroad

FRAUD is an intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual. It is a crime and is also a civil law violation. Many fraud cases involve complicated financial transactions conducted mostly by business professionals with specialised knowledge and criminal intent.

Fraud can be committed through many methods, including mail, wire, phone, and the internet. Many scams use telephone calls to convince the victim that the person on the other end of the deal is a real, truthful person.

Many Nigerians have fallen victim of fraud one time or the other. Perhaps the version of the story differs from one victim to the other. The strange thing is that the victims are being defrauded by fellow Nigerians who take the advantage of the respect people have for their kith and kins living in foreign countries.

In the past, the trend was that Nigerians living abroad would send money for a specific project back home. Such people had been swindled many times. They were taught hard lessons, but they became wiser. They now know the “safe hands” to put their money in for any investments back home.

Sometime ago, a man was reported to be sending money home to his brother, who diverted the money, meant for a building construction for personal gain. Pictures of the ‘progress’ made on the work were continuously sent to the trusting fellow abroad until the lid was blown open. He was duped by his own brother!

However, with Nigerians abroad now exercising caution in their dealings with those they are supposed to trust, even relatives, those at home are being duped by people living in their present surroundings, but who claim to be relatives living in faraway countries.

According to a source, a middle-aged man recounted how he woke up on a fateful day to a call from abroad. The caller, using an international number, told him that his son, who was living abroad, had longed to speak with him.

“Your son (names withheld) had been trying your number before he left for office. Since he could not reach you on phone, he asked me to deliver his message,” the man quoted the caller to have said.

Asked how the caller got the details about his son, the man said, “the caller did not mention my son’s name. I gave him the details – his name, country and everything. I was so curious; has anything happened to my son?”

And the message: The son wanted the father to help him acquire a property in a choice area. A friend was arranged to take the man to see the property. The parent was careless. He did not call the son to confirm the development. He took the bait. The next day, he parted with about N500,000 (he was rich and he would do anything for his son) to acquire the so-called property.

On how he got to know he had been duped, the man said his son called later in the day. “I was expecting him to ask me about the latest development, but he did not say anything. I told him all that had happened, but my son said he had no knowledge of it,” the man said.

He decided to check on the ‘property’ the next day, but the number with which he was contacted was no more available.

Another reported case of such fraud involved a man who believed he was being contacted by a neighbour who had relocated abroad. The caller told him that he decided to partner with him based on his record of honesty and transparency and he would also transact a business on his behalf.

The neighbour was so eloquent that the victim did not suspect any foul play. The ‘neighbour’ had left a message also that the man should contact his business associates who had just arrived in Nigeria. The offer was juicy. The man was ready to parter with his former neighbour, but he was entering into a trap. He got involved in the deal. He filled forms and made bookings for the ‘products.’

For certain ‘goods’ the man was to deliver for his ‘neighbour,’ he was to part with about N2 million and pay a non-refundable fee of N150,000 to register for the business. But before the deal could be concluded, he got a call from the real neighbour, who told him to ‘play along’ so the syndicate could be arrested. However, the fraudsters could read the writing on the wall and so they quickly backed out, but not until their victim had parted with about N200,000.

With the latest Internet communication, fraudsters have updated their skills. Pictures of relatives and friends abroad are usually manipulated to perform their dastardly act. Chatting fora like Facebook and others also make their work much easier.

For men who love ‘anything in skirt,’ pictures of beautiful girls are being used to get at them. ‘The girls’ surf the net for addresses of men and then send them mails expressing an interest to begin a relationship with them.

How do the fraudsters get people’s phone numbers? How do they get accurate information about their victims before initiating any communication. Are ‘insiders’ (relatives or other people close to the victim) involved in their work? Like it was stated earlier in this writing, the fraudsters are mostly business professionals with specialised knowledge.

A Nigerian living in London, Kunmi, said the trend was not a new thing.“I have alerted everyone closer to me. I have means of communicating with them and if the need be for anyone to take action on my behalf, they will get across to me first. I don’t know what the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is doing to check the situation,” he said.

Another Nigerian living in the Netherlands said it was the crave for quick wealth that made Nigerians to fall victim of such tricks.

When asked whether any of his relatives in Nigeria had fallen victim of such, he was quick to answer in the affirmative. He said he had warned members of his family to cross-check with him, any information supposedly coming from him before acting on it.

As copied from the Western Austrialia Ministry of Fair Trade’s e-zine Fair Bytes, here is a story of a fraud: “When I received an unsolicited e-mail from a son of a prominent Nigerian, asking for my assistance in retrieving $500 million for a 25 per cent reward, excitement raced through me. I requested more information. A second e-mail provided me with a Nigerian phone number. A purported Nigerian attorney told me that I would receive 20 installments of $25 million deposited into my bank account bi-weekly. All I needed to do was pay $25,000 in expenses and up-front fees.”

According to him, he believed he would soon be on the list of the richest people in the world! All he had to do was send money to these contacts, allowing them to pay for hotels, airfares, gifts, and processing fees.

For the $1,200 sent, he received a faxed copy of a Certificate of Ownership to $25 million. All faxes proudly displayed official signatures, stamps and seals.

A deposit of $32 million within 72 hours into his bank account would take place after he paid a membership fee of $75,000 to join the "Secret Bank." He could have an immediate release of up to $1 million within 24 hours after he had paid the fee and filed the application.

According to the victim, “I asked them to take a cheque, telling them that it will mature in 10 days, but they insisted they preferred cash. So, I travelled to meet them in London.

“There, they communicated by cell phones, and never provided a physical address for contact. We met in my hotel’s bar. They showed me 10 stacks of $100 bills. Each bill had a smudge on its face that I was told would prevent detection by a scanning device as it passed through customs. This money, plus two million more that was waiting in a security company's vault, would be mine within 24 hours if I would buy the special chemical needed to remove the smudges and pay the release fee for the other two million dollars.

“I asked to cut open one of the plastic-wrapped stacks of money so I could fan through it. I believed I saw 10 stacks of copy paper with a $100 bill topping each stack. They did not allow me a hands-on inspection!

“As I stalled for time, trying to find a suitable end to my investigation, a cellphone rang. The conversation was not for my ears, but due to the loud, panicky voice of the caller, I could not miss her words: ‘Where’s my money!”

This was the voice of a woman who was recently duped and was threatening to have her money back from the contacts, and as such, the man knew it was a game and he sought ways of escape for himself.

The next time you get calls from abroad supposedly from families and friends, be sure you are talking with the right person, otherwise, you might be on the way to getting duped.

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