Crimes of Persuasion

Schemes, scams, frauds.

Nigerian Bank Scam

Nigerian Bank Scam Investigator Provides Advice on Check Scams

04/06 - The files stacked up on Tom Polhemus's desk at the Fairfax County Police Department chronicle human gullibility.

A man who was corresponding with a woman on the Internet wired $6,000 to a bank in Nigeria after she sent him a check. The check he received turned out to be counterfeit.

A woman wired more than $11,000 to Canada, supposedly to pay taxes on winnings from a lottery she had never entered and from which she never saw a dime.

A man mailed $45,000 to South Carolina for a luxury French wristwatch he bought online. He got nothing, and his cash wound up in a bank in Russia.

These are among hundreds of frauds reported in recent weeks to Polhemus, a former detective who works as a civilian investigator for the department, and the 12 detectives assigned to track down financial crimes in Fairfax County.

However, local police often cannot do much about fraud originating in another state or country.

Even if police could sniff out a suspect and make an arrest, the cost to the county of flying in witnesses to testify would be prohibitive, Polhemus said.

There is one thing he said he could do for victims: "I can commiserate with them," he said.

In the 10 years Polhemus has been investigating financial crimes, he said, fraud has increased dramatically both in raw numbers and in sophistication. An increasing number of cases involve Internet fraud and identity theft.

Among the most vulnerable are the elderly and recent immigrants who may not fully understand banking systems and are accustomed to informal transactions in their native countries.

One of the common scams falls in the category of the "advance fee fraud," according to Polhemus. A con artist sends the target a check that is greater than the amount the con says is owed and asks for the difference in cash.

The check turns out to be stolen or counterfeit, and eventually the bank notifies its customer that it has bounced. By then, the con artist cannot be found.

In one case Polhemus recounted, a woman in Fairfax County was told she had won a second-place prize of $80,000 in a lottery in Quebec.

After she wired the caller $1,200 to pay what she was told were taxes on her winnings, she got another call saying the first-place winner could not be located, so she would receive the winner's money, another $272,000 -- once she wired an additional $1,800 for taxes.

She did, and received a third call alerting her that the checks were being held in customs and would be released once she paid an additional $1,200 in duty fees.

"As long as you keep sending money, there's always another call," said Polhemus.

Sometimes the ruses are even more elaborate. A Centreville woman who had advertised for a roommate received an e-mail from a woman in Nigeria who claimed she was moving to the area and would like to rent a room.

Her problem, she said, was that she only had the money in postal money orders. So she express-mailed orders totaling $4,000 to Centreville -- $2,000 was for the security deposit, but the woman asked that $2,000 be wired back so she could buy her plane ticket.

The Centreville woman complied. The next day the would-be tenant sent another e-mail saying she had been in an accident and would not be coming, after all. The honest landlady then wired back the $2,000 deposit.

Afterward she learned that the money orders she had received were counterfeit, according to Polhemus. That's $4,000 she'll never see again.

Polhemus advises people to use common sense when they are contacted with offers of money.

"Nobody's going to send a perfect stranger a great deal of money," he said. "Legitimate businesses don't ask you to wire money back."

(Washington Post)

Financial Consultant Duped by Nigerian Counterfeit Bank Cheque Scam

08/07 - (BC) When Todd Merenick of Kelowna first received an e-mail from two medical doctors in Nigeria offering him $1.8 million to help transfer $9 million out of their country, he immediately saw red flags and heard alarm bells.

But he figured there was a slim chance the Nigerians - purporting to be university bigwigs needing his help to confidentially transfer out leftover grant money to provide for their retirement after 25 years of public service - were telling the truth.

He had just become a financial consultant with Investors Group at the time, November 2004, and thought perhaps the two Nigerians, Dr. Chris Martins and Dr. Ahmad Rehman, would move to Canada and become clients.

But his misgivings won out and he sent them a quick e-mail saying he was skeptical.

Merenick's story offers a unique look at how a skeptical financial consultant still ended up as one of 175 Canadians who reported losing $9.2 million to such professional con men in 2005.

He told the scammers, according to court documents:

- The offer of a 20-per-cent commission on $8.8 million "seemed too good to be true."

- He suspected they were trying to launder money and threatened to call the police.

- He told Rehman in January 2005 that Nigeria is notorious for such scams, and "fortunately most Canadians do not fall for them but once in a while one does and they sure lose lots of money."

- He scoffed at the idea that "someone with $8 million (US) . . . has to access it through transferring it into a bank account of someone he does not know in a country far from his own."

- Merenick told him he couldn't find any reference to him, a supposedly eminent scientist, on the Internet and sent him an online article about a Nigeria e-mail scam.

In a series of persistent e-mails and phone calls, Merenick repeatedly turned down their requests to send them varying amounts, from $3,500 to $16,000 for "taxes" on the $8.8 million.

But after eight months of corresponding, he eventually agreed to deposit a cheque for $82,466.86 they had sent him, with instructions to wait for the cheque to clear and then wire that amount to a Hong Kong bank.

Merenick, who had never before deposited more than $2,000 in his account, told a customer service representative at a Toronto-Dominion branch in Vernon that he was investing retirement funds for a client.

Bank staff, after checking his account history and noting he worked for Investors Group, failed to put a hold on it.

Merenick wired the money the next day. When he heard the cheque bounced, he resigned from his job, reported the fraud to police and declared personal bankruptcy.

Toronto-Dominion sued, alleging Merenick engaged in false pretenses while depositing the cheque and asked the courts to exclude the $82,466.86 from his bankruptcy protection.

But B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather Holmes rejected the bank's plea. Merenick, she wrote, "was unwise and even careless in allowing himself to be made victim of a 'Nigerian e-mail scam,' but the evidence does not establish he was untruthful or otherwise acted deceitfully in his dealings with the bank."

