Feds go after Nigerian scam profits
An e-mail that lands in your inbox explains that the victim of a tragic plane crash left behind cash and you’re the beneficiary. If the story sounds unbelievable, that’s because it was.
We’ve all heard about so-called "Nigerian scams," and many of us have had similar missives sent our way. They promise great wealth, but only if you wire some money first for things like legal fees. If you fall prey, your money disappears -- and the promised returns never arrive.
In one case detailed in federal court in the District, however, there may be some payback.
Officials are going after more than $496,000 of stolen cash they say is sitting in banks in Curacao.
The Justice Department’s effort to recover the money through a recently-filed civil forfeiture order offers a window into the common scam. This time, court papers say, the swindlers even stole the identity of a nun doing missionary work in Brazil, forging her signature and opening bank accounts in her name to help cover up their involvement.
Here’s how it worked, according to court records: Beginning in late 2005, about 48 victims, most from the U.S., got a letter or e-mail that pronounced they had come upon a windfall. Some used the plane crash ruse; others explained that the letter reader was “beneficiary to a large inheritance abroad.”
One key figure in the conspiracy, court records state, was a Nigerian native named Ekema Johnny Okonkwo. He has been convicted in the Netherlands for fraud and money laundering.
One Chicago woman was told she had come into $32 million. The woman sent cash for sham legal fees, indemnity fees and change of address fees. By the time she realized she had been scammed, she had wired more than $50,000 to banks in Germany, Curacao and the United Kingdom.
In all, the records state, victims sent about $2 million.
Hopefully the government can get some of it back.
June 10, 2010; 8:18 AM ET
Categories: Around the Nation , Cons & Scams , Financial Crimes , From the Courthouse , Maria Glod
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