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Nigerian Scam Letters

By Glen Stephens

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My column in the "September" magazine carried a story about those "scam" letters from Nigeria bearing crude photocopied "stamps". The question was posed as to how these totally laughable "stamps" ever get through the mail in the first place.

The US Postal Service (USPS) has partly answered that question. In the last 6 months of 1998 some 2 million of these letters have been seized. They announced this at a press conference in New York city in November.

Linn's Stamp News reports that the PO has even posted information about this swindle on a government Internet website:

The site is described as like a miniature museum of mail fraud, with all kinds of colour images of fake stamps, fake covers and fake mater franking.

The US Postal Service now admits that these letters to Americans have arrived in the millions of pieces in the past, which is far more than was widely imagined. "Eight out of 10 bags of mail we receive from Nigeria contain fraudulent letters" said Frank Umoski, USPS Operations Manager at JFK Airport in New York.

Due to the crackdown by USPS on mail from Nigeria, the scam artists have begun mailing letters from neighboring West African countries. Ghana has already agreed to close their doors to the racket, and other counties in the region are expected to join them shortly.


I am sure most readers of this magazine have received those "scam" letters from Nigeria.

Certainly anyone with a small business will have seen them, as these people seem to take addresses from white and yellow pages directories, and all kind of business directories.

The wording, and the names, and the approach vary enormously, but for those who have never received one, the usual scenario goes like this.

Some Nigerian writes, usually claiming to be high-up in a bank, oil company or Government etc, saying they have been given your name as someone that can be trusted to assist them. They of course have access to 50 Zillion in funds they want to illegally sneak out of the country. All you need to do is supply $100,000 or so up-front to fund the lawyers, "expenses" and a few bribes, and you will be rewarded with say 10 Zillion dollars tax free.

"Only a complete brain-dead moron could fall for this nonsense" I hear you say. Wrong! HUNDREDS of Australians have contacted the Federal Police to complain about being ripped off. One quite intelligent sounding guy was on a national TV program recently, openly admitting he had lost $300,000 to these most unlikely con artists.

In the USA the problem is rampant. The FBI claims this scam is in fact the second biggest "Industry" in Nigeria, creating national income second only to the oil business. The USA are threatening trade sanctions and withdrawal of aid against the Nigerian Government unless they crack down on it. If you think like me that those in Government as profiting from it, great minds think alike, and I bet not too much cracking down happens.

There is a famous expression - "If it sounds too good to be true it probably is". That does not take into account human greed, and that is what these guys play on. The laughable pidgin English and atrocious spelling used in most of the letters use would surely make the dopiest person suspicious, but NOT always it seems.

Many potential "millionaires" go to Nigeria to collect the loot, and only get an automatic pistol in their ear and a request to "hand over whatever is in the briefcase Mon". Some great investment!

Anyway, what has all this to do with stamps you must be asking. Well, next time you or a friend gets one of these scam letters in the mail, take a close look at the stamps used to frank the envelopes. I must have received 5 or 10 over the years, and recall they were all on cruddy quality, dark brown coarse paper envelopes. That, and the nonsense inside had me idly toss them away.


I read an article in Linn's Stamp News where they announced the actual postage stamps on these envelopes were invariably fakes. Lo and behold, the next day I got another one. The 50N "Rock Bridge" stamp did look incredibly rough, even by African standards.

Linn's says the stamps are produced by colour photocopying a sheet of genuine airmail stamps. Sure enough, the stamp off my letter (illustrated nearby) would not fool a blind goatherd. The colours are terribly poorly registered, being a few mm out of alignment, and very "garish". The colour photocopier serviceman must have gone on holiday in Nigeria! (Maybe some cretin sent him $100,000?)

The stamp had been "perforated" crudely with what honestly looks to be a sewing machine. That had not worked too well, so the sender has cut it out with scissors anyway. I lifted up a corner to see if it was pre-gummed. Thin paper like photocopy paper, not stamp paper, and no gum ... just a trace of glue paste.

What a rough lot. The "cancel" also appeared to be fake. It tied the stamp to the envelope with a "Lagos Nigeria" cds, but it had no central date line. It looked like it was a rubber stamp. So, what we have here is a blatant postal forgery used on the International mail, pushing a dodgy scam, and cancelled with a forged canceller. Nice items for the stamp collector to put away.

The Linn's article even had an example of a fake postage meter label inscribed "Lagos" and "Postage Paid". A pretty dumb thing to fake, as postage meters are NOT used in Nigeria!

These articles are all Copyright © 1999 Glen Stephens. They may NOT be reprinted or used without written permission. However, permission will be granted for virtually any reasonable useage purpose, providing full and correct attribution to the writer and magazine is given. Applicable scans from articles in black and white or color can also be arranged to be E-mailed to you.

Above is one of my Market Man "Tipster" columns published in the Australasian STAMPS Magazine.


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