Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fraud Has No Nationality- Apology to Nigeria

This post was first published on on August 10, 2011.  It received quite a bit of notice and actually led to several Nigerian bloggers working on the idea of positive branding.


This post has been noticed by some Nigerians and prompted a discussion about positive branding for Nigeria.  Despite being ill-qualified, I have decided to enter into the discussion with a series of posts.  The first one appears here.

I did a short post earlier this week about an e-mail I recieved  with an attached letter purporting to be from the FBI and a government agency in Nigeria.  The writer was not telling me about a trunk full of gold in a warehouse somewhere that he had picked me to retrieve.  He was telling me that I need to e-mail him for directions to send in $350 to the Department of Homeland Security for a Clearance Certificate.  I speculated in my post that people running what are commonly called Nigerian 419 frauds were branching out and appealing to fear rather than greed.  I find scammers who appeal to fear or generosity much more despicable than those who appeal to greed.  Although I did not mention it, I am concerned that immigrants are the intended target of  this particular scam.  At any rate, I heard from some Nigerians who thought I was maligning their country.  I changed the title and put in a little up front apology, but I am doing this post by way of making further amends to them.  I realize it must be very hurtful to have your nationality constantly associated with some scammers.  And that is what has happened to Nigerians.  This is from the FBI website:
                                                        Nigerian Letter or “419” Fraud

Nigerian letter frauds combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter mailed from Nigeria offers the recipient the "opportunity" to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author—a self-proclaimed government official—is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria. The recipient is encouraged to send information to the author, such as blank letterhead stationery, bank name and account numbers, and other identifying information using a fax number provided in the letter. Some of these letters have also been received via e-mail through the Internet. The scheme relies on convincing a willing victim, who has demonstrated a "propensity for larceny" by responding to the invitation, to send money to the author of the letter in Nigeria in several installments of increasing amounts for a variety of reasons.

To get some perspective on this I would like to tell you about a tax court decision that is almost as old as I am.  Curtis Muncie was a physician in New York City.  He was in Tax Court in 1952 arguing that he was entitled to a theft loss deduction for 1947.  The IRS was denying it.  Here is what happened:

Dr. Muncie received a letter dated November 18, 1947, from Mexico City, Mexico, signed by one Julian Silva, stating that a party was imprisoned in Mexico City for bankruptcy and desired the petitioner's help in saving $375,000 in bills hidden in a secret compartment of a trunk checked in a custom house in the United States. It also stated that the party owned a suitcase containing the baggage check to the trunk and a certified bank check for $25,000 payable to bearer, which suitcase would be released upon payment of cost of trial, and that if the petitioner would help save the writer's fortune the writer would give petitioner one-third of the above-mentioned amounts.

Petitioner promptly replied by letter to the address given, stating that he would help if the details justified. He received a letter from Mexico City from Andres Diaz, dated December 2, 1947, stating the [pg. 850]fine and costs to be paid as $8,300 and that he had 35 days' time in which to pay them, at which time his suitcase would be returned to him, and urging the petitioner to come to Mexico City and pay the cost of trial and fine. To this the petitioner replied by letter dated December 7, 1947, stating that he would come to Mexico City as requested. 

On December 15, 1947, petitioner withdrew by two checks $9,000 from his bank account at the City National Bank of New York and went to Mexico City. There he met two men, one of whom posed as a prison guard acting for the man whom the petitioner intended to aid, who gave to him what purported to be a trunk check and a certified check for $25,000 purportedly drawn by the Bank of London and South America Limited on the Agency of National City Bank of New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America, and accepted by it. Upon receipt of these documents the petitioner sent a telegram to New Orleans asking if check and baggage receipt were genuine and later was handed purported replies verifying the genuineness of the documents. He then, on December 22, 1947, handed the alleged guard $8,500 in bills, and on the same date flew to Laredo, Texas, and waited as instructed by letter.
On December 24 he received by mail an unsigned typewritten note to the effect that all was lost and instructed him to go home and await news there. The note closed with the advice, "Do not become impatient, as calm is the solution for every difficult thing." The petitioner went back to New York and upon presenting the alleged certified check to the National City Bank there on December 26, 1947, he was informed that such bank had no branch in New Orleans and learned from the New York branch of the Bank of London and South America Limited that the purported certified check was a forgery.

It's just like the 419  scams.  The only problem is that it would have been more expensive to execute so that the scammers could not afford to do the scatter-shot approach that the internet allows in finding victims.  Dr. Muncie was allowed his deduction, but that is not the reason I'm telling you about this case.  The reason is the commentary by the judge:

The petitioner was the victim of the ancient "Spanish prisoner" swindle and under the laws of Mexico, Mexican Penal Code, sections 386 and 387, dealing with fraud, the facts set forth above constitute a theft of the petitioner's money.

In other words there is nothing inherently Nigerian about Nigerian 419 scams.  To emphasize that point you could also look at this link  about a "Nigerian 419" scam where the money ends up in China.

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