Internet or mail - same old scam

It's B-A-A-C-C-C-K-K-K!

The incredible, amazing - and vicious - Nigerian bank fraud scheme has popped up on the Internet again. And in my e-mail, of all places.

Every now and then, I like to let you know about the various scam artists who've flocked to the Internet. And this scam is a particularly nasty one that's been around for a long time, in various forms, most recently online.

Here's how it works.

I received an e-mail from Col. Ibrahim Mustapha on Monday labeled "Confidential." He identified himself as the elder brother of Maj. Hamza Al Mustapha, former chief

security officer to the late Nigerian dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha. (The general, if you remember, died quite suddenly a few years ago and was rumored to have been poisoned by his friends.)

It seems Colonel Mustapha has a problem. His brother is in hot water with the new democratic government and has been arrested. But before his arrest, Major Mustapha gave the colonel about $30.5 million in cash to send to his mistress in Lebanon to launder for him. But he can't get the money to the dear girl because it's gotten a bit hot in Nigeria (if, you'll pardon the pun).

So he wants me to help him. In return for helping launder the money, I'll get 20 percent of the sum. Only one problem. In order to receive the money, various "taxes" and "fees" need to be paid, which means sending money to the colonel in Nigeria, of course. So begins the scam.

In 1993, our international news editor, David Scott, wrote about it when he was our Latin American correspondent. In those days, the Nigerian scam artists were using the regular mails.

"It swept through Europe and the US in 1989 and 1990," he quotes Juan Carlos Antoniassi, then Interpol's Latin American liaison officer. "Canada has been hit hard in the last couple of years. Now it's coming south."

In 1998, Doug Broten, president of the Better Business Bureau of central California, wrote a story in the Fresno Bee about businesses and individuals being ripped off by the scheme.

And in 1999, Ted Coombs wrote a column for Byte.com about how the scam had moved to the Internet.

Make no mistake, these rip-off artists are well-organized and know what they're doing. Over the years, the details have changed a little (the ex-dictator twist is new), but the bait is always the same: You'll get millions for helping these folks launder their money.

Some people have taken the bait. In the early '90s, 15 Canadians were taken for about $2.5 million.

Unfortunately, there is not much the US Secret Service (the agency that has worked on these scams in the past) can do. While the Nigerian government doesn't approve of the scams, they generate enough money to pay off government officials, computerize mailings, and still have plenty of profit, according to Interpol.

You can find a warning about the fraud from the Central Bank of Nigeria at (www.nigeria-government.com/fgadvisory. html).

So, if you find an e-mail from poor old Colonel Mustapha in your in-box one of these days (or any other person from Nigeria trying to launder millions of dollars), trash it.

Or send him a sympathy card.

Tom Regan is the associate editor of csmonitor.com, the electronic edition of The Christian Science Monitor. You can e-mail him at csmbandwidth@aol.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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