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16.11.2004 Feature Article

Ghanaians: Beware of White Collar Scams

Ghanaians: Beware of White Collar Scams
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Most people and even some governments all over the world have one way or the other, been swindled or have fallen victim to scammers in a professionally manner. However, the focus of this piece is on one of such white collar crimes sometimes referred to as "Advance Fee Fraud" "419 Fraud" (Four-One-Nine) after the relevant section of the Criminal Code of Nigeria, and "The Nigerian Connection" (mostly in Europe). However, it is usually called plain old "419" even by the Nigerians themselves.

This type of scam is carried on in many ways. Some of them are as follows: The target receives an unsolicited fax, email, or letter often emanating from an African, Middle East or Asian countries. The content usually contains either a money laundering or other illegal proposal. On the other hand, the target may receive a legal and legitimate business proposal by normal means. Common variations on the scam include "over-invoiced" or "double invoiced", oil, gold or other mineral deal. Some can be fashioned out as a "bequest" left in a will; or “money cleaning”. That is, they may talk about a lot of currency that needs to be "chemically cleaned" before it can be used and that the scammer needs you to contribute or bear the cost of the chemicals. Others may be in the form of "spoof banks" where there is supposedly money in your name already on deposit; "paying" for a purchase with a check larger than the amount required and asking for change to be advanced; fake lottery 419; and ordering items and commodities off "trading" sites on the web and then cheating the seller. The variations of Advance Fee Fraud (419) are very creative and virtually endless.

As indicated, some of the easily noticeable ones may be in the form of an email sent to the victim. Find below a specimen of one of such unedited emails I received quite recently. I hope many Ghanaians may have received such messages too.

Dear friend,

I am Solomon Makoba, the son of former minister of finance (Johnson Makoba) of the Republic of Sierra Leone, West Africa based on the information I gathered from your chamber of commerce and industry on your credibility, I decide to contact you for assistance.

Regarding my zeal toward foreign investment and security for my life and possession, I therefore write to you and a break down of this proposal. My father died when a group of rebel soldier led by Sir Foday Sankoh overthrown Government of Sierra Leone forcing the president out of power and killing many members of the cabinet and minister including my own father. When it become apparently obvious that the country no longer safe for the citizens due to the political war and massive killing and destruction of properties, I decided to move to Holland with the treasure containing the sum of US$12.5000.00(twelve million five hundred thousand united states dollars) through a diplomatic means, this fund is the last tangible money my father left behind before his death.

The said amount is presently in Holland (The Netherlands) where I am currently seeking political asylum. While the consignment containing the fund is in the custody of the diplomatic courier company and they are not aware of the content as it was deposited as personal effect and artifact. I am seeking for partner who will serve as a guardian of this fund with whom I could plan the best way to move this money out of Holland for investment which is my main purpose of contacting you. Thus I decided to offer you 20% of the total money for assisting me to actualize this project while 10% of the money has been set aside to offset any incidental expenses that might incurred during the course of this funds and the balance 70% shall be for me and my family which shall be invested in your country. And are will visit you country soonest in order to inquire areas of possible business investment .I shall be sincerely glad if request is rendered. Thank you God bless you

Solomon Makoba

After the potential victim has accepted the proposal like this one above, he is then asked to pay up front an Advance Fee. This may also be framed as "Transfer Tax", "Performance Bond". Others may involve the idea to extend credit, grant COD privileges, and send back "change" on an average cashier's check or money order, whatever. If the victim pays the fee, there are often many "complications" which require still more advance payments until the victim either quits, runs out of money, or both. If the victim extends credit on a given transaction etc. he may also pay such fees, and also stiffed for the goods or service with no effective recourse.

Research has indicated that most 419 letters and emails originate from or are traceable back to West African nations such as Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast ( Cote D'Ivoire ) etc. However, there are occasionally some "other foreigner" copycats trying to emulate the success of the scammers. In these times, these scammers set up web sites in order to push their nefarious agenda and activities forward. One of such plans was carefully executed to twist some Ghanaian youth. It went that a conference was to be organized in the US and as a preparatory measure; potential participants were asked to attend a prior conference in Guinea-Bissau. Participants were asked to pay their hotel accommodation via Western Union before they could freely participate in the US one. This turned up to be a hoax and whole lots of people were duped.

Notwithstanding, these scammers have taken their activities to greater heights by coining or attempting to coin even state governments. It needs no telling about the current disaster that happened to our dear country. As we struggle to find antidote to our woes, Ghanaian government must sit up to discern bad but juicy loans from the good ones. There is no way, these swindlers and scammers can operate in the western world hence they will definitely focus their attention on poor and gullible countries such as Ghana. This is because our infrastructure to help trace the roots of these activities, verify their authenticity or to deal with these social-misfits to say the least are non-existence.

It needs mentioning that as the world gets sophisticated day in day out, scammers will continue to take this opportunity to exploit the venerable. We need to be extra careful when such emails are received and offers proposed. What even compounds the problem is that our legal system in Ghana still lacks behind in this regard. We need to train and equip our security and intelligence forces so that they could trace and combat these white collar crimes and to further handle them as they happen. Government should also be very concern about due diligence before falling for these scams. Professional advice from organizations such as Dun & Bradstreet, International Chamber of Commerce Commercial Crime Services and other renowned legal firms that are involved in due diligence could be sought.

To all Ghanaians and especially the youth, we need to be very tactful and should not be chasing what we have not sown. The good old book- the Bible is even against it. In our bid to travel overseas for conferences and programmes to upgrade our knowledge, Ghanaians should be very careful in applying and paying for conferences abroad. The Internet, though helpful should not be the only source for verification. We should move another step to cross-check or authenticate the sources of such conferences from the diplomatic missions and institutions concerned. Again, we can also vouch the source from our friends and relatives who may be close to the source. Managers and caretakers of internet centers in Ghana should monitor the activities of visitors/customers and if they suspect any foul play, should quickly alert the Police. The Police should also develop partnerships and alliances with some strategic Internet service managers and to brief the latter on current developments in this enterprise.

To our brothers and sisters who happened to find themselves in this enterprise, I would like to advice that, there is no short cut to richness. We need to know that we cannot reap what we have not sown. There is no way we can legitimate our actions under the umbrella of poverty. To me, the underpinning motivation is sheer greediness. Perpetuators of these acts may have gone away with their previous actions, but I can assure them that they will soon find themselves under the claws of the law. We need to remember that some illustrious sons and daughters have fought to uphold the country's image and we cannot afford to put this hard won image into disrepute. Trust is very important in our bid to clinch partnership deals with our foreign counterparts. What the generation of today can do now is to enhance or at least maintain this image. We need to further think that our destiny lies in our own hands and as Ghanaians and for that matter Africans. We all have a stake to make the African dream come true.

Let us sit up! Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Robert Ankomah Opoku
Robert Ankomah Opoku, © 2004

The author has 8 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: RobertAnkomahOpoku

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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