Nigeria or Bust Part III: Fend off the Scam and Track down the Scammer

This has been a busy weekend for our friend Abbey. If you have been following this for the last week or so, you will recognize Abbey as the South African scam artist whose efforts I have been examining and sharing with you as a kind of object lesson in Internet safety. With a false identity (drawn from the film, The Maltese Falcon), I have been corresponding with Abbey to get a good look at how this Nigerian Scam, as it’s called, is played. Here is the latest activity:
 
Good Morning Mr Gxxxxxx,

Thank you for the information provided there in, I wish you luck in your endeavor in turkey and believe me whatever you desire and you put in efforts you shall surely get in this life. it is imperative i let you know the basis of this transaction and the urgency needed to act fast. i took up this transaction, seeing it as a destiny or rather an opportunity to establish in life and at the same time give my family a good life, I hope same goes to you. my bank plans to confiscate this money because the owner of this account Mr. Morris Thompson whom is an American citizen died years ago with no next of kin that has come forth to claim the money. As you may know i cannot directly transfer this money to your account without going through the banking guidelines of next of kin, but i can effect the transfer approval once your file comes to my desk. i do believe you will get a clearer picture from my writing. I deem you fit for this transaction and my assurance to you is that you will not regret knowing me or doing business with me, because of the level of transparency between us at this stage,

The most important factor in this transaction is Trust and honesty; then the success of this transaction is as sure as daybreak, As long as you adhere to my directives, the modality is such that we employ the services of a lawyer here in south africa to secure this fund legally and transferred into your account without your presence; unless you would like to be here?, because it will be far more porous than coming into our bank to make this claims and there is no way I can openly be involved with your application of claim of the said money, and at the same see that it is approved and transferred to you. It will definitely make the situation suspicious and that is unwise.

There shouldn't be any room for the two of us to be linked together and to be known to be of the same interest to avoid suspicion, The lawyer will be our front, and since you are not here in person to do the running around in and out of the bank, it will be his duty. I know the lawyer very well and respectable too, but he shouldn't know about you and me. The reason I chose him is because he is a man that does not care much about principles or should I saw keeping straight to the law; he does his assignment beautifully well irrespective of what anyone says. So I know with him, there wouldn't be much questions coming from him to you. He will just be acting as instructed.

From my first proposition I hope you understood very well how this money was  discovered and how it has been floating at the bank. Our investigation and experience show that the money can never be claimed again, hence our plans to get it out or the banks plan to remit it to the deceased person is out of the question. You have to bear in mind that with me at the helm of affairs here, i will do all that is necessary to see that this funds is approved to you. At this juncture, please note that your involvement and task in the success of this transaction is very important in the sense the we as government workers, and people directly involved with the affairs of the bank cannot make claims for this money. It will definitely be suspicious if we are to make the claims ourselves; You will be making the claims with the information I shall provide to you directly from the database, while will be here to see that your claim is approved and the money paid out to you. In this way everything goes according to already mapped out plans and strategy in respect to this plans; i will leave from my office to fly down to your country for a face to face meeting and acquaintances.

Having said this, I would like to inform you of the next step to follow; we have to draft a little note of claims, sort of an application which will be given to you immediately you agree to follow up this guideline with this lawyer, it will be attached in your mail as the information is directly from the database as i said before, and it will addressed to one Barrister Khumalo Ike, he is one of the legal attaché of our bank and he is the lawyer am talking about, You ask him to help you file for your partner's money with the Absa Bank and that your partner's name is (Mr Morris Thompson) Please NOTE that he does not know that this is a deal between us and he should not in any way or circumstance know that you have someone here at  the bank. he is not part of our transaction and should not know; he ought to innocently file for this claim on your behalf once he accepts your co-operation.  Here is Mr. Khumalo Ike's personal contact number +xx xx xxx xxxx

Call him from instabul ask for his legal representative here in the south africa and see if he will accept your proposal. Once we get a signal from him, then we can take it up from there.

Yours Truly,  
Abbey

Did you notice anything? The English has improved. True, the grammar is still a bit archaic and the mechanics are poor, but the whole tone of the letter has hardened into something far more professional and together than the previous letters. My sense of it is that this is a form letter, something prepared for every sucker who gets to this point. Notice that, while he is at the “helm of affairs” he wants me to contact this lawyer, Mr. Ike, who he represents as a “legal attaché” with the bank. Abbey describes him early in the letter like this:

I know the lawyer very well and respectable too, but he shouldn't know about you and me. The reason I chose him is because he is a man that does not care much about principles or should I saw keeping straight to the law; he does his assignment beautifully well irrespective of what anyone says.

Now, near the end, I am told:

 he is not part of our transaction and should not know; he ought to innocently file for this claim on your behalf once he accepts your co-operation.

