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Orange County

Warning on Scam Is Issued

Crime: Letter and e-mail appeals for cash mention the Nigerian government or businesses.

April 04, 2002|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Secret Service and local police agencies issued warnings Wednesday about a fraud scheme that allegedly offers money-making opportunities through the Nigerian government or Nigerian businesses.

A Secret Service spokesman said that while the scheme is more than 10 years old, there has been more activity recently. Typically, letters or e-mails are sent offering high returns--in some instances, $15 million, police said--in exchange for an upfront investment. "There's just an ongoing flood of these letters," said Secret Service Agent Robert Brenner, who is based in Santa Ana. "They'll try to get people to put money upfront to help them launder some money out of the country. It's a greedy type of teaser to get people to invest. More often than not, the people victimized are elderly."

Brenner said the Secret Service has opened an office in Lagos, Nigeria, to help track down the people behind the scam. He said Orange County has always been a big draw for scam artists "because of the affluency."

Garden Grove police also issued a citywide warning about the scam after several city employees and other residents were contacted. Lt. Scott Hamilton said his wife, a real estate agent, was approached by e-mail.

"They said some oil people in Nigeria had $23 million and they wanted to invest in some property over here," Hamilton said. "They wanted to use her as a Realtor, and they asked her to front $3,500 to get the process rolling."

Anyone who believes that they have been targeted in the scheme should contact local authorities or the Secret Service. To see samples of the various letters used in the scheme, go online to www.quat loos.com/cm-niger/niger ian_scam_letter_museum.htm.

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