By VINCENT KALU
Have you ever got letters purportedly from your friends, telling you pathetic stories about their predicament and asking you to pay money into certain bank accounts to help them solve one problem or another? If you have, you may be a potential victim of fraudsters, who hack into the mailboxes of unsuspecting people and sending mails using the owners’ names. It’s another brand of advance fee fraud, popularly called 419, in the country.
Saturday Sun investigation has revealed how the fraudsters operate and has actually got bank account numbers they use.
Our investigation had started when letters purportedly written by Sunny Ojeriakhi were sent from his mailbox. Some curious friends who got the letters had called him to sympathise with him over the predicament the letter stated. Such unsolicited sympathy from friends threw him aback.
On enquiry, Ojeriakhi learnt that mails in his name had been sent to his friends and associates asking for financial assistance to pay his niece’s hospital bill. He has become one of those, whose electronic mailbox have been hacked into by Internet fraudsters, with the intention of duping unsuspecting people.
Checks revealed that the letters sent in Ojeriakhi’s name said that his niece was involved in ghastly motor accident and was admitted at a certain hospital. It claimed that the man was out of town, therefore, requested from each recipient the sum of N90,000 to take care of the medical bill, with a promise that he would pay back when he returned.
The letter also stated the name of the doctor treating the said accident victim and ended up with the bank account number for payment.
Narrating his experience, Ojeriakhi said that his friends could have fallen for the fraudsters if they were not smart enough to have called him, at least to first sympathise with him before making any payment. He also said some of his friends that didn’t call him knew that it was a scam mail and played along with the criminals.
He was, therefore, happy, to say: “ Nobody paid anything to them.”
According to him, when he realised that his mail had been hacked into, he couldn’t abandon the mail because of the numerous contacts he had established with it. Instead, he tried to change the password himself, but couldn’t until he called an information technology expert who helped him out.
Mr. Ojeriakhi is not the only person that has experienced similar embarrassments in the hands of fraudsters who hack into the mails of unsuspecting people and begin to send letters to the contact addresses in the mails. These letters, usually concise and straight to the point, are intended to paint a gloomy picture or predicament situation of the sender in order to elicit sympathy and favour from the receiver. The fraudsters usually bank on the assumption that any contact in an email must have a close affinity or relationship with the mail owner and, therefore, would respond by paying money as requested.
Saturday Sun investigation revealed that most time the content of the letters borders on health challenges. They also tell stories of the person travelling abroad and losing his documents and money. It’s the new face of 419 or advance fee fraud.
Just as in the case of Ojeriakhi, letters were sent out from the mailbox of Ikechukwu Amaechi, a top journalist, to some names in his contact address, saying that an agent clearing the car he shipped needed N144,000 and that because he travelled outside the country for dialysis and was currently in the hospital could not raise such money.
The letter requested that the recipient should help him pay the money, promising that when he was discharged from the hospital and returned, he would refund the money. It asked if the recipients could do as he requested, so that he would send the bank account details of his clearing agent at the port.
Saturday Sun gathered that Amaechi never travelled outside the country. Also, the journalist does not have liver problem and, therefore, needed no dialysis.
Another letter sent by scammers from the box of Femi Nasir to his friends, entitled: ‘My Dubai trip, urgent help needed,’ said that Nasir went on holiday with his family to Dubai, United Arab Emirate and was mugged. In the purported attack, the letter claimed he lost his bag containing his travelling documents, credit cards and cash, making him stranded. The letter requested for $2,450, which he would refund when he returned.
Another letter from the box of Kalu Kalu to his friends was entitled: ‘Please help.’ In the letter, written on January 22, 2013, he said he was on trip to United Kingdom and his niece had an automobile accident a night before the letter was written and needed to undergo surgery that would cost N167, 000. He requested that the amount to be lent to him, which he would pay back on his return.
The receiver of Kalu’s letter got confused and requested to know further. He got a reply introducing himself more to the receiver. The receiver got confused and decided to call Kalu. After three attempts, his number didn’t go through, making the recipient of the letter to believe that it was true. However, to be sure, he called the number again and got through. It was a scam letter.
Kalu told him that he was the seventh person to call him that morning after receiving the scam letter.
Saturday Sun followed the case of Ike Ibe, whose box was also hacked into. A letter dated February 12, 2013, with the subject: ‘Urgent,’ was sent out from his mailbox.
