Three days ago, my phone rang just after 9:36 p.m. The caller ID indicated that the call was from Nigeria. Thinking that a relative or friend was ringing me up, I answered with great warmth.
"Hello," bellowed an unfamiliar voice at the other end. "My name is Reverend Bashiru Bakare," he continued, speaking with fervid acceleration. "I'm the director of international transactions with First Bank of Nigeria. I'm calling about your money. You have been trying to collect your money right?"
"Yes, indeed," I said, affecting as American an accent as possible. This was not the first time I would receive a phone call from a 419-scam artist on the prowl for a fool with the right combination of gullibility and greed. Just three weeks ago, a phone from an alleged official of the Central Bank of Nigeria had woken me up about 2 a.m. As soon as he said he was calling regarding my money, I answered in a terse, harsh tone and hung up. I was too groggy from interrupted sleep to indulge the fake banker. Even so, it was about an hour before I could once more lose myself in sleep. Lying awake, exasperated, I had plenty of time to regret that I had not strung along the caller. It would have been a sweet, if imperfect, revenge if I had encouraged the indolent fraudster in the hope that I was a potential "mugu," as the victims of Nigerian-style scams are called.
On Monday night, with another 419-ner on the phone, I saw an opportunity for some symbolic pay back.
"How long have you been trying to collect your money?" the caller asked.
"About five years," I replied.
"What's the exact amount you're owned?"
"Four point five million dollars."
"Have you been paying any money to anybody here in Nigeria to help you get the money?"
I told him that I had a Nigerian agent named Mr. Bassey who had been helping to collect the money. My agent, I said, was responsible for tipping Nigerian officials to secure the release of my money. I then reimbursed Mr. Bassey for any monies he paid in bribes.
"How much have you reimbursed Mr. Bassey so far?" he queried.
"A little more than a hundred thousand dollars."
"When was the last time you sent him money?"
"Two weeks ago."
"How much did you send him?"
"Eight thousand five hundred dollars."
The caller's excitement became palpable. His throat seemed to choke from sheer frenzy. His voice took on a new flourish. I could hear the soft gasps of a schemer who had smelt blood.
He asked for my name. Bernard Williams, I said. Did I know the name of the bank where my money was trapped? Yes, UBA, I told him. Could I give him my address in the States? I gave him a fake address. What was the name of my bank in the U.S.? I gave him the name of a bank where I have no account. Doubtless assured that I was a pliable mugu, he asked pointedly: "Give me your account number?"
Feigning surprise and alarm, I asked: "Why should I give you my account number?"
In a composed voice, he retorted: "You see, Mr. William, God has sent me to help you. Listen carefully to what I'm going to tell you. It's a secret, but I have to tell you because I'm an ordained man of God. Why do you think Mr. Bassey has not been able to get your money for five years?"
"He has been trying," I said, lacing my tone with a touch of naivety, "but government officials keep frustrating him. He came close to getting out the money about three months ago, but he said there was some political instability in the country. That's what derailed things."
He laughed with the air of a man who is privy to some uncommon truth. "There was never any political instability. Do you know that the man you hired to help you was colluding with the Central Bank governor to steal your money?"
"Mr. Bassey?" I asked, as if in stunned disbelief.
"Yes!" he exclaimed. "But God is on your side. That's why I'm calling you today. In fact, the federal government under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo found out about the plan to steal your money. That's why the government transferred the money to my bank, First Bank of Nigeria. I've been trying to find you because I want to wire your money to you within forty-eight hours."
To my astonishment, Mr. "Bashiru Bakare" told me that the total amount due me was $9.5 million. The money had earned a stupendous interest. He ordered me (yes, his tone was brusque, peremptory) to immediately send him an e-mail with details of my home address, fax number, account number and bank address. He gave me his e-mail address as firstname.lastname@example.org. He gave me his "direct line" at First Bank (01.470.7930) and his cell phone (0802.455.7484), telling me I was welcome to reach him "twenty-four hours a day."
After instructing that I send him the required information without delay, the caller warned me not to betray his confidence by talking to Mr. Bassey about our conversation. "Mr. Bassey is visiting London," I told him, "and I'm going to call him right away to fire him as my agent. I'm delighted that God sent you to help me."
