On 419(Again!) and Nigerian Perceptions - Confronting the crime.
Wednesday, October 9, 2002
I wish to give to readers here some benefit of my interventions on 419 on another Nigerian forum. So I am repackaging some of the information to suit the present forum. If the presentation is not linear, it is because I have not fully linearized the original submissions, which were often responses to other interventions that I have omitted here.
Nigerian Perceptions of 419
I continue to hope that many more of my Nigerian compatriots will see reason about this "419" business, that its EFFECT on Nigerian international commerce is ASYMMETRIC with respect to the US and other foreign nations, and that we NIGERIANS should not be spending so much time propounding "Gotcha" theories of Anti-Colonialism and racism.
Some of the people being scammed too are Nigerian-Americans, so those Nigerian-Americans too have a right to object to "Americans" being scammed. We should not always have at the back of our minds that the only Americans are White, blue-eyed foreigners, or even who we call "Afro-Americans."! :-)
Why am I so passionate against 419? Quite frankly, I am TIRED of the psychological trauma one faces when you want to do business involving Nigeria from here, and you have to hem and haw and show that "YOU ARE CLEAN o, just in case you think I want to 419 you!" - and you pull all kinds of rank.
Or you say that you wish to do business in "West Africa" - only to reveal that Nigeria is "well, just one of those countries..." when in fact it is out of concern that naming Nigeria might put your potential partners off!
Another quick background
I lived in the UK for 18 months between 1977 and 1978. I have lived in this USA CONTINUOUSLY from December 1978 till today, and have been a dual citizen of the US and Nigeria for six years now. In the US, I have lived in California, New York, Maryland/DC, Washington State for various lengths of time. So I know a little of what I speak about changed Western (i.e. British, American) attitudes to Africans, and to Nigerians in particular.
Before the early-to-mid 1990s, this Nigerian FELT absolutely NO QUEASINESS about telling ANYBODY that I am a Nigerian. That is, I did not expect a retort like "Oh, I read that you were ranked the most corrupt country....Oh, I heard a lot of people were killed there yesterday.....Oh, I hear that the guy who won your presidential election, the guy who was in prison? A-B-I-O-L-A? I hear he died in prison!......Oh Abacha, he died too!.Oh, I just got a letter yesterday; my
Nigerian friend says it is called 419......Oh...Oh, I just signed a letter to make sure that some girl is not stoned to death for fornication by some Muslim fundamentalists in your country....I hear that you cut off hands in Nigeria!" etc., etc.
What I used to hear was "Man, you guys are smart in class! If you see the guy in my class, he answers all the questions, and we all wanted to be in his study group! I can see that you are smart too, like all of those other..... Man, your country is filthy rich, a lot of oil! I am sure that you have a lot of money in your pocket.......Are you Igbo Biafra or Yoruba?.......You have a good soccer team! Man, I like Kanu Nwankwo and Jay-Jay!...."
And so on. Now, because of all the bad things they hear about Nigeria, they wonder whether that "smart guy in class" is not cheating his way - like they cheat back in your country? They wonder what is the point of being oil-rich if so many people die in Jesse trying to scoop up oil from a deliberately broken pipe......and wonder about a country that has so much talent like Kanu and Jay-Jay, but never quite seem to achieve in the league that it should.
If those things DON'T bother us, I wonder what does. If they don't bother us, then we will have NO PASSION to change them around, no matter whether it is some White, Blue or Green racist rubbing it in. A number of Nigerians have probably not lived in the West long enough to see Nigeria and Nigerians move from a position of respectability to one of complete disrespect, particularly in the business community, because of our 419 reputation, then they cannot fathom what I am
talking about. All they have learnt is the latter situation - and it rightly grates on their patriotic sensibilities, and they charge "racism."
Since when? Why were Nigerians not such objects of racism back in the 1970s and early 80s?
