They’re certainly persistent. Another flavor of the well-known Nigerian scam has popped up, this one even more elaborate than the familiar e-mail solicitation. The scam appears to target former recipients who were initially drawn in by an e-mail offer, but abandoned the scheme half-way through. To ease potential victims’ fears, scam artists have set up a fake online bank, and even deposited funds into a bogus account there. One pair of victims has reportedly lost $100,000 to such a fake bank scam. And now, thanks to a private citizen who did a little sleuthing of his own, here’s a chance to see it in action.
SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, “Bill” played out the con with e-mail suitors who offered him a percentage of $45 million for helping move it out of Nigeria. Bill cut communications with the solicitors, as many potential victims do, when they requested some up-front payment. He forwarded all e-mail correspondence to the U.S. Secret Service, and figured that would be the end of it.
But on April 9, Bill — who requested that his identity be withheld — heard from his suitors anew. A writer identifying himself as Larry Peters was eager to meet Bill’s “long overdue contract payment.”
“I crave your indulgence not to treat it as one of those ‘HOAX’ letters you do receive,” Peters wrote.
And the good-will proof?
“The welcome relief is that you are NOT to pay a cent UPFRONT. Please be informed that your outstanding payment will be paid through ONLINE BANKING which will be given to you on your response to this e-mail.”
Sure enough, when Bill wrote back, he was directed to open an account at AlliedTrustCompany.com, supposedly an online bank. Two days after opening the account under the pseudonym Joseph Cipriani, a $45 million deposit was reflected on the bank’s Web page.
The bank setup is sophisticated, requiring a user name and password to access the account information. But a careful Web user would notice that surfers are quickly redirected to a site located at VOSN.net, a small Internet hosting company.
THE REAL SCAM
The account application process is thorough, and at first Bill supposed he was merely the target of an identity theft scheme. But four days later, the real intentions of the scammers were revealed.
The money is sitting in the Allied Trust Company account but cannot be transferred yet, wrote someone calling himself Michael Edwards. First, the Financial Transaction Reporting Agency Of North America (FinTRAN) must be satisfied that the money is “clean.” There is no such agency, though the U.S. Treasury has a similar-sounding division called the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).
A “North American Certificate of Circulation” will supposedly be enough assurance to clear the money. But getting the necessary documentation from the mythical agency will cost $9,600, Edwards wrote. And, perhaps anticipating Bill’s next question, Edwards continued:
“We then asked if there any way we could be authorized to temporarily unfreeze the account to enable withdraw at least the required amount to cover the cost of getting this document but the appeal was refused.”
Edwards’ appeal to Bill came about a week after he was first contacted by Peters, and as the con wore down, Bill once again planned to share his e-mail exchange with authorities.
The people behind the con are indeed brazen. When Bill mentioned offhand in an e-mail that he didn’t know what he would do with the money he was set to receive, the con artist suggested sending a laptop computer to him as “some form of compensation.”
And while Bill wasn’t taken in by the fake bank, other people have fallen for similar schemes. Two Canadians lost $100,000 to Nigerian con artists after they were taken in by a fake bank site that mimicked a major British financial institution, the BBC reported in October.
It is noteworthy that con artists appear to be revisiting old potential victims.
“I am as certain as can be that they are targeting people who had at one point been in their process,” Bill said. “The e-mail address they contacted me through is one I created and used only to communicate with them earlier.”
C.A. Pascale, who runs the 419 Coalition against the Nigerian scam, said “re-victimization” has long been a common tact for the con artists. The number 419 refers to the relevant criminal code in Nigeria that’s broken by the con artists.
When someone loses money to the Nigerian scam, the victim will often hear from another con artist claiming they can recover the lost funds. And those who contacted con artists once or twice before ditching them are very likely to get a fresh pitch later on, he said.
“We here call it ‘Reloading’ after a term used in the timeshare sales industry, where the resort marketing people go back over their list of ‘ups’ who did not buy and develop a marketing ploy or strategy to get them back up to the resort for another go at them,” Pascale said. “People who have heard once from a 419er are most likely going to hear from 419ers again. They will either hear back from the same group with the same tale, or from the same group using a different tale. Or, an individual in the group will ‘branch out’ for himself, tell them that the original group just didn’t have the juice to get the job done, but he does.”