The letter said Ibe made an emergency trip to Ghana the previous day and that he was meant to pay N140,000 to an individual and discovered that he forgot his “token device” for online transfer in Nigeria. It requested that the payment should be made for him and noted that whatever the recipient can afford will be highly appreciated, as he would make refunds as soon as he got back over the weekend.
Our reporter had replied the mail, saying: “Sorry, Ike. I just read your mail. Please, forward the account details so I could help. Take it easy.”
Another reply came in Ibe’s name, saying: “Ok, thank you very much. Kindly make the payment to the account details below: Account name: Okeh Emmanuel G. Account number: 0228379104. Wema Bank. Let me know when you make the payment so I can contact the beneficiary accordingly. Thanks and regards.”
When Ibe realised that his mail had been hacked into, he sent a rejoinder, entitled: “Disclaimer on scam letter” to his contact addresses in his box. The letter reads: “Dear all, earlier today, an (some) unscrupulous element(s) hacked into my gmail account and sent an e-mail suggesting that I was stranded in Accra and needed financial rescue. I tried to log into the account to quickly send a disclaimer only to realise that my inbox and contacts have been wiped clean.
“I, however, sent a disclaimer using my official e-mail account, which is forwarded with this message to you at this time and decided to follow through with my yahoo mail as well. If you had earlier received an e-mail supposedly from my gmail account asking for a payment of any kind of money, please IGNORE IT as this did not originate from me. Thanks for understanding and sorry for any inconveniences.”
In the same vein, another letter said to have originated from Cdon Adinuba entitled: ‘Important matters,’ dated February 1, 2013, requested a particular receiver to pay in N200,000 to his client in Nigeria, as he was outside the country and had misplaced his “token device” for online banking and that he would refund next week when he returns home. He asked the recipient to indicate if he was going to help him in this direction, so that he can send his account details to him.
Saturday Sun had followed up by replying the mail. In the reply, our reporter wrote: “Oh my gosh. Sorry for that. Send the account details and I will act immediately.”
The fraudster, thinking that our reporter was gullible replied: “ Thanks for your response Please, find bank details for transfer below. Acct Name: Okeke Chidozie, Acct Number: 3066422672. Bank: First Bank. Let me know when u make payment as my client is waiting.”
Saturday Sun had further replied the mail, saying: “I just saw the account details you sent. Something just occurred to me. Tell the man to call me, so that we will agree on where to meet for me to hand over cash to him. I have already drawn the money. Transferring the money will slow down the process, going by the urgency of your demand.”
The fraudster had replied: “Mr. Peter is in Ijebu-Ode at present. Kindly effect transfer and revert upon confirmation.”
Saturday Sun replied also, saying: “In Ijebu Ode? What a coincidence! I am in Ijebu Ode at the moment. Let him call me and collect the cash. I will be here till tomorrow.”
That was the end of the communication, as the scammer realised his folly, but he had already given out the accounts details.
A letter written in the name of Daniel Ehiogu, from e-mail, email@example.com, is also flying around. The letter said: “I hope you are doing well. I made a trip to London and unfortunately my niece had a nearly fatal accident yesterday night and needs to undergo surgery, which needs sum 146,000 naira to start the treatment on her. I’ve made contact with my bank but it would take me 3-5 working days to access funds in my account from London. Please I am asking you to lend me some quick funds that I can give back as soon as I come back. Sorry for the inconvenience but I heard she is in a very bad condition and needs attention as fast as possible. I really need to be on the next available flight. I can forward you details on how to pay the funds to her. You can only reach me via my email for now. I await your response.”
Saturday Sun replied this mail thus: “Sorry for your niece. God who saved her from the accident will complete her healing. Please, send account number, where I could pay in my widow’s mite. Let me know when you return.”
A reply came to Saturday Sun’s mail. “Sorry for the inconveniences. I want to confirm the last mail with the doctor’s bank details, as the doctor’s mail says my niece is in a critical situation. Regards.”
Saturday Sun replied again: “Ok. When you confirm, let me have the bank details.”
Yet another mail came in response to our reporter’s mail, giving the account details, where money should be paid.
The mail said: “You are a live saver. Sorry for the inconvenience this may cause you.