"419" Broadly Conceived: Promises Unfulfilled
Notice of course that I have ALWAYS defined 419 as broadly conceived: promises unfulfilled. That is why I have classified the annulment of the June 12 election as a classical 419 viewed by the whole world and played on the WHOLE Nigerian people by the government of IBB, and why it had no moral leg to stand to combat the 419 that really reared its ugly head under IBB and continued under Abacha, and still continues today under civilian president Obasanjo. Underlying all the
American angst about 419 in Nigeria is the private concern that MAYBE our government OFFICIALS themselves have a 419 tendency, and hence they are not exerting enough pressure to combat this deadly international commerce disease that plagues our nation. After all, somewhere or the other, our "Central Bank" always seems to be involved!
Like many Nigerian "patriots", I believe that it is LARGELY Nigerians that will develop and change the image Nigeria for the better, but we got to FULLY acknowledge our problems - or challenges.
The funny thing is that it is not useful to think that foreigners do not know our problems, so that when we admit those problem, it is like pointing the proverbial left finger to our own home.
During the Abacha regime, there were those who said some of the same things: "Don't throw stones at your home! Home is the only place that we have - and it is cool! Home, sweet home!"
What they were asking for were more Nigerian scoundrels - who profess my country right or wrong, and take refuge in puerile patriotism fueled by arm-chair anti-Western rhetoric while chumping on chicken-leg and planning a McDonald visit in their 4x4 with kids who (proudly) cannot say a word of Engli-Igbo or Engli-Yoruba!
For those of us who are BOTH Americans AND Nigerians - it must be our countries RIGHT and RIGHT! That is our standard. So I am as proud to be a Nigerian like the next man, but I am not an Ugly Nigerian, neither am I an Ugly American.
Asymmetric Effect of 419
The fact of the matter is that we suffer the much more for this crime more than the US or Britain or Germany etc. can EVER suffer for it, not because of racism, but because while a forgone $200 million trade investment for those countries may not be a big deal, it is A BIG DEAL for our own economies!
As to the more substantive issues of crime, first, please we Nigerians need to be reminded ALWAYS that GREED is NOT a legal offence, but a MORAL one. NONE OF THE VICTIMS OF "419" have committed a CRIME, because the scam actually is an INVITATION to commit a crime THAT DOES NOT in fact EXIST!
Take a typical letter from one "Mrs. Abacha" who wants to spirit certain "misappropriated" money out of Nigeria. This particular "Mrs. Abacha" is not Mrs Abacha at all, but just an impostor! There is in fact NO MONEY to be spirited out. All it is is to entice the American or British or German - or Nigerian - greedy scam victim to take a bait, so that he or she can start coughing up money in anticipation of pay-day!
That is why it is properly called "Advanced Fee" Fraud.
Again, GREED is no crime, and the loss of money is PUNISHMENT enough, unless IN FACT the "victim" ACTUALLY helped the scammer to TAKE MONEY out of Nigeria, in which case they would be ACCOMPLICES! In which case, it would not be a scam, but an international money heist. There is no "aiding and abetting" here, or "accessory after (or before) the fact". Those occur when A CRIME is being committed, and the aider, abettor or accessory ACTIVELY or even
PASSIVELY participates in the crime before or after the fact. With 419, that person that would be called an aider, abettor or accessory is actually THE TARGET of a crime here! For you to have an aider, abettor or accessory, there must be a THIRD PARTY who is the actual victim.
In 419 cases, you have THE SCAM ARTIST who sets up a STRAW CRIME as if there is a THIRD PARTY (e.g. the Nigerian government), which actually does not exist! Then he suckers a victim into thinking that all he needs to do is be a passive participant in the sense of providing a bank account, that is all! The American here is not an aider, abettor or accessory, because there is indeed no third party victim of crime.
There is no doubt that many of the 419 victims have "criminal intent." There is no doubt that these greedy people are "criminally-minded". But if you go around prosecuting "criminally minded" people, your jails would be full! To the lawyers in the house, they will tell you that proving "criminal intent" can be very difficult.
But the FALSE representations of the scam artists are SEVERE CRIMES. They say that they are who they are not - Governor of the Central Bank, Director of Operations, "Mrs. Abacha", the Minister of Finance. That is Crime No. 1.
