Watch out! Swindlers on the loose

  • 2001-03-15
  • Devyani Banerjee
TALLINN - A bunch of tricksters is lurking to swindle you out of your last kroon, if you are naive enough to fall into their trap.

The modus operandi of these scammers is quite simple. It starts with the bulk mailing or faxing of letters to businesses, public organizations, and even individuals who are of greater than average wealth.

At first, their bait seems quite attractive. There is mention of a sum of money to the tune of many millions of U.S. dollars. The letter writers ask for the assistance of their readers to help them take the money out of a certain country, usually in Africa, by easy transfer of the amount to their account.

In recognition of the service provided, the scammers promise to pay 20 percent to 30 percent of the amount as a fee to the reader.

Letters like this have been arriving in Estonians' mailboxes for 18 months or so. No official complaints have yet been lodged, and many people have come close to being duped. Of the two letters that are in possession of The Baltic Times, one is from a Dr. Mariam Abacha, the widow of the late Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha, while the other is from one Colonel Bukhari Tanko from Sierra Leone.

The alleged Dr. Abacha states in her letter that since the death of her husband her family has been under house arrest. Their bank accounts in Nigeria and abroad have been frozen by the current Nigerian government.

She appeals for urgent assistance to transfer the sum of $62.8 million dollars to the reader's bank account. In lieu of the assistance she would give 30 percent of the sum as remuneration while the remaining 70 percent would be invested in a suitable business outside Nigeria.

The letter from Colonel Bukari Tanko is much the same. He says he is a former aide of ousted Sierra Leonean president, Major John Paul Koromah. They were ousted from power by the West African Allied Forces.

"We have shared among ourselves the proceeds from the diamond trade and I have personally got $32,800,000," he declares.

He urges his readers to let him know the company name and bank account of any person where he can deposit the money, which he can invest in any business.

"I resolve to offer you an over compensatory fee of 35 percent of the total sum after remittance into your account," runs the letter, which requests reply by fax only.

Katrin Reinaste-Parve, who works in a private sector company, said that her colleagues have received many such letters. Some of her acquaintances, though not entirely fooled, have come quite close.

"My friends who replied to these letters were asked either to go to Nigeria or to give small amounts of $100 or $200, which the writers of the letters claimed were needed to be paid to the bank for the transfer of money," said Katrin.

Indrek Raudjalg, a spokesperson for the Estonian police, confirmed that no official complaints have been lodged yet by anyone in this matter.

"It is a common international fraud, and as most of the letters come from Nigeria our arms are not long enough to reach there. I advise all people who receive such letters not to fall into the tricksters' trap and throw the letters straight into the trash."

Ando Noormets of the personal relations department at Hansapank said, "People should know that it is not possible to empty anyone's account just by knowing the account number. When a huge sum of $62.8 million is to be deposited, we always verify the identity of the person who deposits the money."

So rest assured that if anyone has already given these fraudsters their account numbers, their accounts will not be emptied. And no money would ever magically arrive in their accounts from Africa. So if you are dreaming of becoming a millionaire, wake up to the reality of the swindlers.