This is the Doctors name: Humphery Ehoro, A/C No. 1015271441, Bank Name: UBA Plc. You can get it across to the doctor; he will handle it from there. Kindly notify me once payment is made. Thanks.”
A scam letter in the name of Chief Goddy Uwazurike, a chieftain of Aka Ikenga, is also being sent to people. The mail from firstname.lastname@example.org, entitled: Get back to me…” said: “I am sorry for having to reach out to you for help like this, as I am writing you in a tensed mood. I have no one else now to turn to. I made a quick trip out of the country and just got an information that my cousin is really sick and in the hospital. She needs to undergo an operation for critical uterine fibroid in the lower part of her womb. Now, they need money for the hospital deposit but I cannot do anything from here since am not in the country and also without my Nigeria bank account token device for an online transfer. Please, I will immensely be grateful if you can help them back home for me with the needed sum of N105, 000 (700US$) or possibly any substantial sum of amount as I promise to refund as soon as I return home shortly. Please kindly let me know if you can help, so I can forward you bank account details to pay-in/effect a transfer.”
Saturday Sun, playing along, also replied the mail, saying: “Sorry, Chief for your misfortune. Could you send the account details, so I can help?”
A prompt reply came from the other end: “Thank you for the urgent response. My cousin said she would not be able to go to the bank because of her condition and she has been waiting for the doctor treating her to collect his details but he is not around. Just tell me when you would be able to go pay it, so she can send me the details of someone that would be with her at that time or you can tell me where you are, so she would send someone to come collect it from you. I await your response.”
Saturday Sun replied again: “I would have paid today if you sent the account details as soon as I requested. However, if you send the details I will pay tomorrow using ATM.”
The replied came, stating an account detail: “She said the doctor is back and this is his account: Dr. Innocent David Goodluck, 3067794413, First Bank. Let me know immediately you do it. I await your response.”
When Saturday Sun spoke to Chief Uwazurike yesterday, he said many people, who got the mail, had called him. He said that he could not get access to the mailbox again, as those who sent out the letter, with the view to defraud his friends, had blocked his access.
With the phasing out of scam letter to foreigners, following a campaign mounted by Nigerian authorities, especially the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), outside the shores of the country, warning unsuspecting foreigners not to fall into any business proposal by con Nigerians, fraudsters have resorted to writing to Nigerians. In the new scam, every e-mail address is inundated with letters telling one story or another and asking for help.
Saturday Sun gathered that the scammer hacks into mailboxes and change the original password so that the owner would not have access to it again.
A close study of the scam letters shows that some of them are usually illiterate, with many grammatical errors.
The desperation of these cyber criminals has put the banks on their toes, as they continuously warn their customers not to update their personal information on any website because of requests by conmen to update their personal information. This message is posted on banking hall and displayed on the screen of ATM machines.
Samuel Uwem, a businessman, opened his mailbox early in the month and saw a letter supposedly from a Liberian refugee in Togo. The refugee, a lady, explained to him, how life had been hard on her and would need his assistance. The young man was carried away by the story and requested the girl to send her photograph and she did. The photograph showed a very beautiful girl with a traffic-stopping figure. The photograph hypnotised Samuel and other thoughts started coming his way. Conversation changed from Internet to phone conversation and he started planning to rent an apartment for the lady, where he would be visiting him from his matrimonial home.
The lady requested that he sent her $1, 000 through electronic transfer for her to go shopping and transport fare to Nigeria and that Samuel should come to Seme, the boarder town between Nigeria and Benin Republic, to pick her on agreed date.
The young man bought the proposal and hurriedly went to the bank and wired the money to her account. On the agreed day, he went to Seme Border to wait for her from morning and they were talking over the phone. When evening was approaching, he called again and man’s voice came of the other line, saying he was answering from FESTAC Town. He told Samuel that he was stupid and gullible and hung up.
Checks revealed that many Nigerians have been duped like Samuel.
On what to do when your mail is hacked into, Steve, an information technology specialist, said victims should change their passwords.
According to him, it is only a person who knows your password that can hack into your mail and advised that the best thing to do is to keep passwords secure, noting that instances of messages in your box asking you to update your email profile or bank account should be ignored.
Reacting to the increasing scam phenomenon, Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos State Command, Ngozi Briade, said that whenever the command arrests the people involved they are handed over to EFCC, which is statutorily set up for such crimes.