Some people reading this article may have heard about "The Nigerian Cheque Scam", where someone from Nigeria sends a cheque for more than the value of something that is being offered by a seller. Likewise, cheques to be "processed" as part of some employment scheme are also included in this bracket. The premise is to get the victim to cash the cheque, and send part of the proceeds somewhere else. Later the cheque bounces, leaving the victim with a large debt to pay, and possible prosecution.
The cheques are not always sent from Nigeria though. They may actually be sent from somewhere within your own country, maybe even your own state, province or county. It could be confusing to be dealing with someone who says they are an American in Nigeria, but you are in Britain, and you get a cheque post-marked London.
Ever wondered how this is done? What goes on beneath the surface? Read on to find out more.
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME
The compilation of exchanges below have been provided to us by a potential victim of a fraud. The communications, though not totally complete, have taken place between an innocent and a Nigerian criminal. Readers are reminded that communications with criminals is hazardous to your status as a living member of society. Giving personal details to a fraudster places you, your family and your friends, in the firing line if a scammer wants retribution against you.
Whilst it is not always easy to know that person x is a fraudster before you start to communicate, anything that follows that indicates that they are a criminal should be enough to cease any further communication.
There is a saying that "Curiosity Killed The Cat" link, and this is a warning for everyone to take heed. Our potential victim was so curious that he could very easily have been mistaken for a willing participant of an international bank fraud.
In short, DO NOT attempt to "find out what it is all about", simply walk away and do not look back.
INTERVIEW WITH THE VICTIM - (PART ONE)
I interviewed the potential victim over a number of days during the compilation of this article. Below is part one of our interview, which covers the initial part of the scam.
PRINTING AND DISTRIBUTING CHEQUESJames Bigglesworth: Hello Pat, thanks for coming to talk to us.
Pat: Hi James, glad to be here and thanks for allowing this story to to be told via your forum. I hope that many people will read and learn from it.
James Bigglesworth: You are quite welcome. Let's start with some basics; Who are you and what do you d for a living?
Pat: Sure, I'm Pat [censored], forty something guy from the Manchester area of our fair land of England. I'm a Vetinary Surgeon and have a small animals practice in [censored] that has been around since my grandfathers days.
James Bigglesworth: Great, thanks for that Pat. Tell us how you came into contact with the Nigerian fraudster.
Pat: Well, our surgery isn't doing so great, so I was in need of a quick way of earning some extra cash. I know I should not have done it, but I actually responded to a spam email in my account. It was the only one I have ever answered, and by heck the only one I ever will. I didn't actually expect to get a reply, but I did.
James Bigglesworth: What was the original email all about?
Pat: To be honest it was a bit vague, which I suppose piqued my interest. The subject was "Program employment for all", but the email address that it came from was curious "email@example.com". The email was very short but said it was for helping unemployed people in their free time. I guess it was cheeky of me to reply, since I have a full-time job, but I was curious. That's when this "Samuel Morcas" responded to me.
James Bigglesworth: What did you find out from the reply?
Pat: Sam got back to me on the 8th June 2009, day after I first replied to him. He said that he was from New Jersey, but now in Nigeria, and that he was looking for someone to help him distribute his payroll cheques.
James Bigglesworth: Did he say how you were to do that?
Pat: Eventually, though his initial reply asked me if I have a good printer. I replied again saying I did, and basically asked him to tell me what he wanted.
James Bigglesworth: Did you get any further details when he got back to you?
Pat: Yes I sure did. Basically he wanted me to purchase some computer software which he called "verser check", and to buy paper and ink for printing of the cheques. Then he would send me a list of people to send cheques to. I would print out the cheques at home, using the special software, and send them out to the people he gave me.
James Bigglesworth: So, why do you think he couldn't do that himself?
Pat: Actually I never did ask him that, I just assumed that because he was in Nigeria it would take too long for the postal mail to get to the UK. If he was paying payroll, he wouldn't want to keep people waiting for their pay too long. He did also say that he would set up a FedEx or DHL account for me to get the cheques delivered, which I guess would be very expensive to use from Africa.
James Bigglesworth: Did you start to suspect anything was wrong with the offer?
Pat: Well yes and no really. I knew that I was talking to a spammer, but I really didn't think much about it. Looking back I was an idiot, and actually gave him my full name and postal address.
James Bigglesworth: Hindsight is a wonderful thing Pat. What happened next?
Pat: I was curious about the software he talked about so went on Google to see what I could find out. I managed to locate software called "VersaCheck" and the Ink he talked about called "VersaInk". It was American, so I wrote back and told him that it wasn't available for the UK.
The Ink is designated as Magnetic Ink Character Recognition which is used on cheques for compliance with US Federal and Canada Bank regulations.
James Bigglesworth: What did he say to that?
Pat: He seemed to accept it, and said he would send me the cheques in the postal mail. The last communication I had with him was on June 18th, 2009, about a week and a half after his original spam email.
James Bigglesworth: When did the cheques arrive?
Pat: Actually they didn't arrive, and I began to forget about it.
If some unknown individual offers you some form of employment and asks you to print cheques for distribution, there is only one thing to do.
It is accepted that a business will print their own cheques for the purpose of payroll. This seems to be what these scammers are hooking into for their illegal activities. If you are recruited online to participate in such a scheme you can guarantee that it is 100% illegal.
The abuse of payroll cheque printing appears to be centered around the USA. It is also quite common for US based cheque fraud to involve charities, or at least a stolen version of their cheques. This abuse is simply down to the unfortunate writings of Federal Law, nobody wins, but the victim is usually the one who pays the price.
I find that banks in the USA always blame the customer, and never accept any responsibility for a bad system. They won't fix it, because they are protected by Federal law, so why should they. Changing the law is the only way to change the lax and hugely arrogant banking attitudes, and we all know how quickly that is going to happen.
References and Further Reading The full name of the potential victim has not been shown for privacy reasons but he has accepted that the text of exchanges displayed here may identify him to the fraudster. Under normal circumstances we would never condone the posting of information that could identify a victim to a fraudster. However, we are 100% convinced that this potential victim is in no danger of any physical harm as a result. We will not discuss how we came to that conclusion.