The letters advise that a group called the "Debt Settlement Panel" is the approved paying office in Nigeria. The letters encourage individuals to deal exclusively with that office. While most law-abiding citizens will recognize these letters as obvious forgeries, it is important to note that millions of dollars in losses are caused to several individuals by these schemes each year.
These fraud schemes combine the threat of impersonation fraud and identity theft with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter or e-mail offers the recipient the "opportunity" to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author, a self proclaimed government official, is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria.
These fraudulent letters have been received for a number of years through the U.S. Mail and increasingly are received through the Internet. The recipient is encouraged to send information to the author, such as blank letterhead stationary, bank name and account numbers and other identifying information using a facsimile number, e-mail address, and telephone number provided in the letter.
Propensity For LarcenySome of these letters have also been received via e-mail through the internet. The scheme relies on convincing a willing victim, who has demonstrated a "propensity for larceny" by responding to the invitation, to send money to the author of the letter in Nigeria in several installments of increasing amounts for a variety of reasons.
Payment of taxes, bribes to government officials, and legal fees are often described in great detail with the promise that all expenses will be reimbursed as soon as the funds are spirited out of Nigeria. In actuality, the millions of dollars do not exist and the victim eventually loses all funds they provided as a result of this solicitation.
Once the victim stops sending money, the perpetrators have been known to use the personal information and checks to impersonate the victim, draining bank accounts and credit card balances until the victim's assets are taken in their entirety. In the past, some victims have been lured to Nigeria or other countries, where they have been imprisoned against their will or assaulted, in addition to losing large sums of money.
Problem Is PervasiveThe Nigerian government has created the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in an effort to curb these and related schemes. One Nigerian subject, Charles Dike, was recently extradited to Los Angeles for his role in a telemarketing scam that he initiated from Vancouver, British Columbia. However, the problem is so pervasive that is difficult for Nigerian law enforcement to arrest, prosecute or extradite all that are involved in these schemes.
This problem is exacerbated by the number of Nigerian emigres who are operating these schemes from other countries such as Canada, The Netherlands, Spain, England, and other African nations.
Individuals receiving these letters or other forms of solicitations are encouraged to report this criminal activity to their local FBI Field Office.