"Please don't do something foolish," he scolded. "You must not tell Mr. Bassey that you're working with me. If he find out, he can move fast and collude with government officials and you'll never see your money. I'm going to fax you a letter as soon as I receive your e-mail. When you read the fax, you'll see what I'm about to do for you. Then you should contact me through my cell phone. Within two days, your money will be in your account."
Throughout our conversation, my would-be defrauder kept harping on his identity as "a man of God." Many a statement was prefaced with divine invocation. He confided that his predecessor in the office of international transactions had been found culpable in corruption, and then fired. "The bank appointed me as a man of God to take over. My job is to ensure that you get your money."
My caller and I spent more than thirty minutes on the phone. Once, when the call was disconnected, he rang back within a minute. At one point I told him that I was a Christian myself, and that I attended the same church with a Nigerian named Okey Ndibe. "Mr. Ndibe is a writer," I said. Then I asked: "Do you happen to know him?" He exhibited an impatient tone. "Let's talk first about your money. That's the important thing."
The conversation was redolent of comic relief, but it was also deeply sad. Here was a young man, perhaps educated but jobless, "working" hard at making a living by selling tall tales and dud schemes to the credulous and gullible. Here was a talent (for, truth be told, it takes a certain kind of talent as well as bravado to orchestrate some 419 schemes) wasting itself in pursuit of easy wealth. To make a career out of filching people is reprehensible, but I had to recognize that here was a monster birthed by a collective malaise, weaned on a culture that valorizes wealth, however crooked and illicit the manner of its accumulation.
Over the last two weeks, a Florida-based friend of my father-in-law's from the 1950s has been inundated with all manner of 419 e-mails, their contents and schemes ranging from the professional to the amateurish, from the hilarious to the hopelessly inept. He has made a point of forwarding his daily hoard of 419 solicitations to me. His daily harvest is truly astounding, surpassing ten e-mails on a good (or is it bad?) day. The hawkers of fantasies and scams, their conjurations matching the explosion in their number, seem determined to spread their dragnet. They blanket the Internet with an abandon that bespeaks their desperation to strike it rich. They pound fax machines. They peddle their ware over the phone. In fact, theirs is an enterprise fertilized by technology. Never before had a scam found such amplitude of technological facilitation.
How did it end with my 419 caller? In the midst of his prattle, I suddenly spoke in pidgin. "Mr. 419," I said, "you no dey shame?" He fell silent, (no doubt) startled witless. In a moment, the phone clicked off as well, leaving me with the dull sound of a dial tone.
Re: .My 419 Call
Planet1899 posted on 09-06-2006, 10:39:04 AM
Very good, Okay....I hope he learned his lessons. Stupid %#%#%#%#%#. The Planet.
Re: .My 419 Call
Gwobezentashi posted on 09-06-2006, 10:48:24 AM
A Nigerian in the U.K received a call recently to say his perfectly healthy sister in Lagos was dying and then the caller promptly rang off. Worried sick he tried to reach his sister without success as her phone had been stolen. He then tried to trace the number of the caller without success. So he placed a few other calls and was assured that all was well with his sister.
Apparently, this is another variant of the 419 scam in which the unwary are prevailed upon to send money for fictitious hospital bills. He is now waiting for the earlier caller to try again so he can have a go at 419 baiting.
That these things are still going on in spite of the EFCC's efforts tell us that some people will not give up their nefarious ways no matter how high the price. Suppose it's like the armed robbery menace. Public executions never stopped the Oyenusis or Aninis or Rambos of this world. Vigilance is what would protect us and perhaps a good sense of self preservation or humour too.
Re: .My 419 Call
EezeeBee posted on 09-06-2006, 10:52:33 AM
Reading your account of the 419 call, I alternated between laughter and despair: laughter that anybody could even fall for such a ridiculous yarn and despair that, as you said, a seemingly intelligent individual like that could believe that this would be his ideal way to 'score' in life.
As a society, Nigeria is in dire need of heroes; this guy could use his skills as a telemarketer. I can imagine his initial delight when he sensed he'd lucked upon a 'gullible mark'. This whole article though goes to underscore my belief that 4-1-9 CANNOT occur without extreme greed and a prediliction to CRIMINALITY on the part of the 'victim'.
A call/e-mail comes your way, promising you money you KNOW you neither earned nor merit; what do you CHOOSE to do? Hang up/delete the e-mail, or engage the caller in conversation to find a way to 'get' the MONEY YOU DID NOT EARN?