Is he an unscrupulous lawyer who cares little for the law or am being asked to involve an innocent man in bank fraud? Of course, it’s hard to tell. I have a sneaking suspicion that Abbey is the salesman and Ike is actually the seasoned closer. It is a shame that I have no time to consider this possibility since we are now, apparently, under some real time pressure:

my bank plans to confiscate this money because the owner of this account Mr. Morris Thompson whom is an American citizen died years ago with no next of kin that has come forth to claim the money.

Since when has a bank been able to “confiscate” funds that are being held in an estate? While this is a South African bank and their regulations are different from what we have here in the U.S., I just don’t see this as being legal. I can see the government doing this under some limited circumstances, not a private institution like a bank.

This is where scams start to come apart, in the details. In order to justify things, the scammer has to make claims—like the bank will confiscate the money from an unsettled estate—that really boggle the mind of anyone who is not enthralled by their own greed. Add that to the sudden need to involve the unscrupulously innocent Mr. Ike and this deal can no longer help but smell bad.

After opening a window and getting the air fresheners going, I answered as follows:

Dear Abbey:

I thank you for your kind words. The item I was seeking in Istanbul was purchased ahead of me by a Russian and so I follow with Mr. Cairo and will, hopefully, get the man to part with the statue. I can only hope the Russian will be more reasonable about things than my dealer friend in Istanbul. But that is the way of business, isn't it? Sometimes things go hard.

Speaking of business, I have attempted to reach this Mr. Ike of yours, but to no avail. I am not a man who likes difficulties in business and I hope that this is a minor one. Is that his correct number? Does he have an e-mail address? I would be pleased to write to him today, otherwise I can continue calling from St. Petersburg. Would you be willing to bring him on board for our little business venture? I am sure that since this is as important to you as it is to me, that should not be a problem. Do let me know.

Yours,
Cxxxxx Gxxxxxx

Unfortunately, the phone lines from Istanbul just don’t seem to reach all the way to South Africa. I can only hope things will improve once I get to St. Petersburg (aren’t you jealous of all the travel I get to do on this job?). I did this for a reason: To this point he thinks he has me pretty well hooked. I wanted to see what would happen if something small just didn’t go his way.

There is also a veiled threat in my letter that should not be ignored. I placed that there on purpose as well just to let my friend know that he is dealing with someone who can handle a bit of trouble and perhaps even create some of his own. These people prey upon trust and when that is exhausted they think nothing of physical violence. By talking of being reasonable and mentioning casually that sometimes business can “go hard” I have raised a question in his mind as to just who—or what—he is dealing with.

I wasn’t disappointed.
Good Morning Mr Gxxxxxx,

Kindly call me at +xx xxxxxxxxx as soon as you get hold of the lawyer, to expediate our transaction, time is of a great essence here for us. 

Kind regards,
Mr Abbey

Now it is “Mr. Abbey” and time is of the essence. This one was, no doubt, written specifically for me. There is the anxiety again and now a new formality. He will not be flexible about me calling his partner—sorry, the innocent lawyer—because that is a necessity. It is where they will ask for money. Perhaps Abbey thinks that not having anything specific in writing will somehow save him if he gets caught. Perhaps his trust is being shaken.  

Time and the Swindle
Time is your greatest asset when dealing with some unscrupulous conman like our friend Abbey.  The more relaxed about the deal you are, the more time you take to consider things, to come back with a counter proposal or an answer to a proposal from the other side, the more power you have and the more the swindler shows his hand. You can see the negative change in mood and the absolute need for a speedy resolution to the whole business. Anyone in business can tell you that is not the way to make a deal.

I think I will push Abbey’s timetable a little more by taking the discussion into a much different direction. Here is my response: 

Dear Abbey:

I write to you now from St. Petersburg. It is a bit cloudy but the temperatures are comfortable. Mr. Cairo and I have been discussing this little venture and we believe, after failing to contact your friend once more, that there is no reason to involve Mr. Ike at all. One would not like to involve an innocent party in a deal such as this. It is a simple matter of sending you a registered letter from an estate attorney in the United States. Conveniently, Mr. Cairo, being a lawyer himself, is entirely familiar with the procedures and will be more than happy to draw up the letter. He does, however, require the following information:

·        The full name of the deceased
·        His height, weight, race, hair and eye color
·        His address in both South Africa and in the United States
·        His social security number
·        The date, time and location of his death
·        The name of the airline or aircraft operator he was flying when he died
·        A photo of the deceased (if you don’t have one, perhaps a picture of you would do)
·        His employer and the position he held with that employer
·        A copy of the man’s death certificate with the certificate number clearly visible
With this information we should have no trouble with the law either in the U.S. or in South Africa! 

