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Mail fraud from Africa

Christina Proctor

When Vernon Lee opened the brown manila envelope postmarked from Nigeria, he was intrigued. After reading the letter promising rich rewards for providing his bank account numbers, he recognized it for what it was – a fraud scheme.

Lee, a South Lake Tahoe resident and retired building contractor, wasn’t biting for an instant, but unfortunately not every American is so savvy.

The financial crimes division of the U.S. Secret Service in Washington, D.C. reports that it receives about 100 phone calls daily from victims or potential victims, and between 300 to 500 pieces of west African fraud-related correspondence. The Sacramento District Office of the FBI has received hundreds of letters in the past year. The South Lake Tahoe FBI office confirmed that this isn’t the first time South Shore residents have been targeted, although the numbers are low.



Agents said the fraud has been going on for at least four years. The victims are often enticed into believing they have been singled out to share in a multi-million dollar windfall or contract, which the Nigerian individual can’t take out of the country. The Nigerian fax or letter typically states the following elements: there is a large sum of money (usually between $10 to $30 million) in Nigeria; this sum of money was somewhat illegitimately earned; if the target helps get the money out of Nigeria they will receive a cut of the funds. Investigators said the generators of the scheme often represent themselves as officials of the Nigerian Government, Central Bank of Nigeria or the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

In Lee’s letter most of the elements were there. The letter stated it was from the financial brokers of the late head of state of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It said the family was under a government probe and their accounts were frozen, but it still maintained a coded deposit of $23 million that the brokers wanted to transfer to one of Lee’s accounts. The letter promised that Lee would be “well compensated and protected” for his help and it was imperative that he maintain absolute secrecy about the transaction.



“I’ve never been to Nigeria and I don’t know anyone who has, so I was surprised to receive a letter from there,” Lee said. “I wasn’t taking it seriously for a moment, but all they need to do is get a couple people to respond to make money.”

Agents said this type of fraud scheme is hard to prosecute unless the perpetrators can be lured to the United States. Last month, a federal grand jury returned a 12-count indictment charging Sunday E. Evbodaghe, 56, a citizen of Nigeria, with wire fraud.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Malecek, the indictment alleges that Evbodaghe engaged in an advance fee fraud scheme that defrauded U.S. citizens of more than $1 million.

A joint investigation by the FBI and U.S. Secret Service resulted in Evbodaghe’s arrest by Sacramento Sheriff’s deputies on Oct. 28. According to the indictment, Evbodaghe was in contact with American businesses since 1992. Under a variety of false names, Evbodaghe allegedly used letters or faxes to negotiate “contracts” for goods or services and then asked the business owner to travel to Nigeria to pay fees in order to complete the transaction.

People receiving such a letter should contact their local law enforcement or FBI office, investigators said.

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