immediate release -- Wednesday, April 25, 2001.
Contact Bob Brammer, 515-281-6699
"Nigeria Letter Scam" Pitches are Hitting
Heavily Again in Iowa
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.
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
"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
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
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.
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."
anyone who has lost money in the Nigeria letter scam to contact his office
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."