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updated 3/14/2011 2:14:10 PM ET 2011-03-14T18:14:10

American federal authorities have charged 10 people with running a Nigerian online scam that bilked U.S. victims out of $1.5 million.

Claudio Uche Dibe, Bright Amesi and Briceson Loving, all 25 and living in Southern California, appeared in Los Angeles federal court yesterday (March 7) and were charged with 15 counts of wire fraud.

Seven other defendants in Southern California and New York City were also indicted on 10 counts of wire fraud, according to local news reports.

The 10 defendants, led by Dibe, are accused of perpetrating a long-running Nigerian "419" scam (referring to the part of the Nigerian criminal code associated with fraud) , in which they sent e-mails posing as lawyers and government officials in charge of doling out millions of dollars in inheritances.

The phony e-mails inform recipients that they are relatives of the deceased, and request an advance fee (typically via Western Union) to start the process of distributing the money.

The inheritances promised in the Nigerian 419 scams are obviously bogus, but the allure of wealth is enough to consistently attract victims. In January, a British woman lost nearly $130,000 in a scam orchestrated by Nigerian online criminals.

Authorities in South Africa also came down hard on a Nigerian man, Peter Maxson Anyanyueze, sentencing him on March 4 to 20 years in prison for perpetrating a 419 scam that netted him nearly $300,000 from a single Saudi Arabian victim in 2007, reported South African media outlets.

The British security firm Sophos, commenting on the Anyanyueze sentencing, warns recipients of Nigerian 419 e-mails to “go on high alert,” and immediately delete the e-mail and block further e-mails from that sender.

As an added precaution, Sophos recommends notifying your Internet service provider so that it can block all correspondence from that address.

 

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