Merenick declined comment, but his Kelowna lawyer, David Frechette, said his client's first mistake was sending the first e-mail.

"Once you start to communicate, the scammers are persistent and plead desperate circumstances," he said.

"They just don't quit. It's non-stop. Their request is a simple one and if you relate to them, which you do over a period of time, it's easy to get drawn in."

He said his client is happy with the ruling, adding: "He was a victim of the fraud. If the bank had been more careful, they could have avoided the loss."

The bank's Vancouver lawyer had no comment.

(The Province)

Businesses may be out millions in Nigerian bank fraud scheme

03/08 - (Sault Ste Marie, ON) Businesses in the Toronto area may have been defrauded out of more than $20 million in an off-shore scam, city police say.

So far, $700,000 worth of electronics equipment has been recovered, but investigators suspect millions more has been stolen.

"We believe most of the property or proceeds of property have gone to Nigeria," said Supt. Rob Taverner. "I would suspect this is a global operation."

The scam had several components, police said Monday.

First a group of about four people under the guise of a fictitious company would approach legitimate businesses, first gaining the corporation's trust and then setting up an account, police said.

Eventually, a merchandise order would be made, paid for by a certified cheque.

Only after the products had been delivered, did the businesses discover those cheques were counterfeit. There are still $5.5 million worth of certified cheques that have not been negotiated, police said.

As well, there is an additional $2 million worth of receipts and statements that show fraud occurring at numerous other companies across the country.

The second part of the scam involved rental vehicles.

A person using false identification would rent a car, then ship it overseas. Once the vehicle had cleared customs it would be reported stolen.

Police suspect as many as 20 cars, mainly high-end vehicles, have been shipped overseas.

(The Sault Star)

Payback Time for Nigerian Bank Scammers

11/07 - (London) - A GANG of fraudsters who targeted a former BBC journalist, a dead woman and a Nigerian prince in a con on wealthy bank customers has been ordered to pay back £2.4million.

Bank insiders stole the details of dozens of account holders and passed them to their accomplices in the year-long scam.

One of the fraudsters posed as former BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar and rang up his bank in an attempt to divert money. But the bank manager was suspicious of the man's accent and refused the request.

The crooks plundered £114,664 from a dead woman's bank account and stung Shuaid Ade Adesanya, a Nigerian prince and leading figure in the West African country's Action Congress party, for tens of thousands in the scam.

The prince also had an £87,000 Bentley Continental stolen, which was found at the underground garage of a riverside apartment in St George's Wharf,Vauxhall, owned by the gang's mastermind Oluwasegun Adekunle, 27.

Earlier this year, six of the gang were jailed. Now they have been ordered to pay back their dirty money or face even longer behind bars.

Adekunle, of Bridge House, South Lambeth, lived a life of luxury on the proceeds of the fraud.

He owned a Jacob & Co Swiss watch worth £37,300 and an 18-carat gold Rolex costing £18,500.

Adekunle was jailed for five years and on Thursday at Southwark Crown Court was ordered to pay back £1,920,428 within 21 days or face five years' imprisonment in default.

Council janitor Steven Fabian, 44, of Opal Street, Kennington, was found guilty of laundering thousands of pounds for the gang at the request of nephew Adekunle and jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Fabian was ordered to pay £92,758 within six months or face 15 months' imprisonment in default.

Shana Campbell, 23, of Finland Road, Brockley, who worked for Halifax in Bexleyheath, was jailed for four years after fleecing customers of £785,712. She was ordered to pay back just £100 from her own assets.

Three car dealers from Berkshire who helped launder the cash were also jailed and have been ordered to pay back £428,217 between them.

The court had heard at least 21 customers had their accounts raided at the hands of the gang, while police believe the fraudsters were helped out by several other insiders who remain undetected.


Nigerian Bank Scam Leads to Arrests in Stolen for Export Fraud

03/08 - (Ontario) A Nigerian repeatedly deported from Canada appeared in court briefly yesterday on charges stemming from what police describe as one of the most elaborate stolen-for-export fraud scams Toronto has seen in years.

Police say the operation trafficked in everything from electronic gadgets to expensive rental cars spirited abroad in containers, from credit card fraud to the creation of phony health cards and social insurance numbers, was in business for more than 18 months, and netted up to $10-million.

And near the centre of the web, police say, was 39-year-old Edmund Ezemo, purportedly a Toronto resident, but in fact an illegal immigrant from Nigeria, who, with the aid of three passports and an array of forged documents, has slipped into this country at least eight times.

"He's got his hand in all the cookie jars ... he's been deported eight times; this will be the ninth," said Detective Dominic Sinopoli of North York's 23 Division.

An alleged accomplice arrested in December is also charged, and police are still seeking to question at least two or three others.

Detectives believe the alleged ring was anchored in Nigeria, where wire-transfer documents seized in police raids suggest much of the merchandise ended up.

The operation came to light late last year when a North York electronics firm reported being defrauded of nearly $750,000 worth of goods, encompassing everything from consumer staples to elaborate mobile photo labs worth an estimated $80,000 apiece.

Those items were paid for with cheques that had been falsely certified, giving the thieves at least a week to disappear before the cheques bounced, police said.

Dozens of high-end rented cars are also believed to have been stolen and shipped abroad.

In addition, hundreds of credit card owners across Southern Ontario may have been defrauded when the thieves used bona fide names to create phony credit cards.

Scores of fake health cards, SIN cards, passports and other pieces of identification were also seized in the raids, and police suspect there are plenty of victims who have yet to step forward.

Mr. Ezemo is in custody at the Metro West Detention Centre and facing at least 25 fraud- or theft-related charges.

"Basically, he's saying nothing," Det. Sinopoli said.


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