Wait a minute — people still fall for those African e-mail money scams?
“Yeah, they’re still falling for it,” said Lt. Dave Logue, supervisor of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Section.
“It’s surprising to us, since people know about it now. It’s been around so long.”
As long as people keep sending money, scammers will keep scamming, Logue said. Thousands of people have had their life savings wiped out by con artists who must find U.S. citizens particularly gullible.
But this time the police got there first.
Two men police say were connected to a Nigerian “black money” scam were arrested in Las Vegas on Wednesday after trying to solicit money from an undercover detective.
Fidelis Oselu Okukpujie, 26, a Nigerian native and Phoenix resident, and Harrison Doe, 23, a Liberian native and Minnesota resident, were arrested by police in a Las Vegas hotel on charges of attempting to obtain money under false pretenses, a felony, and conspiracy to commit a crime, a misdemeanor.
Officials from the Immigration Customs and Enforcement Office also participated in the sting, and immigration holds have been placed on both men.
Logue said police received a tip from a local businessman who was contacted by the suspects.
The businessman put the suspects in contact with Logue’s undercover detective, who initiated a series of meetings over a two-week period.
The suspects arrived at the final meeting with high hopes: They thought they were getting $200,000 in exchange for “Nigerian Black Money.”
But the men, believed to be a part of an organized crime syndicate operating across the Southwest from Phoenix to Las Vegas, instead left in handcuffs.
“We can’t always identify these guys (involved in the scams), but we did this time,” said Logue. “We know there’s other people involved in this crew that we haven’t identified.”
In the black money scam, just one of many floating around the Internet, potential victims are notified by e-mail that they can receive a huge windfall in cash that has been coated with black ink so it can be smuggled out of Africa.
The victims are told they have to pay thousands of dollars to buy a special chemical that will clean the black ink off of the cash, making it bankable.
Victims are shown a large suitcase filled with currency-sized pieces of black construction paper.
The marks are then presented with a few real hundred dollars bills coated with a protective layer of glue and dipped in tincture of iodine. Before their eyes, the bills are then cleaned with a “magic chemical” that really is just water.
It’s an old scam, with an Internet-based twist that dates back at least a decade.
A Federal Trade Commission advisory from 2003 outlined the typical behavior of the scammers, and how to assess their offer of fabulous riches: “Why would a perfect stranger pick you –also a perfect stranger — to share a fortune with, and why would you share your personal or business information, including your bank account numbers or your company letterhead, with someone you don’t know?”
It’s been almost eight years since the advisory was issued, but the advice apparently still hasn’t sunk in, and people are still falling for the scheme.
Frank Dorman, an FTC spokesman, said the organization isn’t sure what prompts people to respond to the schemers.
“Maybe they’re financially strapped and not very discerning, or just looking for an easy buck,” he said. “Our advice, in general, is, ‘If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.’ ”
Logue said the scammers usually target people on the East Coast, but have steadily been moving operations west in the last five years.
Las Vegas doesn’t see too many victims, he said, although the crimes aren’t always reported.
But the stories are out there: Rich doctors and lawyers losing thousands of dollars on a hunch.
Why do seemingly reasonable, competent folks get swindled so easily?
“Well, quite frankly, because of greed,” he said. “Even though these people are victims, they think they’re getting money they know they probably shouldn’t be getting.”
Police don’t have the resources to respond to every spam message that arrives in a person’s e-mail inbox, but they target crooks they can identify, he said.
But most of the masterminds remain overseas in Africa, calling the shots a relatively safe distance from U.S. authorities.
And if people finally wise-up to one scam, well, there will be another one around the corner, Logue said.
“Whenever there’s a way to make an extra buck, there’s these type of scam artists proliferating.”
Contact reporter Mike Blasky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0283.