Gullible Britons conned out of £3.5bn by Nigerian gangs

ENDEMIC corruption has been blamed for Nigeria's notorious reputation as the centre of global mass-marketing fraud, which was yesterday revealed to cost the UK at least £3.5 billion a year.

The Office of Fair Trading said more than 3.2 million Britons had handed over cash after receiving scam e-mails, letters and phone calls.

The figures came as the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) said more than 4,500 fake cheques, postal orders and bank drafts worth more than 8 million had been seized as part of a month-long crackdown against fraudsters in Nigeria.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Nigeria has become synonymous with corruption, where it is a way of life.

"Here you pay for everything but the view," a Nigerian told a visitor to Abuja, the country's new capital.

Around the city and other urban centres, policemen run "mobile courts", running purges against offences that are unpredictable - one day "illegal" windscreen wipers, another "illegal" bumpers, the next "illegal" tyres. The only thing to do is to pay the required bribe and gain the greeting: "You are free to go. The court is over."

Chinua Achebe, the renowned Nigerian novelist, said: "Nigerians are corrupt because the system under which they live today makes corruption easy and profitable. They will cease to be corrupt when corruption is made difficult and inconvenient."

Martin Meredith, an African historian at St Anthony's College in Oxford, said Nigerian corruption had its roots in the colonial era. He said: "Many Nigerians regarded government institutions as olu oyibu - white man's business, an alien system that could be plundered when necessary.

"The same attitude prevailed with the coming of independence [in 1960]. The state was regarded as a foreign institution that could be used for personal and community gain without any sense of shame or need for accountability.

"Plunderers of the government treasury were often excused on the grounds that they had only 'taken their share'. Every facet of Nigerian society was eventually permeated by corruption."

Police said several arrests had been made and thousands of bank accounts in Britain - used by criminals to give their "work" legitimacy - had been closed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

SOCA said many victims were elderly or vulnerable, some of whom had lost their life savings after being repeatedly targeted over several years. Such victims are put on "sucker lists" by fraudsters, which are shared with other criminals.

The scams usually involve e-mails claiming to be from a person needing help in transferring large sums of money overseas, promising the recipient a share in return for their bank account details.

However, fraudsters also place job adverts online, pretending to be legitimate companies, seeking to recruit people to "process payments" for them. Other scams involve internet auction sites such as eBay.

Paul Evans, the executive director of SOCA, said: "Mass- marketing fraud is a low-value, high-volume crime. Relatively small amounts of money quickly add up to big profits.

"You may take the view that there is 'one is born every minute', but in some of the e-mails we have intercepted there are appalling examples of quite vicious exploitation, including threats of violence.

"However the scam works, the best way to stop it is to make sure that you never give out your bank details to anyone you don't know - however plausible their story."


CHARLENE Moir advertised her car for sale on internet auction site eBay - and ended up losing her rented home.

The hairdresser from Aberdeenshire lost thousands of pounds after receiving a fake cheque.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Ms Moir, 24, was sent a 5,500 cheque for her Peugeot 106 and the cost of shipping it abroad from a "buyer" in Singapore. The transaction involved her sending on 3,700 of the amount for the export.

However, despite checking with the police and being told by her bank the cheque had cleared, the bank later informed her the cheque had bounced. By this time she had withdrawn the money and sent it on.

She was told that a cheque "clears on goodwill" after three days, but the money does not arrive in a customer's account until six day after it has been received by the bank.

Ms Moir, from Banchory, said: "The money had been collected by a man in Nigeria. I was absolutely livid but there was nothing I could do about it. The bank said I was responsible and wanted the money back, plus interest."

She said she was forced to move back in with her parents.