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University of Regina professor writes book on 'Nigerian letters'

Leader-Post Canada.com - Igwe, who teaches French at the University of Regina, is the author of Taking Back Nigeria from 419. The book -- which is available at Chapters, at the University of Regina bookstore and from its publisher's Web site (www.iuniverse.com) -- details the variations of scams that are often referred to as "Nigerian letters" or "419s," so-named for the section of the Nigerian criminal code that covers fraud

The common feature of the scams is that victims are asked to pay ever-escalating fees for bogus documents or transactions.

Advance-fee fraud (AFF) targets people all over the world and results in billions of lost dollars. According to a report put out by Ultrascan Advanced Global Investigations, a Dutch firm that tracks fraud across the globe, Canadians lost $158 million due to AFF in 2007. The same report stated that there were more than 3,000 active AFF scammers residing in Canada last year.

According to Igwe, one of the better-known types of AFF is the money-transfer scheme. That fraud starts with a letter or e-mail stating that there's millions of dollars sitting in a bank account, but some technicality prevents the sender from accessing the account himself or herself. The letter's author will offer a percentage of the money in exchange for the recipient's help laundering it.

Igwe explained that if a person agrees to launder the loot, he or she will receive subsequent letters saying the money transfer is being held up pending completion of necessary paperwork, all of which requires payment of expensive processing fees. He added that the letters will appear to be official, but they're really forgeries and the processing fees go straight to the scammers.

The bogus fees can add up to thousands of dollars, but the lure of a multi-million-dollar payday keeps people hooked.

According to Igwe, AFF typically works on two types of people: Those who are ignorant of how the fraud works and those whose greed overpowers their natural skepticism.

"(Some people) want to make money overnight. They want to reap where they did not sow," he said. "But even greedy people, if they're equipped with enough information, (can protect themselves)."

But criminals also target the lonely hearted, according to Igwe. He said scammers have posted phony profiles on dating Web sites in order to lure potential victims. Once the criminals gain their target's trust, they'll ask for money to help solve some family crisis or for things like plane tickets, supposedly to allow for a face-to-face meeting.

"It continues like that until (the victim) gets fed up or until someone tells (him or her) it's a fraud," Igwe said.

There are other examples of AFF as well, including lottery scams, next-of-kin scams and grants-and-charities scams, Igwe said.

Igwe, who is originally from Nigeria, said he wrote his book because he doesn't want people to associate his home country with crime.

"(It) has really tarnished the international image of my country," he said. "If we can get rid of (the fraud) ... then it would just be a matter of time before the reputation of my country is restored."

Anyone who receives a suspicious letter or e-mail may report it to local police, the commercial crimes division of the RCMP or the anti-fraud call centre PhoneBusters, which is a joint operation of the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police and the federal Competition Bureau.

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