The second crime is forgery: the use of letter heads depicting institutions that they have no business with. Enticement is actually the third crime. Then finally, wire fraud - the use of mail to perpetrate crime.
And so on!
The only "crime" that the victims have perpetrated is GREED - and that is not SANCTIONABLE by law. Maybe they can be called "virtual criminals" - since the crime of the scam artists was a "virtual one" known ONLY to the artists themselves.
The American (or Foreign) Government Response
One issue that grates on the nerves of Nigerians is the issue of the foreign governments not even conceiving of the willing victims of these 419 artists as being guilty - or that they are innocent.
I do agree with the foreign governments none of these victims should not be prosecuted, but they are not all "innocent", but rather many of them are "criminally minded."
What one should object to is the US (or host government) returning the money of those victims, under the claim that all of them are "innocent". They are not all INNOCENT - and their monies should be retained by the US government to fight the crime! I do not believe that the scam "victims" should be given their money back if there was NO legitimate transaction that they had offered for which they thought the money they were paying was simply to use some
little money to get back their earned big money. But if there was ABSOLUTELY no service rendered, then the FBI or Interpol etc. should simply string out the investigation and give them a bill that covers the whole investigation. That way, their greed is punished too without going through legal hassles.
I could go with 1/3 of the money being given to the US, 1/3 to Nigerian Anti-419 Unit and 1/3 of the money to the no-service-rendering non-guilty "victims" who got mixed up in this mess
Why are they not all innocent?
The Various Types of Victims
There are three types of 419 victims:
Type 1: non-innocent, criminally-minded victims who know for sure, based on the letter that they have responded to, that IF the circumstances of the help sought by the scammer is TRUE, then the victim has no business even trying to help the scammer. A man cannot say that he is a civil servant, and he asks you to help him take $100 million out of the country, and you consider that legitimate business! It is those people
that you and others have called criminals, but Pascale and I refuse to call so, since there was no REAL crime for them to participate in the first instance, even if they did not know that.
Type 2: the second group of innocent victims are those who think that they are helping a person WHOSE hard-earned MONEY is GENUINELY locked up in Nigeria by what they think is a heavy-handed, dictatorial government. For example, I believe 60 Minutes some years back showed the pastor who thought that because of Christian persecution in Nigeria, some church guys were not being allowed to take their money out of Nigeria.
He got a pleading letter, so he offered to help the guy for a consideration, and got taken in the bargain. He ended up on 60 Minutes!
Type 3: The third and final group are innocent victims like the lady below (see postscript) who have provided some goods and service to some dude in Nigeria - or wishes to facilitate such with some mobilization funds -but is having difficulties collecting. Constantly hearing about corruption in far-away lands, and the need to grease hands, the victim thinks that by providing cash and more cash, the big COLLECTION day
will come. She does not know that she is being 419ed.
So all these variations on 419 exist. Types 2 and 3 rarely make the news, but the stupidity of Type 1 victims to be willing participants in a virtual crime is what always gets our craw, but with the overt and covert snigger that a Black Brother or Sister has one-upped a racist White person or two.
Whatever type of 419 there is, however, I continue to insist that they are all affecting the image of Nigeria negatively IN MUCH THE SAME WAY!
Again, Enron and WorldCom and Qwest and Tyco official corruptions are also affecting those companies and corporate America negatively, but we all can see how the government is STRIVING hard to put the culprits behind bars and recover quickly from the downside. The stocks are taking a beating partially due to the fact that people no longer know who to trust. We can see how Enron and Arthur Anderson FELL drastically to nought just from ONE disclosure of corruption. But you can
trust that once this is over, Americans are bound to say "Aha, the system is much cleaner now!" - and will return to their investing.
Those who argue about supply and demand and liken all of these 419 issues to the drug trade are missing a point: drug trade is an ACTIVE demand due to a PERSONAL failing. Most often, the demander goes looking for the drug. In the case of 419, SUPPLIERS go looking for victims like the devil himself who parades the Earth looking for who to devour. These are therefore morally weak victims, to be lured into a criminal nest.
