Joe Lavin

July 19, 2005

Nigeria Strikes Back

Last Friday, a woman in Nigeria was jailed for her part in a $242 million e-mail fraud case, which is frankly a relief because I was really getting sick of all those e-mails from her. Okay, it's not THAT woman. She's not MARIAM SESE-SEKO or any of the other widows of deposed Nigerian dictators who have been filling our inboxes for the last several years.

Her name is Amaka Anajemba. In exchange for pleading guilty, she'll be getting 2 1/2 years of jail time, while having to give back $53.5 million and pay a fine of 2 million naira (about $15,000). There are any number of people who have lost $15,000 in the past few years, but she's probably the first to do so while trying to steal $242 million. That's called losing $15,000 in style.

It was Anajemba's late husband who came up with this scheme back in 1995. According to prosecutors, the scheme involved a Brazilian bank, a fake airport, two other conspirators who have not yet gone on trial, a very gullible bank employee, and one goat. Well, that's not entirely true. I lied about there being a bank.

Strangely, this isn't your typical piece of Nigerian e-mail fraud. Instead of convincing some stupid American to give away all his life savings, the target of this scheme was Banco Noroeste of Sao Paolo, Brazil. (Sorry, no goat.) According to Reuters, "The prosecution said the three accused obtained the $242 million by promising a member of the bank staff a commission for funding a non-existent contract to build an airport in Nigeria's capital Abuja."

I feel bad for the bank employee, but at the same time maybe he didn't really choose the right career. He wasn't exactly the best person to have in control of $242 million. It's a shame too. He was just a few days away from being named Employee of the Month, and then this whole thing had to happen.

Considering that it took me over two and a half hours last week just to get Bank of America ("Higher Standards than Banco Noroeste") to refund a $60 fee they had mistakenly charged me, it's truly impressive for one bank employee to lose so much money on his own. My banking professional needed to talk with two managers and get six forms filled in triplicate just to give me back my sixty bucks. Apparently, this guy had the ability to deplete Alex Rodriguez's entire bank account in an afternoon.

Back in 2003, the Nigerian government created the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in order to get a piece of the action in all the fraud that's going on there. Actually, that's wrong. The goal of the EFCC is to cut down on the fraud, and it's a worthy cause. Currently, Nigeria is ranked as the second most corrupt country in the world right after Bangladesh, which really makes you wonder exactly what sort of seedy things are going on in Bangladesh that can compete with all the Nigerian fraud. I suspect that Nigeria is probably still first in the pure number of defrauding attempts. It's just that their percentage of success has gone way down now that we've all seen their e-mails approximately EIGHTEEN million (18,000,000) times.

This was the first major conviction that the EFCC has won, and I suppose it's not surprising that the victim was a bank. That's what happens when you start messing with banks. No one really cares when you steal millions of dollars from regular people, but defraud a bank and the police will come after you faster than you can say, "URGENT BUSINESS PROPOSAL." The only thing the Anajemba family could have done worse would have been to defraud the student loans people, because those guys have no mercy.

As for Ms. Anajemba, I just hope she got my last e-mail before she went to jail. It was a lot of work transcribing all my bank account numbers, and I don't want to have to do it again.

©2005 Joe Lavin

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