Nigeria gets tough on email fraud scammers, Sophos comments

November 27, 2003 Sophos Press Release

President Obasanjo of Nigeria
President Obasanjo of Nigeria is cracking down on email fraud

The Nigerian President has announced that the country is to launch an inquiry into email fraudsters who attempt to swindle money over the internet.

For some years, Nigeria has been well-known for being the origin of many scams, which attempt to empty the bank accounts of the unwary. As a result, Nigeria's name has been tarnished by the association.

In the scams, innocent users are typically contacted by someone based in Nigeria, who promises a share of non-existent riches. When the innocent victim forwards his confidential bank account details to the contact in Nigeria, the money sitting in the account is stolen.

President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria told the BBC that the new inquiry into the internet fraud (known as a "419" ) will examine the existing laws addressing the problem, and consider whether a new agency needs to be put in place to investigate such crimes. "The government will step up measures against these criminal activities," he said.

More than 200 people, including a federal lawmaker, have been arrested by Nigeria's anti-fraud squad since May for suspected involvement in computer fraud. Amongst those facing prosecution are the alleged masterminds of the biggest ever 419 swindle, a $180 million fraud that brought down a bank in Brazil.

Sophos has seen the 419 scam slowly develop. Initially unsolicited emails promising fantasy fortunes came from Nigeria, but other scams have claimed to originate from Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. In one of the most bizarre cases, the fraudster claimed to have obtained access to a secret $30 million fortune of the massacred Nepalese Royal Family.

"These scams are orchestrated by people who spam them en masse to millions of computer users around the world, hoping someone will fall for the trick and hand over their secret bank details," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "This is much worse than regular spam - this is a direct attempt to rob you of your savings and leave your bank account empty."

Sophos recommends that recipients of scam messages do not reply. Sophos PureMessage, which offers consolidated anti-spam and anti-virus protection, is capable of preventing them from entering business email systems.

In October, a suspected perpetrator of a similar scam appeared in an Australian court.