Nigeria Calling (via Camp Hell)

You’ve all seen the charmingly-worded epistles from the Dark Continent, calling down God’s blessing on you if you can just see your way to accept a 25% share of the vast fortune the writer’s late dear daddy or foreign client left in their safekeeping. Or maybe you just won a similar amount on a lottery ticket you never bought. The Lads From Lagos and their 419 acolytes worldwide have made an art of chopping the surplus dollars of gullible First Worlders for years, and recently I almost became the beneficiary of their generosity. By day I design websites, and a couple of weeks ago received this reply to a job inquiry on Craigslist:

I am craig Denis,as a business advisory consultant, i have been contacted by a client of mine for an advisory services regarding business improvement and profit increase.Having realized the world as a global business and communication village, part of my advise is for my client to acquire a website.

A website would allow a business entity to be viewed nonlinear across the world, thus brings more clients,which in turn brings increase in business turnover. I will like to have a quote for a simple six pages website and a year hosting, having a simple contact page directed to email.
I will like to have your quote as soon as possible. Thanks
Craig Denis.

Well, syntactically it did resemble a 419er, but the net is worldwide and who knew where Mr Denis was from. Anyway over the next couple of weeks we settled on a price and I did a preliminary mockup, which his boss apparently approved, because his next letter informed me that a cheque for the first $300 would be arriving soon. It did, in an envelope with Egyptian stamps, and here it is:

A nice bonus! I suppose I could have just kept it; what could he have done? Being an honest type, though, I immediately informed him of his error, and offered to send it back. His response:

Thank you for the check received and for your honest and patient this is the payment error from my Pa i want you to cash the check and deduct your own money out the $4500 Money order and get the remaining money sent to the information below
1) Sender’s Name
2)Receiver’s Name AFOLABI OLAWALE Address Cairo Egypt
3)10 MTCN Digit Number And Amount send with charges fee from western union
I will be looking forward to read from you as soon as possible so will can talk on how the job will be completed
Best Regards

Seem reasonable? Maybe. But that name sounded more like the ones on the 419 offers than Egyptian, and inspection of the “international money order” revealed some interesting anomalies:

  • It is dated Feb 24, though my first contact was Apr 8
  • This statement is not true:

  • There is a Merchant’s Express in Camp Hill PA, but Camp Hell is the nickname for the local prison (apparently aptly named)!

Further investigation uncovered a complicated scheme whereby people are persuaded by various ruses to cash bogus money orders, deduct their share and send the rest to some faraway recipient. When the bank discovers the money order is phony, you are out the money and possibly under arrest on a fraud charge. It’s hard to believe any bank would fall for this particular specimen, so I haven’t tried, but just to give Mr Denis the benefit of the doubt, I told him the bank wouldn’t accept it and he could send me the balance via PayPal. So far he hasn’t responded. Maybe the shock of realizing that he had inadvertently sent me a bad cheque was too much for him. But my PayPal account remains unpaid.

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