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PUBLIC AWARENESS ADVISORY REGARDING "4-1-9" OR "ADVANCE FEE FRAUD" SCHEMES
4-1-9 Schemes frequently use the following tactics:
- An individual or company receives a letter or fax from an alleged "official" representing a foreign government or agency;
- An offer is made to transfer millions of dollars in "over invoiced contract" funds into your personal bank account;
- You are encouraged to travel overseas to complete the transaction;
- You are requested to provide blank company letterhead forms, banking account information, telephone/fax numbers;
- You receive numerous documents with official looking stamps, seals and logo testifying to the authenticity of the proposal;
- Eventually you must provide up-front or advance fees for various taxes, attorney fees, transaction fees or bribes;
- Other forms of 4-1-9 schemes include: c.o.d. of goods or services, real estate ventures, purchases of crude oil at reduced prices, beneficiary of a will, recipient of an award and paper currency conversion.
Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud Overview
The perpetrators of Advance Fee Fraud (AFF), known internationally as "4-1-9" fraud after the section of the Nigerian penal code which addresses fraud schemes, are often very creative and innovative.
Unfortunately, there is a perception that no one is prone to enter into such an obviously suspicious relationship. However, a large number of victims are enticed into believing they have been singled out from the masses to share in multi-million dollar windfall profits for doing absolutely nothing. It is also a misconception that the victim's bank account is requested so the culprit can plunder it -- this is not the primary reason for the account request -- merely a signal they have hooked another victim.
- In almost every case there is a sense of urgency;
- The victim is enticed to travel to Nigeria or a border country;
- There are many forged official looking documents;
- Most of the correspondence is handled by fax or through the mail;
- Blank letterheads and invoices are requested from the victim along with the banking particulars;
- Any number of Nigerian fees are requested for processing the transaction with each fee purported to be the last required;
- The confidential nature of the transaction is emphasized;
- There are usually claims of strong ties to Nigerian officials;
- A Nigerian residing in the U.S., London or other foreign venue may claim to be a clearing house bank for the Central Bank of Nigeria;
- Offices in legitimate government buildings appear to have been used by impostors posing as the real occupants or officials.
The most common forms of these fraudulent business proposals fall into seven main categories:
- Disbursement of money from wills
- Contract fraud (C.O.D. of goods or services)
- Purchase of real estate
- Conversion of hard currency
- Transfer of funds from over invoiced contracts
- Sale of crude oil at below market prices
The most prevalent and successful cases of Advance Fee Fraud is the fund transfer scam. In this scheme, a company or individual will typically receive an unsolicited letter by mail from a Nigerian claiming to be a senior civil servant. In the letter, the Nigerian will inform the recipient that he is seeking a reputable foreign company or individual into whose account he can deposit funds ranging from $10-$60 million that the Nigerian government overpaid on some procurement contract.
The criminals obtain the names of potential victims from a variety of sources including trade journals, professional directories, newspapers, and commercial libraries. They do not target a single company, but rather send out mailings en masse. The sender declares that he is a senior civil servant in one of the Nigerian Ministries, usually the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The letters refer to investigations of previous contracts awarded by prior regimes alleging that many contracts were over invoiced. Rather than return the money to the government, they desire to transfer the money to a foreign account. The sums to be transferred average between $10,000,000 to $60,000,000 and the recipient is usually offered a commission up to 30 percent for assisting in the transfer.
Initially, the intended victim is instructed to provide company letterheads and pro forma invoicing that will be used to show completion of the contract. One of the reasons is to use the victim's letterhead to forge letters of recommendation to other victim companies and to seek out a travel visa from the American Embassy in Lagos. The victim is told that the completed contracts will be submitted for approval to the Central Bank of Nigeria. Upon approval, the funds will be remitted to an account supplied by the intended victim.
The goal of the criminal is to delude the target into thinking that he is being drawn into a very lucrative, albeit questionable, arrangement. The intended victim must be reassured and confident of the potential success of the deal. He will become the primary supporter of the scheme and willingly contribute a large amount of money when the deal is threatened. The term "when" is used because the con-within-the-con is the scheme will be threatened in order to persuade the victim to provide a large sum of money to save the venture.
The letter, while appearing transparent and even ridiculous to most, unfortunately is growing in its effectiveness. It sets the stage and is the opening round of a two-layered scheme or scheme within a scheme. The fraudster will eventually reach someone who, while skeptical, desperately wants the deal to be genuine.
