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Consumer News Release

For immediate release -- Thursday, February 25, 1999.
Contact Bob Brammer -- 515-281-6699

Miller Warns Marshalltown Area About "Nigeria Letter Scam"

"These faxes or letters are part of a pure scam operated by criminal gangs in Nigeria," says the Attorney General. "We say, just throw them away."

DES MOINES-- Attorney General Tom Miller warned Marshalltown-area residents not to fall prey to the "Nigeria Letter Scam," which appears to be surfacing in the area.

"The Times Republican alerted us that area businesses have received letters or faxes purporting to be strictly confidential and offering the possibility of obtaining millions of dollars from sources in Nigeria," Miller said. "These faxes or letters are part of a pure scam operated by criminal gangs in Nigeria. We say, just throw them away."

Miller said con-artists in Nigeria apparently obtain mailing lists for certain areas, especially for business persons, so it's possible that numerous copies of the letter are arriving in the Marshalltown area.

Recipients of the letter 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 indicate that the U.S. recipient can receive a third- or half-share of the millions. The letters 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 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."

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 physical intimidation and even kidnapping. The State Department says 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.

The 31-page U.S. State Department report 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 so that they might think they will be prosecuted themselves as co-conspirators. This is a very sophisticated scam."

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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