The concluding part of this riveting investigation by EMMANUEL MAYAH lists some of the human costs of the internet scam by Nigerians based in the Netherlands.
Refugees enjoy many rights in the asylum camp. Bank accounts are opened for them through which they receive monthly stipends for their welfare from the Dutch government. For the many who are eventually refused stay, the Nigerian fraudsters solicit and buy their bank documents to clone hundreds of identities.
Femishow disclosed that the Dutch do not trust Nigerians but trust Surinamese, their former colonial servants; therefore, Nigerians find a dozen ways to co-opt and compromise Surinamese, often by first winning the love and confidence of their women.
Playing Robin Hood
Asked what he did with his share of the AMRO BANK booty, one of the Nigerians involved in the cyber heist boasted that he returned home to a hero’s welcome. He built a big house, bought stocks and invested in sand-dredging equipment.
He bankrolled the production of a Nollywood movie and even flew some of the cast to Amsterdam to shoot scenes. Through that, he made the acquaintance of his dream girl, a popular Nollywood actress.
Meanwhile, one of his unforgettable moments was the day he played Robin Hood. The incident happened at the Rotterdam train station.
A woman in obvious distress bumped into him. She mumbled her apologies with tearful eyes. The kind crook was so concerned he went after her, wanting to be assured she would be okay.
Touched by his show of concern, the woman spilled it all, including the family and financial problems weighing down on her.
The Nigerian reached inside his jacket and pulled out 3,500 euros, handed it to the stranger and left in the opposite direction. Now, it was her turn to run after him, demanding for his phone number.
Aside ABN AMRO, other banks known to have lost money to fraud syndicates include P&T Luxembourg, Piraeus Bank Greece, HSBC, Societe Generale, Bank of Cyprus and Laiki Bank (Cyprus).
The syndicates somehow managed to circumvent banking regulations to plunder savings, pensions, credit cards, loans and insurance.
Road trip to Belgium
Posing as a fledgling fraudster who needed help to pull off a big scam, Femishow had accompanied this reporter on a road trip to Antwep and Brussels to meet a Nigerian godfather who controlled one criminal cell each on both sides of the border with the Netherlands.
The Nigerian, by the name Olu (not his real name), networks with both West African and European underworld gangs. His tentacles reach Italy, Spain; and unlikely places such as Luxembourg.
Olu has expertise in everything, from shipping items to registering an offshore company, money transfer, to money laundering. He boasted that he had people in the right places to transfer money to anywhere on the face of the earth.
He started his money laundering business in the early 1990s, beginning with links with elements in the Nigerian army. This was when a major general, who is now dead, headed the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).
The proceeds of crime, including drugs and advance fee fraud, were used to buy trucks, pharmaceuticals, computers, exotic cars and agricultural equipment. Shipped from Belgium to Nigeria, the boys from the army were allegedly always at the Lagos port to facilitate smooth and quick delivery.
It was discovered from interactions with several Nigerians that even in the 1990s, Dutch banks were inevitably the first targets for young criminals in need of small but easy money.
Olu recalled that at the time banks offered various incentives to attract customers. One was an instant credit line of 1,000 Dutch guilders on any new account. Every new account was entitled to the overdraft, which was repayable in small percentages from the regular income of the account holder.
Nigerians employed fraudulent means to open as many bank accounts as possible. They harvested 1,000 guilders on each and abandoned the accounts to open yet another set, using fake identities.
With the introduction of the Euro zone, the Nigerians moved on to yet another insidious scheme. When internet banking was not yet sophisticated, they devised a means to steal 3,000 euros at a time from Dutch banks.
First, they opened an account depositing 3,000 euros. Because the ATM could only allow a maximum withdrawal of 1,000 euros a day, they waited for weekends to strike.
They withdrew 1,000 euros late on a Friday, crossed the border to Belgium and withdrew another 1,000 euros on Saturday, then another 1,000 euros on Sunday.
