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Consumer News Release

For immediate release -- Wednesday, April 25, 2001.
Contact Bob Brammer, 515-281-6699

Miller: "Nigeria Letter Scam" Pitches are Hitting Heavily Again in Iowa

"These faxes and letters 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 is surfacing in large numbers all over Iowa.

"It appears that hundreds of faxes and letters and e-mails are landing around the state," Miller said. "They purport to be strictly confidential 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 the letters and faxes."

Miller said the Consumer Protection Division has received scores of calls and copies of the letter in recent days. "That means they probably are landing by the thousands in Iowa now," he said.

Recipients of the letter, who often are business persons, typically are asked to call a phone number in Nigeria for more information, or to fax a copy of business letterhead. Sometimes the letters ask for bank account numbers. They indicate that tens of millions of dollars are available, and that an account abroad is needed to receive the money. The letters usually purport to be from a Nigerian government official or a national oil company executive who needs to transfer a large sum of money into a U.S. bank account in exchange for a cut of the money. The letters often indicate that the U.S. recipient can receive a third- or half-share of the millions, and they don'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 33-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. But 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," Miller 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.

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

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