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A sucker born every minute

THE AUSTRALIAN - How do you save someone from themselves? More than three-quarters of the Queenslanders who were told by police they were caught up in the infamous Nigerian scam continued sending money overseas

According to fraud investigators, the victims simply refused to believe that their get rich quick schemes were nothing more than a con. And we are not talking about people lacking in education or experience. Victims identified as part of Queensland Police's Operation Echo Track, set up last year to monitor funds being transferred to Nigeria, included doctors, lawyers engineers and professors. Greed, it seems, is the great equaliser.

Operation Echo Track identified 134 victims of investment scams, the vast majority of them caught up in some variation of the Nigerian scam. Total losses were at least $18million, with an average of $500,000 continuing to be lost every month.

The Queensland fraud and corporate crime groups Acting Superintendent Brian Hay said only 24 per cent of the people contacted by police and told they were participating in this scam believed it. "So, 76 per cent continued to send millions of dollars after we told them they were participating in a scam," he said.

The Queensland figures were estimated to be one-fifth of the national loss to such scams. None of the victims had received any money in return.

You can read in detail about how the Nigerian scam works on the Queensland police website at www.police.qld.gov.au/nigerianscams

Channel Nine 60 Minutes inteviewed one of the Queensland victims, businessman Graham Schoenfisch, who claims he has been financially wiped out after chasing instant riches through a Nigerian scam. At one point he received a Chase Manhattan Bank cheque for $31.5 million after paying the required advanced fees. It was counterfeit.

In the United States the treasurer for a county in the state of Michigan was arrested earlier this year and charged with embezzling US$1.2 million to plough into the Nigerian scam.

According to Holland s Ultrascan Advanced Global Investigations, which monitors Nigerian scams or 419 scams as they are known because the section of the Nigerian criminal code they breach is numbered 419 - around the world, the scams are on the increase.

The scamming networks, which employ up to 250,000 Nigerians, are now using Internet chat rooms, mobile text messages, Internet gaming sites and online dating sites as well as the more traditional spam emails, faxes and snail mail to trawl for new victims.

Ultrascan Advanced Global Investigations estimates that a total of US$28 billion has been lost around the world to Nigerian scams since the first emerged in the 1970s, with losses growing at 3 per cent a year.

As showman P. T. Barnum said: There is a sucker born every minute. 

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