Mr. Ndibe strung the caller along for a little while for his amusement, but I believe most 'victims' of this particular 'brand' of 4-1-9 are WANNABE CRIMINALS who reach the inescapable end of all 'cunny men'; they are buried by 'superior cunny'!
Re: .My 419 Call
VOR posted on 09-06-2006, 11:16:38 AM
Nice one Okey..you should have strung him along for much longer.
What gets me about this is, most people in Nigeria seem to use God as some sort of tool in their various criminal/anti social activities. Is this what Christianity is doing to Nigeria and Nigerians? These days when someone tells me he/she is a man/woman of God or a born again, I become wary of the person. Let me know the you first, before I decide the kind of person you are. period!!
Re: .My 419 Call
Crimsonbabe posted on 09-06-2006, 11:20:58 AM
I totally agree that most of the victims of so called 419 got exactly what they deserved. Because how can you engage someone offering you millions of $ that you 100% know that you did not earn and expect to come out on top. I have thought about this a bit and have come to the conclusion that the victims especially the Oyibo ones must think these africans are really mugus and will just make you rich for no reason. So i say "you get what you deserve"!
Imagine if Mr Ndibe went ahead and sent his details and came back next week to say he'd been 419'ed after that absurd phine conversation, I will stick my tongue out and say "Ntoo" - good for you
Having said that, i feel sorry for the unwitting victims who they use heartbreaking and other stories to get money from like "your mama is dying in the village" etc and you send money... so for me if you get 419'ed because of your greed, na you sabi, for other reasons, then I feel for them
Re: .My 419 Call
Oghre posted on 09-06-2006, 11:30:35 AM
EezeeBee is right, if the countries where these greedy white criminals were to impose prosecution and punishment on the victims themselves for accessory to commit all sorts of financial criminalities (including trying to bleed Nigeria of her wealth) then you will see these 419ers will have very little work to do and subsequently the crime will be a thing of the past.
That is not the case; the sheer greed of these people keeps the 419 machine roaring, and subsequently they will continue to suffer at the hands of these conmen.
Who said black people were not smart? Sad as it may be, the western world is getting their ass kicked by even little kids in surulere.
Re: .My 419 Call
EezeeBee posted on 09-06-2006, 11:31:51 AM
CrimsonBabe, that is why I was specific to say "this particular brand of 4-1-9". Definitely, the people I have sympathy for are the kind who lose money because someone cons them with heartbreaking stories and the kind who pay genuinely for an article, say a car, and find that they were given a fake bank draft.
This 'brand' of 4-1-9 only works on would-be CRIMINALS abi how you see am?
Re: .My 419 Call
Crimsonbabe posted on 09-06-2006, 12:06:34 PM
Na so I see am oh!, my brother
Re: .My 419 Call
Abamieda Wanderer posted on 09-06-2006, 12:09:12 PM
Nice Article Okey, that was really interesting.
VOR please do not be surprised that common criminals are using God's name in their job. Remember you are talking about Nigeria where we have people that have become billionaires using God's name by establishing churches. Some of them now own Airlines and private jets and other unnecessary and extravagant toys.
I remember an article I read a couple of weeks ago when Mallam Ribadu said that EFCC found 5Billion Naira in the account of one female pastor that died recently. Please tell me you don't know who that is.
Unfortunately this act is in every fabric of our society home or abroad from our leaders and respected elders to the little criminals in Surulere or Festac town and the lazy but party loving %#%#%#%#%#s in the US, UK, Ireland..... That do not want to earn wealth honestly
What a shame.
Re: .My 419 Call
Picasso posted on 09-06-2006, 12:44:25 PM
Interesting story, Prof.
Good for you say you get better American accent. Him for don catch those of us with "thick" naija accent from the very first time we say 'Hello?'.
You could have sent him an email (not with your usual email address of course) and attached a 50 MB document titled "My Bank Account Info" but filled with blank pages or junks and the word "THIEF!!" in bold fonts on the first page. It will take him quite a long time and cost him money to download such attachments from cyber cafe in Surulere.
If you really want to make him suffer, change the file extension on the attachment to something weird. When he writes back to say he can't open it, resend the same file with a different file extension. String him along for about 5-10 emails before correcting the extension to .doc. It wont cost you anything but it would cost him a lot. Plus he'll almost have a heart attack anticipating your emails.