Should I Send Money to a Nigerian Prince?

E-mail pitches touting fast money are too good to be true

Think about the pitch:  you'll be able to retire early with $10 million (or more) if you send a Nigerian prince a couple thousand dollars and a lot of personal information in advance.

Sound ridiculous?  It is.

"It's 100 percent fraud.  And if you do that, you're never going to see your money again," said Chicago's Chief Postal Inspector Tom Brady.  He admits, even he's gotten the e-mails.

If you take the bait, you'll receive a lot of genuine-looking documents, but eventually you'll be asked to send them something in order to get the ball rolling.  They may call it a "handling fee."

"A problem generally arises in this.  And when that happens, they're going to ask you for more money," Brady said.

Nearly all of the e-mails come from one city in Nigeria:  Lagos.  And that prince?  He's likely some guy, sitting in an Internet cafe, blasting out thousands of identical messages to "lucky" winners just around the world.

Why?  Because believe it or not, people do respond.

"We have some actual cases where the victim turns to crime because they think there's going to be some big payoff at the end," Brady said.

Such is the case with Thomas Katona, the fomer treasurer of Alcona County, Mich.  Katona was convinced that one of the Nigerian schemes would make him rich, but it instead landed him behind bars, convicted of stealing over $1 million in county funds and wiring the money overseas. 

And the mail and Internet scams have dozens of variations.

Postal Inspector Dave Colen said that in one version, the schemers send dozens of phony checks to a person in the United States and asks them to re-mail them.  That gives the foreign schemers something they couldn't get here:  a United States postmark.

The recipients of the counterfeit checks are then asked to wire the cash back overseas and keep a portion for themselves.  The scheme then morphs and typically involves sending more money back to the schemers.

"No one has ever gotten a payoff,"    "And I can pretty much guarantee you that no one ever will."

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Full Coverage:  Good Question  "Nigerian Scams" Keep Evolving

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