Finally, Jesus has these harsh words: "Woe to those who tempt others to commit sin; it would be best if a millstone were tied around their necks and they be dropped in the middle of the ocean."
Or something like that. In that passage, the tempted is not condemned, but rather the tempter. And so should we not.
Nixing the problem - Wasted Opportunities
Quite frankly, Nigerians should care less how many Americans are arrested over "419", provided they are arrested for active participation as the scam artists! What we should care about is USING EVERY AVAILABLE MEANS to combat, FROM THE NIGERIAN END, this vicious crime against hard working Nigerians both at home and abroad.
When this 419 first started years ago, before the time of Internet, there was ABSOLUTELY no reason why the felons could not be caught because they used REAL PHONES and FAXES to perpetrate their crimes. SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE in Nitel must have given them these phone numbers, otherwise how the heck did they get them?
Even if they tapped some phone lines, one can still use technology to trace them. The recent disclosure by NITEL of how the 419ers themselves are using technology to advance their trade is worth noting:
Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), Nigeria’s first telecommunications carrier, has warned about the rise in the incidence of interception of international calls to Lagos, Nigeria. In a statement from the company, it stated that the interceptions were not through its International or local switching centers, but were by “pirate telecommunications companies who deploy VSAT equipment in such a way that they by-pass the NITEL transmission network and use these
equipment to intercept in-coming international telephone calls. “
According to Nitel, while working in conjunction with the law enforcement agencies, it has been able to trace and close down the operations of some of these “pirates”.
Read more on the warning from Nitel here:
“For the benefit of the public, we like to advise telephone caller and called parties as follows:
|To alert their relatives and other (international) callers to always carefully ensure foolproof identification of the call-receiving party before they discuss any money transfer (or other confidential) issues over the telephone.|
|To caution such relatives to beware of the many cheap call cards manufactured and sold by some companies in a number of foreign countries and which are used for Africa-bound calls. We observe that while some of these cards actually carry calls to Nigeria, such calls appear doomed to terminate on illegal V-SAT equipment set up by the foreign-based card companies and their local accomplices disguised as telecommunications companies in Nigeria. These local agents use their
equipment to eavesdrop on callers conversation, impersonate the bona fide telephone owner and dupe the two parties of money by hi-jacking funds transfer details or soliciting fund transfer from them under various guises. Proceeds from this criminal act of fraud (usually in foreign currency) are believed to be shared periodically between the local fraudsters and their overseas accomplices.
|To be vigilant over calls received on their telephone lines and to urgently alert the nearest NITEL or police formations about any suspicious ones so that these can be traced.”|
But we wasted a number of years brushing aside the actual going-after of 419 scam artists - many of who built houses and get into respectable company in Nigeria - and instead always implied that it was good for those victims who were separated from their money.
Now, with the Internet so rampant, it will become MORE DIFFICULT to stem, and there are COPY-CATS in every country in Africa - and even in Asia! Yet it is still typified as a Nigerian Crime when even Asians are the particular scam artists.
I believe that the 419ers are steadily moving away from the
- "I have stolen money - or you have some hitherto unknown riches - in Nigeria. Please help me - or yourself - move it out of Nigeria. I (and God) will reward you richly" (the classic "illegal 419", Type 1)
- "I have my hard-earned money - or burning ambition - but this oppressive regime (or other circumstance) in Nigeria won't let me move it; I desperately need your foreign help" (the "legal 419", Type 2),
- "I want to buy your goods and service; please give me your account number to pay for them; but first mobilize me quickly" (a "legal 419," Type 3).
This is because the classic "illegal 419" had not been confronted head-on initially, and it mushroomed to an alarming rate. But increasingly people are wisening up to the stupidity of the letters, and hence the 419ers are devising new ways of enticing people.
This situation is almost like AIDS. When AIDS first began, it was considered a Gay or Illegal Drug Users disease, so quite a number of world officialdom and pious individuals did nothing about it: it was good for AIDS carriers, they said, and just punishment for their self-indulgence. Let us therefore call it Type 1 AIDS.
