Many churches, and church members, have received letters in recent years purporting to be from Nigeria and promising a huge financial windfall in exchange for a small investment.
Nigerian “advance-fee fraud” has been around for decades, but now seems to have reached epidemic proportions. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) some citizens are receiving dozens of offers a day from supposed Nigerians politely promising big profits in exchange for help moving large sums of money out of their country. And apparently, many compassionate citizens are continuing to fall for the convincing sob stories, the polite language, and the unequivocal promises of money. These advance-fee solicitations are scams, according to the FTC.
Here is a typical scenario. Claiming to be Nigerian officials, businesspeople or the surviving spouses of former government officials, con artists offer to transfer millions of dollars into your bank account in exchange for a small fee. If you respond to the initial offer, you may receive “official looking” documents. Typically, you’re then asked to provide blank letterhead and your bank account numbers, as well as some money to cover transaction and transfer costs and attorney’s fees. You may even be encouraged to travel to Nigeria or a border country to complete the transaction. Sometimes, the scam promoters will produce trunks of dyed or stamped money to verify their claims. Inevitably, though, emergencies come up, requiring more of your money and delaying the “transfer” of funds to your account; in the end, there aren’t any profits for you to share, and the promoter has vanished with your money.
Incredibly, many church members, and some churches, have fallen victim to Nigerian investment scams. If you’re tempted to respond to an offer, the FTC suggests you stop and ask yourself two important questions:
(1) Why would a perfect stranger pick you, also a perfect stranger, to share a fortune with?
(2) Why would you share your personal or business information, including your bank account numbers or your company letterhead, with someone you don’t know?
The U.S. State Department cautions against traveling to the destination mentioned in the letters. According to State Department reports, people who have responded to these “advance-fee” solicitations have been beaten, subjected to threats and extortion, and in some cases, murdered.
Key point. If you receive an offer via email from someone claiming to need your help getting money out of Nigeria (or any other country, for that matter) forward it to the FTC at email@example.com. If you have lost money to one of these schemes, call your local Secret Service field office. You also can call 202-406-5572 for information.