Because these weekend withdrawals took till Monday to reflect, the Nigerians raced back to the Netherlands on Sunday. Very early on Monday morning, they were the first at the bank where they used not the ATM this time but their passbook to pull out their original 3,000 euros.
With fake documents and fake identities the cycle was repeated every weekend.
Plundering Dutch pension
Besides Dutch citizens falling prey to credit card fraud or advance fee scam, one group that has proved an easy target for Nigerian criminals in the Netherlands is Dutch pensioners.
The syndicates employed foot soldiers to watch the homes of retirees. Using master keys they raided mailboxes to steal bank statements. Next, they cloned the identity of the pensioner. Posing as the account holder, they applied to the bank for online banking, using the victim’s personal data.
Online banking solves all the problems since a young black African cannot physically impersonate an old white man or woman; not even with the best make-up.
The criminals worked as a team; the foot soldiers stole the documents and those who could read and write Dutch handled the cloning and correspondence. They changed the address of the pensioner as well as any other things necessary to cut the retiree off his account.
Once they ascertained the savings in an account they went on to wreck it, making purchases online.
After about 11,000 pensioners were robbed, the Dutch police two years ago took to delivering mail in sting operations in areas worst hit. Cameras were also set up in strategic locations.
It paid off with a good number of the mail thieves nabbed across the country. There was a lull, with the crooks beating a retreat to Belgium. But some of them are now back, devising day and night new ways to remain one step ahead of the law.
Yet another way Nigerians fleece banks in Europe is through cheque kitting. Using stolen identities, a Nigerian, for example, Dotun, opens cheque accounts at bank A and bank B.
He deposits 500 euros in Bank A and 0 euros in Bank B. He then writes a 100,000 euros cheque on his account in Bank A and deposits it in Bank B. Bank B, unaware that Dotun has insufficient funds in his account in Bank A, gives him immediate credit on his account.
During the three business days it takes Bank B to clear the cheque on his account in Bank A, Dotun writes a 100,000 euros cheque on his account in Bank B and deposits it in Bank A to cover his first 100,000 euros cheque.
Bank A immediately gives him credit on his account, and Bank B clears Dotun’s first 100,000 euros cheque.
He continues writing bad cheques between his accounts for a safe period before he moves on to another bank with another stolen identity.
The Chinese connection
Scams recently pulled off in the Netherlands strongly suggest the collaboration of Nigerian criminals with the Chinese mafia. One is in the area of cheque fraud.
Traditionally, Nigerians operate by hiding their real identity and location, using fake names and fake postal addresses, as well as communicating via anonymous free email accounts and mobile phones.
Victims have received unsolicited emails from companies, often claiming to be in China, looking for representatives to establish a business presence in the Netherlands or in other parts of Europe and for payments transfer.
Recipients of such emails are typically promised 10 per cent of those transfers from customers.
In reality, this is a cheque fraud that can work on a massive scale, causing damages of thousands to hundreds of thousands of euros. In some cases, names of legitimate companies are used for the scam. In other cases, the companies are non-existent.
The scammers are really not Chinese; they are not even Asians but Nigerians. They mail their “representative” fake cheques from phantom customers to deposit in the representative’s personal or business accounts. Often these are written on blank cheque forms stolen from legitimate businesses.
Provided the business whose cheque is stolen has sufficient funds in its account, the cheque will initially clear. It usually takes about a month for the cheque to bounce; this happens when the company whose cheque was stolen receives the deposited cheque it never wrote.
Before the cheque clears the unsuspecting representative wires the amount to a bank account in another country; often Japan, Taiwan, China or the United Kingdom. By the time the fake cheque bounces the money is already out of the Netherlands or Europe, leaving the victim wondering what has hit him.
Nigerian fraudsters also target unlikely businesses such as art galleries.
Someone is interested in your artwork and wants it shipped overseas. Unknown to the gallery, the client has just paid with a fake credit card or fake certified United States bank cheque. But that is not even the problem.
The real problem is that for some reasons the rich client has paid the gallery in excess of the tag on the artwork. Being a decent person, the gallery owner does not refuse the customer’s request that the difference be wired back to him through Western Union. The cheque will turn out to be dude; by which time the gallery has lost a decent amount.
