Nigerian scams hit home, police: 'Do not respond'
Local man arrested for allegedly claimed to be from south Louisiana
Sep 19th, 2005
By TODD BURROW, Hope Star Writer
Natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina bring out the best in Americans who freely give money, resources and time to those in need. However, Katrina has brought about situations such as the one that happened here over the weekend.
Police said Monday that a local man allegedly tried his luck at imitating a south Louisiana evacuee though his efforts landed him in jail, said Hope Police Department Lt. Jim Bush.
"Around 11:04 p.m. Saturday, Lamont Carter, 28, of Hope, was arrested for criminal trespassing, public intoxication and loitering," Bush said.
Police reports show that Carter disregarded "No Trespassing" signs posted around Danny McKamie's residence and knocked on the man's door, anyway.
McKamie came to the door and Carter allegedly told the homeowner he was from south Louisiana and needed $20 for gas money so he could drive to Texarkana to see his sister.
"McKamie called police and shortly Carter was arrested and remains in jail this morning," Bush said.
In addition to door-to-door scams, an upsurge in "Advanced Money" scams are occurring as well.
Time after time, people still buy into the notion that you can get something for nothing when in fact, if your gut tells you a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
It happens all the time, police say, and the elderly and the greedy are the most vulnerable.
"Nobody is going to give you something for nothing," said Hope police investigator Eric Green.
But seven such scams have occurred in Hope over the past three months and once again, people have been burned by these schemes whose origins are traced to the African city of Lagos, Nigeria.
"That's how many victims that have come to us to file a report," Green said. "We don't know how many other victims who were too ashamed to come forward."
Victims often determine they have been duped after it's too late.
The thieves use what is called the "419" scam. It is also called the "Advance Fee Fraud."
The "419 Fraud" is the relevant section of the criminal code of Nigeria.
The "419 Coalition Website" describes the scam like this:
"The target receives an unsolicited fax, email or letter often concerning Nigeria or another African nation containing either a money laundering or other illegal proposal.
"You may receive a legal and legitimate business proposal by normal means," the website states.
Hope police Lt. Kim Tomlin said the victims might be sent an apparently legitimate check, made out to the target, or the victim.
"It looks real and what they are asking the person to do is take the check, cash it and send back "change" on an overage cashier's check or money order," she said.
"If the victim pays the fee, there are often many "complications" which require still more advanced payments until the victim either quits, runs out of money, or both.
The website says this scam is the third to fifth largest industry in Nigeria, which is one of the top five oil producing countries in the world.
"They always want the money back, or a part of it, to complete the transaction," Green said.
If the recipient signs the check and a bank or other institution cashes it, then the person is responsible for its validity, Green said.
"If a bank adds the check amount to the victim's account and it turns out to be no good, then the bank will ask the victim to repay the money the bank is out," Tomlin said.
"Once you endorse the check, it becomes your responsibility," Green said. "The bank can carry the case to civil court or place a lien on your property."
Green said the number of reports to the Secret Service office in Little Rock concerning this particular scam is about 100 a week.
The Secret Service accepts complaints from those who are targets, but it usually goes no further because of the complacency of the government of Nigeria.
The scammers obtain email addresses from dating service websites, and numerous other outlets, including email addresses which appear under items for sale in any number of trade and advertising tabloids
"Some believe they are doing the right thing," said Brian Marr, the special agent in charge for the Secret Service in Little Rock.
One way to protect yourself is to never open emails, no matter how enticing the offer sounds, Green said.
Delete any emails which look suspicious, such as "You have won $7,500. To collect please open this great offer now."
"This is an underreported crime," Marr said.
"Americans have always been more than glad to help those in need, but if something looks to good to be true, it probably is."
The top five scams being circulated now are: 1) lottery scam, which lures people into believing they have won a certain dollar amount, and to collect, the person must send "x" number of dollars in order to collect. 2) Ebay scam, where the con artist will see, for example, a motorcycle on sale for $5,000, and will send an $8,000 check and to have the seller return the $3,000 difference. The check is no good, officials say, and the seller winds up losing $3,000 and still owns the motorcycle. 3) the Iraqi letter, asking for donations to the soldier and the family, and 4) Hurricane Katrina fund., where somebody appears to be helping victims but wind up becoming one themselves.
"Always be sure you are dealing with reputable people," Marr said.