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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 09:00 GMT
E-mail scam victim counts his losses
In the second of three reports on the murky world of e-mail fraud, Go Digital's Tracey Logan tells the story of a man conned out of thousands of dollars.

Handful of cash
The victim handed over thousands of dollars to the fraudsters
The victim was exactly the kind of person they prey upon - an experienced, small businessman, highly educated, 40-ish, with plenty of disposable income.

He never did accumulate a workforce of 10-15 people, that other typical characteristic of 419 fraud victims. Now, perhaps, he never will.

Millions of us receive enticing e-mails from online fraudsters every day, but very few of us hit the reply button.

This businessman, who asked to remain anonymous, did because this was a particularly sophisticated, highly organised version of a scam born in West Africa and named after the Nigerian legal code, number 419, it violates.

Was it greed, opportunism or just an entrepreneurial spirit that led our victim, who asked to remain anonymous, into a two-year nightmare that led not to a windfall of $2m, but instead to the loss of his business and $200,000 dollars in cash?

Even now, as he strives to rebuild his life and smooth the stresses to his marriage, he continues to be pestered by digital conmen.

This offer, from a Yahoo e-mail account that cannot be traced, came last week:

"Compliments of the season. My name is Ronald Bassey i (sic) am the director of the legal department of Global Apex Bank. I have decided to assist you to get your payment before the end of next week.

"But first you must agree to give me USD8,000 when you receive your funds. You must show proof that you have this amount by paying it to Western Union, in my favour."

This time he did not reply.

Money calls

Two years ago, after a successful business career spanning 16 years, our man decided to go it alone with his own business.

Official-looking document from fraudsters
Official-looking bank documents were sent to the victim
He posted information on the internet about his plans, including a business e-mail address, and was very quickly contacted by a professional-sounding African businessman called Vincent.

Vincent said he had $12m cash burning a hole in his pocket that he wanted to move out of Africa and into a US bank account.

Once convinced that he was not being asked to do anything illegal under US law, our man went ahead with their proposition.

"They told me the funds would be transferred into a special business account I had set up for the purpose, and that they would give me 20% commission if I would manage these funds over the next two years," the victim told Go Digital.

But the millions never arrived.

Problem after problem

"It was communicated back to me that there was a problem, it couldn't be done directly.

"And so I was asked to make an initial investment of $7,000 into an offshore account which, once established, could be used to deposit their millions and so I would get my cash back."

In one way I'd like to get my hands around his throat and wring his neck and yet, in another, I wouldn't because I'm not that type of person
Victim of e-mail scam

Yet still he failed to smell a rat, perhaps because of the slickness of the conmen's operation.

By now the original contact, Vincent, had gained a partner, supposedly a banking official, who set up the supposed offshore account.

"They gave me an account number, a PIN number, a number to dial in," said the businessman.

"I could go in there and I could push a button and it asked for my account number, and I would put that in.

"And then it would ask for my PIN number and then I would get information on my account, just like I would get here via phone from my personal bank here in the States."

Not only that, but official-looking banking documents were sent to our victim for his completion.

Yet still the promised money failed to materialise.

"When I started to get worried was downstream, when I had several thousand dollars invested, and all of a sudden there seemed to be just problem after problem.

"And I'm thinking, boy, I've got all this money involved, and I told them there's no way I'm going to put any more money in and yet the contacts continued," said the victim.

Shattered hopes

Our man started getting really worried after about four months when they started avoiding his calls, and all sorts of different contacts entered the scene, based in different countries.

Some, like the man calling himself Ronald Bassey who got in touch last week, offering help in tracking down the scammers.

Others, with hope that the bank transfer was finally to go take place within a day or two. But then, he would be frustrated to find a deposit in the hundreds, not millions of dollars.

It has been almost two years since the nightmare began that brought a successful businessman to the point of despair.

He still has his home and has started to rebuild his shattered business hopes, though the prospect of self-employment is now a long way off.

Yet strangely, he has mixed feelings about those who conned him out of his dream of financial security.

"I am extremely angry about the fact that all of this happened. At the same time the individual that spearheaded this thing was always polite and considerate.

"In one way I'd like to get my hands around his throat and wring his neck and yet, in another, I wouldn't because I'm not that type of person," said the victim.

You can hear more about e-mail fraud, the story of the victims and about the forces trying to catch the scammers on this week's Go Digital on the BBC World Service.

Lure of black money scam
01 Mar 04  |  Technology
E-mail scam 'ruined my life'
17 Nov 03  |  Manchester
Nigerians accused of Ghana fraud
14 Jan 04  |  Africa
Bank scam trial opens in Nigeria
05 Feb 04  |  Africa
Warning over Nigerian mail scam
10 Jul 01  |  UK News
Q&A: Avoiding the con artists
08 Oct 02  |  Business

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