Welcome to the Department of Justice, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

For immediate release - Wednesday, October 17, 2001. Contact Bob Brammer - 515-281-6699.

Miller: "Nigeria Letter Scam"

Pitches are Hitting Heavily Again in Iowa

"These faxes are part of a pure scam operated by criminal gangs in Nigeria. Don't touch this scam with a ten-foot pole," Miller said.

DES MOINES. Attorney General Tom Miller warned Iowans not to fall prey to the "Nigeria Letter Scam," which he said apparently is surfacing very heavily in Iowa right now.

"It appears that hundreds of faxes are landing right now, perhaps thousands," Miller said. "Scores of people called us about them yesterday and today. The fax letters ask for 'utmost secrecy and urgency' and offer the possibility of obtaining millions of dollars from sources in Nigeria, but they really are part of a pure scam operated by criminal gangs there. Don't touch this scam with a ten-foot pole," he said. "Just throw away these faxes, letters, or email messages."

The fax shows an official looking letterhead labeled "Nigerian Ports Authority" and is signed by "Dr. Tony Eke Miller." It is addressed to "The CEO/Chairman/Director." The letter says the recipient can obtain 30 percent of $45 million if the $45 million can be deposited by the recipient in "an account where you have absolute control." Ten percent of the $45 million would be for expenses, and 60 percent would go to the Nigerian officials.

Recipients of the letter, who appear most often to be business persons, are asked to phone, fax, or email their bank account number, their bank contact information, and "your private telephone and fax number for easy communication." The fax doesn't ask the recipient to send money -- at first.

"The letter is the baited hook," Miller said. "Don't bite. If you so much as call or send a fax out of curiosity or to look into the matter, you are likely to be the subject of a sophisticated, persuasive con-scheme that ultimately calls for you to send thousands of dollars in hopes of getting millions. It's a form of what we call advance fee fraud. It's the definition of a confidence-scheme run by con-artists."

Miller said variations of the "Nigeria letter scam" have been around for many years.

The U.S. State Department and U.S. Secret Service Financial Crimes Division continue to investigate the matter, Miller said. They say the scheme is being operated by scores of criminal gangs in Nigeria that also are involved in the worldwide heroin trade.

U.S. and Nigerian officials do not need more copies of the letter. They have hundreds of copies already, and they say it is very difficult to track them back to the perpetrators.

A State Department report on the Nigeria Letter Scam indicates that, when the scheme unfolds to its fullest, Americans sometimes travel to Nigeria supposedly to meet with Nigerian government officials or complete the transaction. Once there, the criminals will attempt to solicit more money by continuing the ruse or, if that fails, by using physical intimidation and even kidnaping. The State Department said fifteen foreign business persons (one American) have been murdered in Nigeria in advance fee fraud scams. The fraud is perpetrated worldwide, not just against U.S. citizens. U.S. officials estimate that victims lose millions every year in the U.S. and worldwide.

The 31-page U.S. State Department report, by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, can be found on the Worldwide Web at http://travel.state.gov, Miller said. (See "Travel publications," then "Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud.")

Miller's Office said it knows of no Iowa victims, although it has heard a second-hand report that an Iowan lost $25,000 to the scheme. In a variation of the scheme, a Sioux Falls church received a letter that said a missionary in Nigeria had died and left the church $3 million, but to get the funds the church had to send $90,000 in taxes. The church wired the money, but was able to stop the transfer.

Miller said the lack of known victims from Iowa doesn't mean no one has been cheated.

"Victims typically would be hesitant to come forward for two reasons," he said. "First, it might be a source of embarrassment. Second, if the scheme goes far, victims often are woven into the scam and misled into thinking they will be prosecuted themselves as co-conspirators. This is a very sophisticated scam when it unfolds."

Miller encouraged anyone who has lost money in the Nigeria letter scam to contact his office at 515-281-5926.

Ironically, the last line of the fax landing now in Iowa says, "This might sound too good to be true. Yes, it is true, and we mean business."

"Fortunately," Miller said, "we believe almost all Iowans simply throw away the Nigeria letters as phony and too-good-to-be-true. In this case, that's exactly the right thing to do."

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