Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Nigerian Con Artists Preying on People in America by Mail

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Nigerian Con Artists Preying on People in America by Mail

Article excerpt

When a Nigerian stranger wrote Alabama importer Frank O'Neill proposing a lucrative African oil deal, O'Neill didn't bite.

"Nobody is going to make me rich through the mail except Ed McMahon," he figured.

Houston oilman Robert Nichols wasn't so savvy. He chased an offer for a multimillion-dollar pipeline contract all the way to Nigeria, where local partners whisked him to a "really seedy little motel" outside Lagos, the capital.

Dangling the oil deal, the partners demanded $12,000 for plane tickets to Houston to check out his credit rating. For a mere $875,000, they continued, he could buy them out. And then Nichols realized his partners had him under surveillance.

Nichols bribed an underling to deliver a distress note to the U.S. Embassy, which came on like gangbusters. Consular officers brushed aside the motel clerk who insisted no Americans were registered, snatched Nichols from the con men's grasp and put him on a plane home.

To the U.S. officials who specialize in Nigeria, it was all in a day's work. Nigerian con schemes - initiated via unsolicited letter or fax that promises riches - are circulating among U.S. businessmen like a chain letter in a high school.

Deborah Henke, the Commerce Department's specialist on Nigeria, says she gets a hundred calls a month from Americans checking out get-rich-quick letters from Nigeria. The U.S. Embassy in Lagos rescues two to four American suckers a week, according to a recent cable.

Such phony deals are becoming an acute embarrassment for oil-rich Nigeria, a major trader with the United States. "The entire economy of the world is based on trust, and if we can't be trusted, we're in deep trouble," observed a Nigerian Embassy official in Washington, who said he feared for his safety if his identity were revealed.

Nigerians who send fraudulent letters violate U.S. laws, added Justice Department fraud specialist Nicole Healy, "but they are not subject to prosecution because we don't have physical jurisdiction over them."

Entrepreneurs in smaller towns, their names picked from newspaper articles, business directories, even the Yellow Pages, are being targeted, according to the State Department. …

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