"Dear sir, you may be surprised to receive this e mail from me and I ask for your understanding in this matter. I am Amani Bamon Ouadrago Sullaiman the second daughter of the 5th wife of the the late Senator of the Nigerian Assembly, a god fearing woman left to fend her self against her father's enemies.
Before my father passed away - may he rest in peace - he shared with me the information regarding his wealth which he had saved up for me his loving daughter.In it he has given to me a sum of $350,000,000 (three hundred and fifty million us dollars). However due to the jealousy of my family members and my fathers enemy's I am unable to collect these funds alone and I appeal to you sir for your help. if you can do so I appeal to you in the name of the almighty god to help me, a poor orphan left to fend for herself. For your help in transferring these monies I will share with you 30% of its value after all expenses and if you are agreeable, perhaps even to share my life with you"
Sound familer to anyone? It was after an exchange of emails on this very thing this morning that it occurred to me that this was indeed a subject upon which a post could be built. I'm pretty sure that most of you reading this has at some time or the other been the recipient of a similar e mail which basically follows the same format of offering a substantial sum of money for little effort on your part. Welcome to the world of West African scams!
419 is a reference to the relevant section of the Nigerian Criminal Code and is a popular crime with the West African organised criminal networks. There are a myriad of schemes and scams - mail, faxed and telephone promises designed to facilitate victims parting with money. All involve requests to help move large sums of money with the promise of a substantial share of the cash in return.
The most notorious origins of these scams are Benin, Nigeria, Togo and Camaroon. And I'll tell you, these guys are good! They will create fictitious websites, send you reams of formal documentation, drop the names of apparently real Government Departments along with those of the people heading them in their efforts to part you of your money.
Now, I'm not claiming that all of them are scams, but the truth is that a large proportion of them are unfortunately just that and as long as people are greedy, the chances are that the scams will go on - who after all does not want to make a buck?!
Apart from the basic email offering to share money along the lines of what I penned above are the more sophisticated Import/ Export scams.
If you are in trade, chances are that you, like me have trawled B2B sites in search of trade leads, even, like me, opened an account with sites such as ALIBABA. Sooner or later you will either receive an email asking for your product or a response to an email you sent out - to or from a West African based organization more likely than not from Benin or Nigeria.
Nigeria alone is a huge market - with 146 million people, one in every six Africans is a Nigerian - which what makes it such an attractive proposal to someone like me.
Now this organization will claim to be an important importer/ distributor or perhaps even to be an aid group or even a government office. I even had one who claimed to be the welfare arm of a Benin Political Party - the Movement for Popular Freedom Benin (MPFB)!
If its an importer the scam will then proceed along the lines of
a) Asking what your products are
b) Writing back to tell you that there is a huge demand for such products and asking for a quote for a volume which boggles the mind and makes $ signs run across your brain!
c) Agree to your price with little if any resistance, sometimes even without seeing the product
d) Offer to make 100% TT transfer on receipt of the Pro forma Invoice
Now starts the fun.
You send your invoice by email.
Then comes back a thank you mail, confirming that the transfer will be made shortly - you may even get a copy of the bank instructions!
Then silence for a few days. You write and the response is that the bank is unable to transfer the funds until authorization is given by a very impressive sounding nevertheless fictitious government agency - Center for Quality Assurance/ Department of Agricultural Imports etc. Now to obtain this authorization you are told that you need to register yourself or your products. You'll be given the name of the relevant person too who for some strange reason has a yahoo/ hot mail account!
You write to him and he responds with a detailed step by step check list with what is required and how much it will cost - anything from $700 to $5000.
Your initial contact then will write urging you to expedite the matter, that unless you do so, the funds allocated for your order will be re allocated pending finalizing the registrations.
When I first entered this region I actually spent some time and effort to follow a scam, sending samples, invoices, filling out the reams of paper they sent me, all the time checking with the Benin Embassy in the UK if such a political party actually existed.
So when it came to the sting, my response was that due to strict currency regulations in SL I was unable to transfer the required FOREX to the relevant authority. I went on to request Mr Chimbawa, my contact, to release the US$ 750 required for purpose of registration from my invoice of US$ 1,400,000/-, transferring me the balance
His reply was "As we have already allocated and held the sum of US$ One Million Four Hundred Thousand for you, our Chief Financial Officer informs me that she cannot authorize a further sum for this purpose"
I was devastated - riiiight - and immediately called Mr C, who reiterated the content of his mail. When I happened to mention that the Benin Embassy in the UK had told me they knew nothing about the MPFB there was a moments silence, and then, ever so softly, the line was cut. Mr C and I never spoke after that, his line seems to have been disconnected
What you should look for?
a) Is the email address from a free service provider such as yahoo, hotmail etc? Most legitimate entities will have their own accounts.
b) Is the only number you have for your contact a mobile number? In Benin a mobile number stars witha 9 after the country prefix
c) Benin and Togo are Francophone countries - any official institute will have a French names
d) The more elaborate the titles the designations, the bluster, the more likely it is that its a scam - Contract Awarding Committee, contract committee board, CONTRACT AWARD BUREAU, NCAC, National Contract Awarding Council, Bidding Commission etc.., the list is endless.
e) Hardly anyone pay's 100% up front - if you know anyone who does, I'd like to meet them please!
Not all inquiries or queries are scams, some can and are legit. Just be careful if you have not met the person you are dealing with, still remain cautious even after you meet him!
My rule of thumb is "If it sounds too good to be true, its unlikely to be"