In 2007, a popular Nigerian movie actor, Nkem Owoh, was arrested in Amsterdam while performing at a concert. He was known for performing the song, I go chop your dollar. The song was featured in a controversial movie, The Master, in which Owoh plays a fraudster.
Over 200 Nigerians were reportedly arrested by the Dutch police who stormed the concert venue in a helicopter.
Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NCC) had banned the song prior to the Amsterdam concert.
I go chop your dollar is a tribute to Nigerian advance fee fraudsters who have a robust scam industry and harvest millions of dollars yearly from victims in Europe, America, Australia and Asia.
Some of the victims include a former U.S. Congressman Ed Mezvinsky who, having bought into a dodgy business proposition, was made to travel to Nigeria several times to meet his ‘business partners’ and ultimately lost over $3 million.
The Washington politician did not only bag a seven-year jail sentence in his country, his son, Marc Mezvinsky, lost the chance to marry his heartthrob, Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former American President, Bill Clinton.
Not a few scam victims have committed suicide.
• In 2006, an American living in South Africa hanged himself after falling victim to 419.
• Kjetil Moe, a Norwegian businessman, was reported missing and eventually found dead in South Africa after an encounter with Nigerian scammers in Johannesburg.
The four Nigerians arrested in the Netherlands and extradited to face justice in the U.S. were
• Nnamdi Chizuba Anisiobi (of multiple aliases: Yellowman, Abdul Rahman, Michael Anderson, Edmund Walter, Helmut Schkinger, Nancy White, Jiggaman, and Namo);
• Anthony Friday Ehis (also known as John J. Smith, Toni N. Amokwu and Mr. T).
• Kesandu Egwuonwu (aka KeKe, Joey Martin Maxwell, David Mark).
• John Doe 1 (aka Eric Williams, Lee, Chucks and Nago).
To fleece their victims, they posed as throat-cancer patients living in the Southeast Asian nation of Brunei. Each said he was too ill to distribute his wealth of $55 million to charity and needed help.
They promised their victims a share of a large inheritance but requested payment of a variety of advance fees for legal representation, taxes and documentation.
After the victims had transferred funds to pay the required fees, correspondence ceased. The victims lost more than $1.2 million.
Just as the Nigerian underworld abroad collaborates with Chinese, corrupt officials at home team up with unscrupulous Dutch businessmen to defraud the Nigerian government.
Shortly before the call for bid for the sale of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), a Dutch company, Pentascope, was hurriedly put together.
It was registered on a public holiday, January 1, 2002. From the Netherlands in 2003 suddenly came Pentascope, emerging the preferred bidder for NITEL.
By April 2004, when Pentascope was stripped of the contract within one year, it had itself stripped NITEL of about N100 billion.
When a team of NITEL directors travelled to the Netherlands to verify the claims put forward by Nigeria’s Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) and PricewaterhouseCoopers, the firm of auditors that was supposed to have done the due diligence on the Dutch firm, they were stunned by their discoveries.
Pentascope had only seven staff, a janitor, and operated from an abandoned old church building.
Olu pointed at Pentascope and Shell to support his argument that beautiful cities like Amsterdam were developed with wealth stolen from Africa. “We are here to take some of it back. For them to stop us, they must first stop their own people. Fair is fair. I call it tit-for-tat good neighbourliness,” he said.
When this reporter visited the Nigerian embassy at The Hague, the Ambassador, Nimota Akanbi, maintained that there are many decent Nigerians doing well in different professions in the Netherlands.
She, however, regretted the activities of a few bent on sullying the country’s image. She reiterated the embassy’s preparedness to assist Nigerian illegals with travel documents to return home.
The frustration and helplessness with Nigerian fraudsters is written all over the Dutch community. A popular T-shirt laments: “My money went to Nigeria and all I got is this lousy T-shirt.”
This investigation by Emmanuel Mayah was first published in Trouw, a Dutch daily newspaper in The Netherlands.