Sincerely,
Cxxxxx Gxxxxxxx

Let’s see what he has to say to that! 

Tracking Down the Unscrupulous
Eventually, even the most happily entertained scam-hunter just wants to know who he is talking to. To do that, I turned to some of the online tools available to me, beginning with a free site called whatismyipaddress.com. Here is the way it works: 

1.         Get the header information from the suspicious e-mail.
2.         Put this information into the e-mail trace tool and hit the button called Get Source.
I did that with Abbey’s e-mail and here is what I came up with:

The source host name is "wbs-196-2-105-2.wbs.co.za" and the source IP address is 196.2.105.2. The “wbs” in the host name stands for “Wireless Business Solutions” which we’ll see below.

That puts Abbey in Johannesburg, South Africa, specifically within 60 miles of -26.2 latitude and 28.0833 Longitude. I then learned that the IP address 196.2.105.2 had been assigned by the African Network Information Centre (AfriNIC). AfriNIC is the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) for the Africa region.

Then I decided to follow the links and dig a little deeper. I was able to get the following information based on that IP address:

% This is the AfriNIC Whois server.
% Information related to '196.2.104.0 - 196.2.111.255'
				
						inetnum
				:        196.2.104.0 - 196.2.111.255
netname:        iBurst-network
descr:          Wireless Business Solutions (Pty) Ltd, iBurst
country:        ZA
admin-c:        JD4-AFRINIC
tech-c:         JD4-AFRINIC
org:            ORG-WBSL1-AFRINIC
status:         ASSIGNED PA
remarks:        South African Wireless Broadband
notify:         admin@wbs.co.za
mnt-by:         TF-196-46-64-0-196-46-71-255-MNT
changed:        luis.chin@iburstgroup.co.za 20071001
source:         AFRINIC
parent:         196.2.96.0 - 196.2.127.255
				
						organisation
				:   ORG-WBSL1-AFRINIC
org-name:       Wireless Business Solutions (Proprietary) Limited
org-type:       LIR
address:        Wireless Business Solutions (Proprietary) Limited
address:        15 Floor Radiopark building
address:        24 Henly Road
address:        Johannesburg
address:        Gauteng
address:        2006
country:        ZA
e-mail:         samkelo.zake@wbsmobile.co.za
admin-c:        JD4-AFRINIC
tech-c:         JD4-AFRINIC
remarks:        Soth African wireless service provider
mnt-ref:        TF-196-46-64-0-196-46-71-255-MNT
mnt-by:         AFRINIC-HM-MNT
changed:        hostmaster@arin.net 20040826
changed:        hostmaster@arin.org 20040826
changed:        hostmaster@afrinic.net 20050221
changed:        hostmaster@afrinic.net 20060726
source:         AFRINIC

There was a single contact name, address and e-mail for the I-Burst Network, but I doubt that he is Abbey. More likely he works for the company that provides Abbey with his e-mail and Internet access. That is fine because they should be able to track him down and shut him down once I contact them regarding the scam. That, of course, will be after his response to my latest letter.

The one thing you should take away from all this is that you, as an Internet user, are not helpless against people like Abbey. There is a lot of advice out there as well as many tools at your disposal to keep you safe and sound on the Internet and many of them are freeware created and constantly upgraded by the Open Source community. Some of these things are web based applications like What’s My IP-Address and the various resources you can find from there; and some of these things are for sale (a few of them are even worth buying!). Your most important tool, however, is your mind. If it looks too good to be true, then it is. If it is free money—then it isn’t! If someone you don’t know risks going to prison with you over some get-rich-quick scheme, then ask yourself, why me? There is no reason for a reasonably intelligent person who is willing to protect himself from online predators should ever fall prey again.

Resources You Should Know About
The fight against online fraud is never likely to end until the scammers and lowlifes can no longer make a living that way. Law enforcement can only do so much; the rest is up to us. Here are some resources—both public and private—that you will find both useful and interesting.

United States Government
The following sites offer great information and advice on what to look for and how to avoid being a victim.

·        Department of Justice
·        Department of State
·        Federal Trade Commission
·        Internal Revenue Service

Antiscam Web Sites
These sites from the U.S., Great Britain and Nigeria are for those who are sick of the scammers and want to see something being done about them.

·        www.419eater.com
·        Spamfo.co.uk
·        Scamwarners.com
·        Phishing-fraud.com

Open Source Applications
I can personally recommend these free applications*. The Mozilla products feature great anti-scam mechanisms, G-mail has probably the best anti-spam capability around and the protection you can get from AVG and the two anti-spyware applications is better than anything you would have to pay for (so don’t!).

·        G-mail
·        AVG Free Edition
·        SuperAntiSpyware
·        Spybot Search and Destroy
* The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of America’s Best Companies