Victims are almost always requested to travel to Nigeria or a border country to complete a transaction. Individuals are often told that a visa will not be necessary to enter the country. The Nigerian con artists may then bribe airport officials to pass the victims through Immigration and Customs. Because it is a serious offense in Nigeria to enter without a valid visa, the victim's illegal entry may be used by the fraudsters as leverage to coerce the victims into releasing funds. Violence and threats of physical harm may be employed to further pressure victims. In June of 1995, an American was murdered in Lagos, Nigeria, while pursuing a 4-1-9 scam, and numerous other foreign nationals have been reported as missing.
Victims are often convinced of the authenticity of Advance Fee Fraud schemes by the forged or false documents bearing apparently official Nigerian government letterhead, seals, as well as false letters of credit, payment schedules and bank drafts. The fraudster may establish the credibility of his contacts, and thereby his influence, by arranging a meeting between the victim and "government officials" in real or fake government offices.
In the next stage some alleged problem concerning the "inside man" will suddenly arise. An official will demand an up-front bribe or an unforeseen tax or fee to the Nigerian government will have to be paid before the money can be transferred. These can include licensing fees, registration fees, and various forms of taxes and attorney fees. Normally each fee paid is described as the very last fee required. Invariably, oversights and errors in the deal are discovered by the Nigerians, necessitating additional payments and allowing the scheme to be stretched out over many months.
Several reasons have been submitted why Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud has undergone a dramatic increase in recent years. The explanations are as diverse as the types of schemes. The Nigerian Government blames the growing problem on mass unemployment, extended family systems, a get rich quick syndrome, and, especially, the greed of foreigners.
Indications are that Advance Fee Fraud grosses hundreds of millions of dollars annually and the losses are continuing to escalate. In all likelihood, there are victims who do not report their losses to authorities due to either fear or embarrassment.
Here are some of the tactics that advance-fee scammers will use:
- You or your company receives a call, email, fax, or letter from someone who claims to be a government official, works with a government organization, or is involved in crude oil.
- You are told about a business proposition or situation and promised that if you help you will receive millions of dollars deposited into your bank account.
- You are asked to pay for things throughout the process, such as taxes, attorney fees, transaction fees and bribes.
- You are requested to provide your bank account information along with blank letterhead forms and your phone number.
- You are encouraged to travel overseas to complete the transaction.
With his gold rings, flashy watch and easy line in patter, Udo Akpan is every inch the professional con man. He slouches in his chair in a noisy bar in Lagos and reminisces about his 11-year career as a fraudster.
It has been a good life, he says, one that has allowed him to support his wife and two children and treat himself regularly to a new Mercedes-Benz or BMW.
Nothing lasts for ever, however, and Akpan, who is originally from southern Nigeria, is thinking of going straight. Not after a sudden twinge of moral rectitude, he explains, nor because of the Government's clampdown on fraudsters, but because his crimes no longer pay like they once did.
Akpan is known in local parlance as a 419-er, the nickname stemming from an article in Nigeria's criminal code outlawing junk-mail frauds that promise a share of non-existent fortunes once an advance fee has been paid.
The email appeals, typically couched in tortuous English, are notorious. "Dear Sir, I am Marian Abacha, widow to the former military head of state, late General Sani Abacha, who died suddenly as a result of cardiac arrest. I currently have $12 million which I wish to transfer out of Nigeria with your help. I will pay you 10 per cent commission for the kind use of your bank account . . ."
The scam email works because the sender claims to have access to millions but cannot get the money out of the country. In return for providing details of a bank account so the money can be smuggled out - and paying a fee that will be used for essential bribes - the victim is promised a large cut of the cash.
Akpan claims to have made thousands of dollars from such cons.
Nigerians have become so skilled at their con tricks that the 419 industry is estimated to be the country's biggest foreign currency earner.
Akpan has little sympathy for his victims, regarding most of them as "greedy fools" who were happy to collude when they thought there was easy money to be made.
He also attempts to mount a political defence of his business, arguing that because Africa had been exploited for centuries by the white man, his is a system of reparations.
The 419 fraud has become so notorious outside Nigeria, however, that Akpan's bogus appeals are falling on stony ground.
"I've barely made a dime in the last two years," the university-educated 38-year-old laments. "There's too much publicity about the 419 these days. People are catching on."
The Telegraph, London
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