- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2003

Nigerian e-mail scams continue to defraud investors of savings despite efforts by the United States and foreign governments to crack down on the schemes.
Secret Service agents in White Plains, N.Y., arrested two persons this week in one of the scams, which are rated among the "most annoying" e-mails of 2002 by a company that monitors such things.
A Wisconsin businessman gave $200,000 to a New York couple claiming ties to the Nigerian government in response to their e-mail plea for help to pay fees for transferring $50 million from Nigerian banks. Instead of a percentage of the $50 million the couple promised, they gave him a trunk filled with worthless black paper.
"It just shows how easily people fall for these things," said Rafael Figueroa, a Secret Service agent in White Plains, N.Y.
The New York husband and wife, identified as Chuks and Svitlana Nwogu, face up to 15 years in prison.
The Secret Service, which has a task force dedicated to Nigerian e-mail scams, estimates that Americans have lost hundreds of millions of dollars on them. As soon as one group of suspects is arrested, others spring up elsewhere, often on other continents, law-enforcement officials said.
The senders typically appeal to the recipients' heartstrings. Invariably, they want money.
"Appeal for assistance to claim the sum of U.S. $45,000,000.00 and lodge in safe bank account, on behalf of my family," one such e-mail says.
Usually, the e-mails ask for financial assistance with bank transfer fees in exchange for a share of the account.
Another e-mail, from a sender calling himself Ahmed, reads: "I have been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which was discovered very late. … The last of my money is the huge cash deposit that I have with a [bank]. I will want you to help me collect this deposit and [dispatch] it to charity organizations."
Ahmed adds, "Please respond before I die."
Some of the e-mails have been traced to Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Afghanistan and other countries. They have come to be called "Nigerian" because many of the scams originate there.
SurfControl PLC, a company that sells software to filter out junk e-mail, or spam, rated Nigerian e-mail as one of the most annoying of such nuisances last year. Among others: e-mails touting pornography, mortgage-refinancing discounts, Internet gambling and cheap prescription drugs.
"It has most assuredly secured a place in the Internet hall of shame as one of the more common Internet hoaxes," America Online spokesman Nicholas Graham said of the Nigerian scams.
Several variations are circulating to hundreds of thousands of Internet customers throughout North America and Europe.
"We know all about that one," said Randy Davis, spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General's Office.
Virginia has some of the nation's toughest computer-fraud laws. More than 70 percent of the nation's Internet traffic is routed through Internet-service providers in Virginia, including America Online, Verizon Communications Inc. and UUNet.
Virginia and Maryland law both prohibit bulk e-mails that use deceit to solicit money or property.
Those who send such e-mails can be fined as much as $25,000 per day in Virginia. In Maryland, recipients can collect $500 for misleading e-mail, plus legal fees.
"The pitches all fall into what law enforcement refers to as an 'advance-fee' scheme," said Carolyn Henneman, head of criminal investigations for the Maryland Attorney General's Office. "It's like, 'You send us the money and we'll send you more money.'"
The Nigerian e-mail scams produce many complaints, but states are nearly powerless to stop it.
"A lot of the offenders are out of the United States," said Lisa Hicks-Thomas, director of the computer-crimes division of the Virginia Attorney General's Office. "We have to forward the complaints to the FBI. We wouldn't even have the jurisdiction to prosecute them here in Virginia."
The scams also have become an annoyance for the Nigerian government.
"We see that it has a very bad image for Nigeria," said Volaji Adebiyi, deputy information attache for the Nigerian Embassy. "It's so very, very unfair."
The Nigerian government has tried to stop the scams through public-information campaigns, legislation and prosecution, he said. The fraudulent e-mails sometimes are called "419 scams," referring to the number of the Nigerian criminal code that prohibits them.
"We advise people not to send those e-mails," Mr. Adebiyi said. "People are not being sincere."
Verizon spokeswoman Briana Gowing said she has received the pleas for money.
"I've gotten this Nigerian thing at work," she said.
Internet-service providers such as Verizon and America Online offer a feature on their home pages that allows customers to block unwanted e-mails.
"When you have a lot of spam, it takes a lot of time and money to process all those e-mails," Miss Gowing said. "It's people receiving the e-mail that are paying for it."


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