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The Letter Scam Continues

Nigerian swindlers are still hard at work in Asia, judging by the many letters arriving at Asia, Inc. since Bolaji Ojo's article, "Inside The Nigerian Letter Scam," appeared in January. Readers in Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand and China have sent copies of recent solicitations they've received. The letters, purportedly from government officials or prominent businessmen in Nigeria, ask recipients to accept large deposits (usually $ 25 million to $ 50 million) into their bank accounts (see table).

That, of course, is the usual opening gambit of the notorious letter scam, which has defrauded hundreds of Asian businessmen. The funds are never deposited , but the Nigerian tricksters often collect thousands of dollars in advance payments, airline tickets and other "expenses" before their foreign partners realize something is amiss.

One Indonesian reader sought help recovering money already lost to the swindlers. Other readers said they knew the letters were fraudulent, but responded anyway. Writes one Hong Kong businessman: "For a laugh, we have strung them along, and have asked them for $ 100 to cover the cost of dispatch of all the paperwork they are asking us for." While such exchanges may be amusing, authorities caution against responding in any way.

"In many cases all they want is your bank account number or your letterhead, " warns Steve Armstrong, detective senior inspector in the commercial crime division of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force. By replying, he adds, "they then have your letterhead and signature -- that's two of the three things they need."

Switzerland's foreign and economics ministries recently issued a warning about increasingly sophisticated Nigerian-based swindlers. The criminals often tell victims they simply want to establish business contact, said the ministries. "But their real aim is to obtain banking details, handling charges, blank signatures and so on. With the documents they obtain in this way, the swindlers try, for example, to plunder bank accounts, often with success."

Meanwhile in the U.S., the financial magazine Worth reported in March that an "epidemic" of Nigerian criminals is preying on credit card users there. With just a person's name, account number and the name of their financial institution , Worth reports, "it's easy to change the address of any credit card account -- and from there to change the secret code that allows card users access to a cash machine." The crooks then make duplicate cards and draw thousands of dollars from users' accounts. Hong Kong officials say they haven't heard of the credit card scheme being used in this region -- yet.

Asia, Inc. will publish an occasional selection of the scam letters in the hope of deterring the fraud through publicity. If you have received one of these letters, please send a copy to the magazine at: Editor, 31/F Citicorp Centre, 18 Whitfield Rd., Causeway Bay, Hong Kong; fax: (852) 566-7021

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