- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

The FBI and other agencies are working to combat a new twist on an old African scam that purports to be an appeal from the son of a slain white farmer in Zimbabwe.

The scam targets its victims with e-mail messages from someone named David Udiata, who claims to be a farmer whose father was killed in the recent land disputes under Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's seizure of white-owned farms.

"I got your letter through [the] network online," claims the message, using a format similar to a scam known as the Internet Nigerian Letter Scheme.

It goes on to ask for the victim's assistance in transferring $8.5 million to a bank account in South Africa. It promises a big reward to the victim, who must first provide access to a personal bank account. The scam artists then help themselves to a few thousand dollars from the victim's bank account.

The Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) working with the FBI, has received more than 600 complaints regarding the Internet Nigerian Letter Scheme since May 2000, according to its Web site.

Only two of the complaints involved a loss of money, a total of $31,000.

The Zimbabwean scam is a new approach to the old scheme, but the perpetrators are equally elusive.

"We try to prosecute whenever possible," said FBI public affairs spokeswoman Julie Miller. "It's hard to find willing [district] attorneys, though."

Under both the Nigerian and Zimbabwean schemes, a large sum of money that needs to be transferred to a foreign account is always involved, and the subjects tend to present themselves as bank officials, persons of stature or family members of rich, deceased individuals.

A large sum of money is offered as a reward.

The victims give a phone number and e-mail address at which they can be contacted.

Ms. Miller said that, once contacted, "[The perpetrators] ask the individual either to give them access to his or her personal bank account or to open a new account which, in order to be established, must have an initial deposit of $15,000 and up."

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