Nigerian scam email responses ( .PDF )
It's called the Nigerian scam, and it comes in many forms.
But it's more like a Nigerian nightmare for those who fall prey to the overly polite, poorly written e-mails and write checks for thousands of dollars.
"I'm continually checking my bank account and my credit card because I have no idea what they are capable of," said Meaghan Osa, a Kansas University senior from Denver.
In January, Osa needed to sublease an apartment and placed a notice for it on an online network with free classified ads. She got three initial responses from women claiming to be in Canada, South America and England. Communicating by e-mail, two of the women said they'd rent the apartment and share it.
One sent Osa a money order for $3,700, and the other sent a cashier's check for $2,800. They wanted her to deposit the money and send back the excess amount. Certain rules and regulations required the checks to be sent in large sums, Osa was told. She made the deposits, and a few days later, her account at US Bank showed they had cleared.
But when Osa tried to withdraw the money she was to send back, bankers stopped her. The money had only been credited to her account. The money order and cashier's check hadn't yet cleared. When Osa told bankers what she was doing and why, they told her she was a victim of a Nigerian scam. It was also determined that the cashier's check and the money order were fraudulent.
Osa received another $3,700 money order from a woman in East Africa.
"She claimed a company she worked for was transferring her out here," Osa said.
When Osa didn't send money back to the scammers, she started receiving intimidating e-mails. Someone from an international number called her cell phone repeatedly. She woke up one morning to find she had received 37 calls. No verbal messages were left. Osa received a mysterious package in the mail and turned it over to Lawrence police. The package had yet another check in it from someone wanting her to deposit it.
"It was getting out of control. It was really scary," Osa said. The calls have mostly stopped, she said.
The Nigerian scam has been around for several years, but it has evolved, law enforcement authorities said. The scam got its name in the early days because mail was sent from people claiming to be from Nigeria and in need of help to move large sums of money out of their country. The latest version involves overages, or cashier's checks or money orders made out for large amounts of money for items being sold over the Internet.
The overage scams are relatively new, said Jeff Lanza, spokesman for the FBI headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.
"When you see cashier's checks and money orders mentioned, they are big red flags," he said.
The FBI will attempt to investigate such frauds, but many times there is little that can be done, Lanza said. The countries where the offers originate have to be willing to cooperate, and then the culprits have to be identified and found, he said.
The FBI and the Federal Trade Commission urge people never to give out their banking information. If you think you have become a victim of a scam, contact the FBI or Secret Service.
Lawrence police occasionally get complaints about Internet scams, Sgt. Paul Fellers said. The best protection is awareness and skepticism, he said.
"Usually, if it sounds too good to be true, it is," Fellers said.
Information about Internet crime and frauds can be found on the FBI, FTC and Internet Crime Complaint Center Web sites.
Honesty 'a downfall'
Tivoli Myers found out the hard way about the inability of law enforcement to help her recover from a scam. The KU freshman from Burlington lost nearly $3,000.
Myers wanted to sell a camera for $300 and placed an online ad.
She exchanged e-mails with a Fiona Smith, who said she ran a business in Africa. Smith sent Myers a check for $3,200. Myers deposited the check in her account at Commerce Bank, and three days later, it appeared that it had cleared, she said. She sent the camera.
Additional e-mail exchanges led to her getting requests to send a mobile phone and a laptop computer to either Smith or to what turned out to be a fake company in the United States.
Myers was stunned when she checked her online bank account on Presidents Day and saw that she was $2,800 overdrawn. Just as Osa's bank had done, Myers had initially been credited with the deposit even though it had not officially cleared.
Myers got no help from law enforcement agencies. There was nothing they could do, she was told. She said she was chastised for her mistakes by a banker and someone with a MoneyGram firm in New Jersey.
"I was told that if I didn't pay the money back within 25 days, my credit would be completely shot," Myers said. A friend loaned Myers the money.
"I thought being honest and trustworthy were two of my biggest assets," Myers said. "It turns out they are my biggest downfall."