Nigerian criminals are targeting potential fraud victims over the Internet, something UK police representatives described as a worrying new trend.
The scam, detailed last night on BBC One's TV investigation show MacIntyre Undercover, usually starts with a letter enticing the recipient to part with information, such as their bank account details, with the promise they can make huge profits simply by allowing money to be transferred out of Nigeria into their account.
To date, the largest amount lost by an UK individual is £2 million: the average is $200,000 on a worldwide basis. A spokesperson for the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), a government agency that works alongside the police, said he had heard of only a few cases by email, but he expects a lot more in the future.
"It's worrying because it's a new means of targeting people by exploiting modern technology," he said. "Unlike letters, we cannot intercept emails and take them out of the postal system, which prevents millions of pounds of fraud. With emails, it reaches the target immediately and the process is started."
He believes that people receiving contact through email rather than by letter "are more gullible because they think they have been specially selected."
vnunet.com was contacted by a potential victim when she received an email from someone named Gambo Mohammed, who claimed to be Chairman of the Contact Review Panel for the Worldcup Youth Soccer Tournament, Nigeria 99.
The personally addressed email appealed to her to act as the beneficiary of the fund, stating: "The fund ($38,500,000) has been divided to ratio: 25 per cent for you as the account owner and 10 per cent to re-emburse both parties in any expenses incurred during the course of remitting this amount of money into your account." (sic)To give the email a sheen of authenticity, it says the amount has been agreed with a colleague in the Federal Ministry of Finance, adding, "our civil code forbids us to own or operate a foreign account, hence the need for your kindly assistance." The email goes on to ask for personal and bank details.
The NCIS spokesperson said the email is a "typical '419 advanced fee fraud'", and if the recipient swallows the bait, she would eventually be asked to provide money in advance to help with transfer costs. The money would then disappear.
He warned the public "never to respond. These gangs are sophisticated, mostly Nigerian and have links with drugs."
However, some people are trapped into the scheme: "About 10 per cent start replying and one per cent part with their money."
He said that the West African Organised Crime Unit has intercepted half a million letters in the UK this year, but billions of pounds have been cheated out of people worldwide.
"They prey on greed and naivety," he said. "People think they can make money for nothing, but victims often don't come forward through embarrassment."
If you have been sent a similar email, you can post it to NCIS at PO Box 8000, London SE11 5EN.
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