By Kaye Corbett
© 1999

FALKLAND, BC — Operation 4-1-9 is not the latest gimmick in the
telephone long-distance pitches from some has-been movie actor, but one of
the U.S. Secret Service’s main priorities in exposing blood-sucking,
scheming Nigerian “businessmen.”

U.S. Rep. John H. McHugh of the 24th district of New York was one of the
first mainstream public officials that tried to shut down the scam by
issuing the stinging McHugh Report in early 1998. Others who have joined the
fight have been U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-WI, and Congressman Edward J.
Markey D-MA.

The Nigerian scam begins by mailing fraudulent letters, advertising their
get-rich-quick schemes, and targeting small businesses, churches and other
non-profit organizations. A letter marked “urgent” or “confidential” arrives
from Nigeria via mail or fax. The sender claims to be an official of the
company or government ministry or has an official-sounding name such as a
doctor, chief, lawyer or, maybe, a prince.

Although each letter may contain a slightly different appeal, the
“official” asks for assistance in transferring millions of dollars of excess
money out of Nigeria. The person proposes depositing the money in a
trustworthy U.S. bank account, in exchange for which the account-holder will
receive 30 per cent or more of the transferred funds. To participate in the
deal, the business or organization must provide its bank account number and
the name, address, phone and fax numbers of the bank. Sometimes the person
requests copies of signed but otherwise blank company letterhead and pro
forma invoices.

“The scam is not new and it has many names,” wrote Congressman McHugh in
his report. “It is known as the ‘Advance Fee Fraud,’ the ‘Fax Scam’ and the
‘419 Fraud’ (419 refers to the statutory violation under Nigerian law) …
For years my office worked with the Department of Justice, U.S. Secret
Service and the Postal Inspection Service whenever the Nigerian scammers
have targeted residents of the 24th Congressional District. Recently, these
crooks sent me one of their scam letters — to my Congressional office in
Washington, no less.”

In McHugh’s case, the scammers claimed to be civil servants working for a
Nigerian ministry, such as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation who
were trying to liquidate excess funds that were gathered from overpaid
government procurement contracts. The letter claims these funds are free to
be transferred to the U.S. and also promises the willing American
participant to be compensated with a 30 percent of the loot.

The U.S. Secret Service says the 419 scam grosses hundreds of millions of
dollars annually and the losses are continuing to escalate.

They warn that potential victims should be aware of: 1) The letter will
stress the urgency of the matter. 2) The confidential nature of the
transaction is stressed. 3) Claims are made that the other parties are
employed in, or have strong ties with the Nigerian Government or the Central
Bank of Nigeria. 4) There may be a need to travel to Nigeria or one of its
neighboring countries. 5) Many forged official-looking documents. 6) Blank
letterheads, invoices and banking details are requested; and 7) additional
fees are continuously requested in order to further the transaction.

“I am very concerned about increased reports of consumer scams of
Nigerian origin in Wisconsin,” Senator Feingold was quoted as saying. “These
scams are aimed at tricking consumers and businesses into revealing bank
account numbers and other confidential information that can be used to
defraud people of their money.”

Markey, a target of such scams, said, “Every day, thousands of Americans
fall subject to get-rich-quick schemes. Unfortunately, Nigerian Advance Fee
Fraud is a whole new era of scamming money out of innocent people. Known
internationally as ‘4-1-9’ fraud after the section in the Nigerian Penal
Code which addresses fraud schemes, these scams have reached epidemic

The scam has reached its tentacles around the globe, including Canada,
for at least 10,000 suspect Nigerian letters have circulated in “my home and
native land” since 1989. It also has spread throughout the Internet.

These Nigerian con men have bilked at least 40 Canadians of an estimated
$30 million.

Unsolicited Nigerian fraudulent letters promote several products,
services and investment opportunities such as: real estate; oil products;
over-invoiced contracts and other contract fraud and distribution of monies
from wills and currency conversion, etc.

Finally, there are five rules for doing business with Nigeria: 1) Never
pay anything up front for any reason. 2) Never extend credit for any reason.
3) Never do anything until their check clears. 4) Never expect any help from
the Nigerian Government; and 5) never rely on your government to bail you

WARNING: If you are a recipient of a letter, fax or on the Net of any
questionable nature, contact your local authorities, such as the Better
Business Bureau, immediately.

Sources: Net “scam” sites and

NEXT: The epidemic of consumer fraud.

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