Then later on AIDS via Blood Transfusion came into the picture when these same people gave blood with failed or no screening (Type 2 AIDS) or when there was MTC (Mother-to-child) AIDS transmission (Type 3 AIDS) because Type 1 AIDs people were also heterosexual and gave it to the opposite-sex partners who went on to have babies.
Hence by not tackling Type 1 AIDs head-on, Type 2 and Type 3 AIDS crept in.
It is this same mistake that we should not have made, or should not be making with 419. We should not be so taken with a "Gotcha!" mentality or "Good for them!" mentality that we forget the gravely deleterious effect of the 419 itself to our Nigerian image.
The purpose of ANY credible and accountable government is to its country's and citizens' interests are not prejudiced. 419 does exactly those things to us as Nigerians, and hence it should be tackled head on in Nigeria.
But "419" - or Advanced Fee Fraud - is UNIQUELY Nigerian, and was LARGELY unheard of before Nigerians started it! Yes, it belongs in the large class of CONFIDENCE TRICKERY criminality, but it is still a special class of its own whose origins are traceable to our beloved country Nigeria.
It is the scale and magnitude and relentlessness of the perpetration -from one country to virtually EVERY COUNTRY in the world - that have earned us the bad international image. I can assure you that it contributes to our rating as one of the most corrupt countries on the Earth, because before we earned those ratings, I do not think that official corruption INSIDE Nigeria now is more than before. But INTERNATIONALLY, the perception of Nigerian corruption is largely modulated
by the little that is known about 419.
At the end of the day, we should PLEASE stop quibbling about Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3! They are all tied together by confidence trickery in which THERE IS ABSOLUTELY no intention to deliver ANYTHING - just to play on a victim's greed, empathy and naivete and separate him or her from some of their hard-earned money.
A Systematic Approach to Striking Down 419
The recent conference in New York on 419 [International Conference on Advance Fee and Related Frauds (New York Sheraton) attended by various American and Nigerian officials and ordinary citizens, addressed by President Obasanjo and organized by the Business Council for the Development of Nigeria is well-noted. However, solving the problem will require more than several conferences in distant lands.
We must continue to ask our Nigerian government to DEAL systematically with the crime - looking from its ORIGIN to its CONCLUSION - and see how each chain in the link can be broken largely FROM OUR OWN NIGERIAN END.
- The first traditional phone link should be broken - and I hope the recent discovery that private VSAT's are used illegally to re-route legitimate phone calls would be pursued vigorously. As I mentioned before, the ability to use NITEL-provided phone numbers to perpetrate the crime without NITEL being able to nail down such numbers has always puzzled me! Our inventive crookery is limitless! [The use of the Internet has complicated this particular link, but phone numbers
are still invaluable to continuing the contacts.]
- Secondly, ANYBODY suspected of being a "419" - and there are many people who know them in Nigeria, particularly young people who just become rich overnight - should be tracked constantly and brought to FULL and SWIFT justice without any hemming and hawing.
- Sting operations should be set up ROUND THE CLOCK! At the end of each week, all the letters received should be reviewed to see whether there are similarities, and the ones that seem to be one and the same person - even if they all have different names - should be followed up on as if one is a willing participant. Face-to-face dealings should be arranged - and then the scam artists swooped upon.
I can bet that if there is suspicion that these sting operations are going on gain currency, these 419ers will become more suspicious.
I really believe that STING OPERATIONS will be the most efficient way of stamping out 419, followed by MANDATORY long-term jails and CONFISCATION of significant or all monies and property belonging to the convicted scam artistes.
A "sting" operation is NOT simply enticing an otherwise innocent man to commit a crime. It is to ENTICE an already criminal person - that is criminal along the lines of the sting operation - to commit the same crime such that ALL the evidence gathered against him during the sting operation can be used to establish a pattern of behavior and strengthen an original case. So if a man is a car-thief, and you have been watching him, you can leave a car deliberately
unprotected, and when the car-thief comes to do his usual thing, you arrest him on the spot.
Ditto for johns, when you want to clean streets of patrons of prostitution.
