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Nigerian fraud scheme slithers forth via e-mail


June 10, 2002

It's time to learn the 4-1-1 on the 4-1-9.

"4-1-9" is another name for what has become known as the Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud, a scam that's been around for many years. But in the past two years, the fraud has mushroomed through the use of e-mail.

For decades, the scheme was spread via regular mail. But e-mail, with its speed, low cost and ability to reach just about anybody, definitely has become the medium of choice for the 4-1-9.

The number, by the way, stands for the section of the Nigerian penal code that addresses fraud schemes.

Recently, the National Consumers League issued its list of the top 10 Internet frauds of 2001. Online auctions were No. 1, accounting for 70 percent of fraud complaints. No. 2 was a tie between the Nigerian scam and general merchandise, each representing 9 percent of complaints.

Contrast that with 2000, when only 1 percent of fraud complaints dealt with the Nigerian scam, according to the league.

Many of you probably have received the solicitation. The sender is reportedly a Nigerian dignitary who wants to use your bank account to deposit millions of dollars in funds that were allegedly misappropriated by the Nigerian government.

Zero gain

Here's the part where you lose your dough: If you agree to stash the alleged cash, you get a percentage of it, anywhere from 20 percent to 30 percent.

But first, you have to turn over your bank account numbers and other personal information to the perpetrators.

Some people have lost hundreds of dollars in this scam; others, thousands.

The FBI's Internet Fraud Complaint Center received more than 16,000 complaints about Net fraud last year, and said about 15 percent of those dealt with the Nigerian scam.

Many of the cases were referred to the Secret Service, which is now playing a crucial role through its "Operation 4-1-9" in trying to catch the criminals behind the scheme.

(The Secret Service, which is part of the Treasury Department, not only protects the president but is also responsible for investigating financial crimes that include bank and computer fraud, among other duties.)

The service estimates that losses attributed to the Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud "are in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually."

Help, resources

l If you've been a victim of this scheme, you should forward any of your written documentation to the United States Secret Service, Financial Crimes Division, 950 H St. N.W., Washington, DC 20223; or phone (202) 406-5850.

l If you haven't been a victim, but you have received an e-mail, letter or fax pushing this scheme, you can fax copies of those documents to the Secret Service at (202) 406-5031.

There is more information on the scam at http://www.secretservice.gov/alert419.shtml

Other Web sites where you can learn more include:

l National Consumers League's Internet Fraud Watch, http://www.fraud.org/tips/internet/nigerian.htm

l Scambusters.org, http://www.scambusters.org/NigerianFee.html

l Snopes.com, http://www.snopes2.com/inboxer/scams/nigeria.htm

Suzanne Choney: (619) 293-2226; suzanne.choney@uniontrib.com

by Suzanne Choney. Copyright © 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.


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