Consumer Protection Division
(208) 334-2424 or
Toll-free at (800) 432-3545

Media Contact: Bob Cooper
(208) 334-4112

Date: February 25, 2003

Attorney General Wasden Warns of New Nigerian Scam

(Boise) - Attorney General Lawrence Wasden warned Idahoans of a scheme that can cost victims thousands of dollars if they are duped into wiring money to con-artists in Nigeria.

"Counterfeit cashier's and corporate checks are deceiving Idahoans who sell items on-line," Attorney General Wasden said. "This scheme has new elements that make it an alarming new threat."

Wasden said the scheme targets people selling merchandise on the Internet through legitimate auction services such as E-Bay.

"This is a very dangerous scam that can victimize even the most skeptical and careful individuals," Attorney General Wasden said. "In Idaho, they unknowingly targeted a Deputy Attorney General in the Consumer Protection Unit. Fortunately, he had enough doubts that he did not send any money to Nigeria. Just as he expected, the cashier's check he received to pay for a bicycle turned out to be counterfeit."

Here is how the scheme works:

  • The victim is selling a used car or some other item of value via the Internet.
  • A buyer in Africa sends an e–mail message that he wants to buy the item. The buyer says he will pay with a cashier's check or corporate check from a bank in the U.S.
  • At the last minute the buyer comes up with a reason that the check will be much more than the asking price - thousands of dollars more. He will ask the seller to wire the difference back after the check clears.
  • The victim thinks the check must be good when his or her bank accepts it and provides the funds. But, in a week or so the check turns out to be counterfeit.
  • By that time, the victim has wired thousands of dollars to Africa, never to be seen again.
  • The bank requires the victim to pay back the money to cover the phony check.

"The checks are counterfeit, but of such good quality that they often fool bank personnel who study them," the Attorney General added. "Victims think the cashier's check or corporate check must be good when the bank gives them the money. But several days later, they learn the check is a fake and they are out both the item they sold and the full face value of the counterfeit check, including the money they sent to Nigeria."

Wasden encouraged victims of this scam to contact the US Secret Service, the lead agency fighting this fraud. Victims can call the Secret Service at (202) 406-5572, or write to: US Secret Service, Financial Crimes Division, 950 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. Victims may also call the Secret Service's Boise office at (208) 334–1403. E–mail complaints can be sent to the Secret Service at*.

The Attorney General also encouraged victims to notify the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Unit. The Boise area phone number is (208) 334–2424. Idaho residents outside the Boise calling area can call toll free (800) 432–3545.

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*NOTE TO READERS: The Secret Service no longer accepts e–mails at the above address. Instead, the Secret Service encourages consumers who have suffered a financial loss to contact the local Secret Service office. More information.

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