- Finally, the education of our citizens about the deleterious effects of 419 should be INSIDE OUR COUNTRY, and not OUTSIDE with glossy pictures in the Washington Post and New York Times and Financial Times. We should eschew the demand-and-supply analogy with the drug trade. We should let the foreign governments deal with their criminally-minded and/or morally-weak citizens, while we deal squarely with our scam artists.
I really hate 419 with a passion, and so should all of us. I also hate any relative moralizing about it and what it does to us - not to me as an academic, but to those who would love to do genuine business with Nigeria and Nigerians.
That is my whole take on this matter.
PS: Here is a case that everybody might empathize with the victim. It was provided by Charles Pascale of the Anti-419 Coalition:
To whom it may concern:
My name is Sxxxxxx (Tess) Pxxx. I live in Pxxxx, WI. I am a 26 year old mother of one, with a full and part time job. I am married and my husband also works a full and part time job. In July 2002, I listed my husband's motorcycle for sale on various free listing websites, one of them being www.motorcycleshopper.com, within a few weeks I had an email from an interested party
-copy of email-
I am a Automobile,Bike and Boats dealer from Africa.With clients all over Africa .I have offices in most Africa Cities.I am intrested in your Automobile and would want to know the firm price and mode of payment.In respect of shipping i have a reputable Shipping company with offices in the U.S that takes care of my shipping. Awaiting your urgent response.
-end copy of email -
I replied to the email with the price and requesting a cashier's check or money order for payment. Here is what I got in response-
Thanks for the mail,i am o.k with your price,i will take the V-MAX1200.Inrespect of payment i have a client in the U.S who is owing me $11,600.All i need to do to make payment easier and faster is to instruct him to procure a cashiers check and mail it to you on the address and name you want on the check and you know it takes 24hrs for a cashiers check to clear in the U.S. But i would want to know if i can trust you to send my balance to me via western union money transfer
after the money must have cleared in your bank to enable me prepay the shipping company here so that they can instruct their office in the U.S to come and pick the vehicle from your location.pls mail me asap to enable me arrange payment .
I did receive a cashiers check via federal express, it stated it was from PA, however I was later informed that it probably was not. Anyways, the asking price on my motorcycle was $3,000. I deposited the cashiers check and withdrew the $3,000 to pay off the remaining loan on the bike, then I waited two days and western unioned the money to the guy.
Here is a copy of the email-
Thanks for the mail.You should send me the balance immediately the check clears in your Bank after deducting the western union charges. I will need the balance to pay the shipping company here who will instruct there office in the U.S to immediately come over to pick the Bike up for shipping from your location they will take care of all the shipping arrangement. They will crate it.The Title of Transfer and Bill of Sales should be in the name and address below.
17 FANI KAYODE ST,
The balance should send to my Accountant whose name is below after deducting the cost of transfer who will pick it up for me.
17 FANI KAYODE ST,
I sent the money, the balance being $8,600 to this guy Ben. Everything was fine, or so I thought. I was waiting for the bike to be picked up by the guy, then 2 weeks later I get a call while at work from the Pres of my Credit Union where I bank. The pres had called to discuss a returned cashiers check in the amount of $11,600 which has been proven counterfeit!
The bank had frozen all my accounts and began returning checks and adding fees on top of everything, I do not have good credit and was forced to borrow the money to cover the banks loss. I have reported this to all agencies that I could, my local police, US Secret Service, WI Attorney General, Pxxxx Cty DA, and the FBI. I have not heard anything back on the status of this case or even if there is any hope for anything to be recovered. I placed a posting on a website I belong
to for motorcycle owners, and had someone bring your site to my attention. I want to do whatever I can to prevent someone else from being taken by this scam. I also want to know if there is any help for vicitims of this fraud. I can not afford to pay this loan for the next six years on money I didn't even get all of. I had dreams of buying a house someday and living like
normal people. Now that I have been victimized I not only feel stupid for letting this happen, but don't have anywhere to turn for guidance relating to this experience. Thank you in advance for any help you can offer.