Beware of free money

Professor of history and coordinator of African Studies at Chico State University

In my capacity as the coordinator of the Chico State African Studies program, I have been contacted by many local residents in the past three years seeking my advice on what to do about letters offering millions of dollars as gifts. In all cases I have told the recipients of these letters to discard them.

The bulk of the scam letters originate from Nigeria, South Africa and the Middle East. Initially, a writer will mention that he is the relative of an assassinated head of state or dead wealthy African who has left him tons of money. The sender then claims that he has already secretly moved millions of the inherited money out of the country and would like the recipient to open an account to receive the balance for a 25 percent commission on the transaction. Once the contact is made, the writer will immediately ask the recipient for “an advance of thousands of dollars to pay off officials and taxes.”

Others will state that they need the advanced fees “to pay for an armored vehicle to transfer the funds from a security company to the bank.” Many people have paid the requested fees because they expect to earn millions of dollars and lucrative business deals, only to discover that the money they had been promised never arrives.

United States postal inspectors state that so far this year they have intercepted and destroyed “two million letters from Nigeria at Kennedy Airport in New York.” The inspectors estimate that “American consumers are being defrauded out of one hundred million dollars a year” by such fraudsters.

Similarly, British authorities had received about 50,000 scam letters by the beginning of this year and estimate that their citizens have lost one hundred and fifty million pounds a year to the scam.

To its credit, the Nigerian government is cracking down on the mail fraud scheme by placing advertisements in the British press, establishing an anti-fraudster unit in London, and enforcing of the 419 Penal Code that covers the crime.

Perhaps most important, people should also heed the words of the Nigerian high commissioner in London, Bola Ajibola, who said, "It is unfortunate that we have some of these gullible people who can easily get targeted with the idea of a lot of money somewhere." He added, "I think it is not only stupid for people to do that, but they are what we call ‘criminous’ participants; they are also criminals themselves." Anyone receiving a letter or e-mail offering such free money is advised not to reply and to notify law enforcement authorities immediately.