BULL STREET - The art of the Con

A Tale of Woe

We have a small investment banking firm on Wall Street and after being in the business for a time, you learn to separate reality from the fast buck operators that are continually circling the perimeters of the “Street” looking for someone to pick off. Moreover, we have become a tough target, having been there and having done that. However, our clients are not always so sophisticated and they sometimes get into problems that even we can’t extricate them from.  One day we received a call from a client who invested $450,000 in a deal and thought that we would like to know what it was. It was so good that he was certain we would want to put some money into it as well.

It turned out that the widow of the assassinated ex-president of Nigeria, Abacha, had told our client by e-mail that some money that belonging to her husband was in a Nigerian bank and if he would only send his banking coordinates, they would send $26 million to him by wire. He could then keep a substantial percentage of the proceeds, probably 30-percent and he would give the rest back to her when she arrived in the United States. Our client went for the bait, hook, line and sinker. He indicated his interest in pursuing the proposal and asked what he should do next.

He was instructed to send them a certain amount of money in order to show his sincerity in the matter, as I recall, it was about $50,000. Well, one thing led to another and by the time he called us, the amount was more than nine-times that amount and he was taped out. He was being asked to send just a small amount more and if we would lend him the money he would generously cut us in for a part of the deal. We told him that his money had already been stolen and that his odds of recovering a nickel of it were zero or less. He was flabbergasted.  We put him in touch with the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; they let him down gently and asked for his cooperation. There is literally not a day that goes buy when I don’t get an e-mail from the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in Nigeria or Sierra Leone trying to separate our firm from its money. Usually we turn these over to the FBI as well. However, it does little good because they are never going to visit here and we would not be welcomed there. Some have tried and have been worse for the result. 

Nigeria has set a world standard with its back-to-back victories in the “Global - Most Corrupt” competition sponsored by Transparency International.  When the proclamation was made, General Sani Abacha, the then reigning Nigerian President, declared in a public statement that “while winning the award for the second straight year was a humbling experience, other nations will not stand idly by and allow Nigeria to continue to maintain this distinction year after year without a fight.  There will be a concerted international effort by many nations in an attempt to dethrone Nigeria.  A jealous world will attempt to establish corrupt practices far more complex than what we have been able to devise.” Robert Young Pelton in his book, The World’s Most Dangerous Places put Nigeria into perspective:

“The third largest industry in Nigeria is mail fraud.  The government has done little to shut it down, as so many people are supported from its efforts.  Fraud is the largest customer of the Nigerian Post Office as well.  Some of the scams are being conducted directly through Nigerian Government offices with the direct participation of Government officials.”

Usually the swindlers propose to transfer substantial sums of American Dollars to an overseas bank account (American).  The account will receive a substantial proportion of the transferred funds.  Usually these funds are described as overpayments from government contracts or as advance payments awarded to an American company.

Nigerian’s are also adept at real estate scams, charity scams, will scams, fraudulent order scams, crude oil scams, advance fee scams, letterhead scams, death threat scams, Nigerian tax scams, U.S. visa scams and sample scams, to name just a few of the rip-offs the fertile minds of the Nigerians have thought up.  Recovery is literally unheard of, and the scams continue unabated in spite of the entry of the U. S. Secret Service Financial Crimes Division into the investigations.  The problem for Americans has become so severe that the Department of Commerce has suspended distribution of Commercial News USA in Nigeria to withhold potential contact information on American firms from swindlers.

Crime in Nigeria rose in the mid-1990s as a result of unemployment, economic decline, and social inequality, which are abetted by inefficient and corrupt police and customs forces. More than half of all offenses are thefts, burglaries, and break-ins, although armed robberies are also prominent. Nigeria is a major conduit for drugs moving from Asia and Latin America to markets in Europe and North America. Large-scale Nigerian fraud rings have targeted business people in other parts of the world. The business people are invited to help transfer (nonexistent) large sums of money out of Nigeria, with the promise of a share of the transferred money. Advance fees are requested to expedite this transfer, but the advanced money routinely disappears. Although there have been periodic campaigns to root out corrupt politicians and attack crime, they have had little lasting effect.” ([171][1])

The fact is that in Nigeria, most of the oil riches are stolen by the military and the government bureaucrats have to scurry around looking for other means to make ends meet. They have found fraud a very interesting alternative to working for a living. I received an invitation today from Henry Igho, naturally employed by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing (FMW&H) in Lagos. In utmost confidence he informed me of the following:

“In the course of our work in the Contract Review Panel set up by the Federal Government, we discovered this fund which resulted from grossly over-invoiced contracts which were executed for the FMW&H during the last administration. The companies that executed the contract have been duly paid and the contracts commissioned leaving the sum of US$26.426M floating in the Escrow account of the Central Bank of Nigeria ready for payment. I have therefore been mandated as a matter of trust by my colleagues in the Panel to look for an overseas partner to whom we could transfer the sum of US$26.426M by legally subcontracting the contract entitlement to your company. This is bearing in mind that our civil service code of conduct forbids us from owning foreign companies running foreign accounts while in Government service, hence the need for an over-seas partner.”

This seems like an easy way to make a living if you have nothing better to do. Sending tens-of-thousands of e-mails at a time has been a godsend for the Nigerian economy, bringing in just the right number of suckers to keep the bureaucrats in the style they have become accustomed to.



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