I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction I received to my October 2009 column dealing with the infamous “Nigerian scam.” As I noted in the column, until you’ve had a chance to thoroughly understand how the scam works, you think to yourself, “I can’t believe anyone would be so gullible as to fall for that.”
After the column appeared, I heard from a dozen or so printers who wanted to share their own stories, and others who called or wrote to say that they had heard of the scam, but candidly admitted they never fully understood how it worked.
One reader who wrote was Tom Stevens from K.K. Stevens Publishing, Astoria, IL. He wrote, “Thank you for, as Paul Harvey would say, ‘now for the rest of the story.’” Stevens mentioned that he was familiar with the scam and forwarded a letter he had received, and concluded that, “We realized it was a scam when we got the first email, but we were always curious how it worked. ”
Another email came from Steve Singer, president of Micro Format. Singer’s company produces security paper products. He wrote: “Thank you for your article, John…After 25+ years in business, we have seen our share of scams. But since September I have been exchanging messages with what I thought was a company in Japan. They wanted to purchase nine cartons of security paper. I knew something wasn’t right, but I just could not put my finger on it. In Japan they use A4 size paper (8.25x11.7"), not our American standard size 8.5x11", but this didn’t seem to matter to this customer.”
Singer went on to explain a series of email exchanges with the Japanese client, including, almost in passing, the request that his company use a specific freight company located in the U.K. The U.K. freight company provided three different quotes ranging from $500 to $1,600, depending upon delivery options. Checking further with his own freight company, Singer discovered the U.K. shipper was 50% higher. When he mentioned this to the scammers, they insisted they still wanted to use their U.K. shipper and, even more surprising, wanted the most expensive shipping option!
As Singer noted in his email, “This would be the end of the story to date, until I read your article in Quick Printing magazine. What they (the scam artists) didn’t know is that there was no way we would wire transfer money anywhere (to pay for the shipping) until we had full payment in our hands. Yet, even though I knew something might be wrong, it was a tempting order, even with my 25 years of experience!
“We never considered that the scam was the freight company. Unbelievable! I knew something wasn’t right, but I could not figure out the scam. It’s all in the freight. There was no way they would use our freight company, even at half the cost. And once we would send the payment, no one would have ever picked up the product. Unbelievable. So clever.”
Rest assured, these gentlemen are the fortunate ones. There are others, hopefully few in number, who have indeed been taken by this very scam. Once the wire transfer to cover shipping charges has been sent, you are out of luck—even though you feel you are completely protected, since the money sent by the wire transfer is in your bank account as the result of a credit card deposit.
Unfortunately, the credit card you used will turn out to be stolen, and your account will be debited. And worse, you will be blessed by having 42 cartons containing 105,000 11x17" flyers imprinted in reflex blue with some wonderful, inspirational message. Probably something like, “Blessed are the stupid, for they shall inherit Nigeria.”
A California Printer Retires
I received the following email from a fellow printer. While I never had the chance to meet this printer personally, I have known of him for many years, and know his story to be true. I have used a fictional name and locale, because I don’t think it is as important to the story as are the lessons he shares. With the exception of minor edits, you can assume that what appears below is a verbatim copy of his email: