Nigerian crime syndicates have added a new dimension to the fraudulent letter scheme known as 'fraud 419' which has netted an estimated amount in excess of one billion US dollars from victims since the worldwide scheme was first reported in 1989.
Reports received by Interpol indicate that the criminals are becoming so brazen and confident that they are contacting earlier victims of the fraud and are posing as Nigerian government officials investigating the fraud in a so-called attempt to get the victims' money back upon payment of an upfront fee.
"Interpol wants to try and minimise the potential danger of this new dimension to the fraud scheme by warning victims to be on their guard against any such approach," Mr Serge Sabourin, Head of Interpol's Communication and Public Relations Sub-Directorate said.
"Up to now not a lot of success has been achieved in bringing these criminals to trial and we feel that proactive warnings and increased awareness concerning this fraud scheme can possibly limit the extent of the fraud," he said.
The manner in which the crime is perpetrated makes prosecution very difficult. The victims are usually businessmen and other individuals from all over the world who either receive letters or a facsimile and are led to believe that a substantial commission, payable in US dollars, can be earned for allowing the use of their bank account into which money will be transferred from Nigeria. The commissions vary from two to 25 million US dollars.
The letters explain that the money is from delayed approved contract payments by the past civilian administration in Nigeria to certain companies which have abandoned repayment claims. It alleges that the present military government is now paying these previously frozen monies but that the civil servants involved are apparently attempting to keep the funds for themselves.
The signatories of the letters claim to be acting as middlemen and request that the victim supplies signed and stamped blank company letterheads and blank invoices together with bank details such as account numbers, addresses, telephone and facsimile numbers.
Upon receipt of replies together with the requested documents, the victims are requested to transfer the money to pay for transfer taxes, contract and attorney fees allegedly demanded by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Part of the advances are supposedly used for bribing officials.
The scheme varies from oil transactions to claims on deceased estates, the exportation of US dollar bills in mint form, disposal of toxic waste and others.
Obviously, no money is ever received, resulting in a total loss to the company or individual.
It appears that the countries bordering Nigeria are now being used for posting the scheme letters and even to meet potential victims.
The Nigerian Federal Police have set up a special unit to investigate the scheme but due to the reluctance of victims to travel to Nigeria, prosecutions are difficult to institute.
The General Secretariat of Interpol maintain a file on reported cases but, due to the difficulties encountered in investigating such cases, active measures are being taken to create global awareness in an attempt to prevent people from falling victim to the scheme. The scheme has continued unabated and cases emanating from Japan are now being reported.
Mr Sabourin states that the prospect of receiving commissions of millions of US dollars lures individuals to participate in this scheme and it is clear that the gullibility and greed of prospective victims clouds their Judgement.
"The first logical preventive measure to take is never to divulge your bank account details or any other personal details to anyone," said Mr Sabourin.
Any approach should be reported to the local police with all documents received being handed in. The local police can refer the matter to their Interpol National Central Bureau (NCB), who will in turn notify the Nigerian Federal Police.
The Australian Federal Police is Australia's Interpol National Central Bureau (NCB). Australia is one of many countries targeted by the promoters of this scheme. Members of the public are advised to seek professional advice if they are tempted by anything resembling this scam.
As noted in the Interpol Warning, it is extremely difficult to prosecute the promoters of the scheme and the chances of recovering any funds invested are remote.
The message is simple: if it seems too good to be true it probably is.