Check out these other articles on the site relating to African scams and con
Nigerian Scams on the Rise
More Reports from Readers Who Have Been Targeted by Nigerian Con Artists
Nigerian con artists who are using stolen credit cards are also trying to sucker
owners into buying and shipping expensive electronic equipment along with other
ordered merchandise. This scam is not just being tried against small
craft and homebased businesses (as indicated in my first report on this
on bookstores and other retail outlets, manufacturing companies, even individual
sellers on eBay. If you have any kind of presence on the Web, you may be contacted
by one of these guys sooner or later.
BE AWARE! Spread the word to your business
friends by linking them to my reports on this topic.
in the Middle! The Plight of Relay Telephone Operators Nationwide
September, 2006 Report by Barbara Brabec
DUPED BY A PEN PAL IN AFRICA:
A New Kind of Merchandise Con Game
Here’s a report on a new type of merchandise con game anyone could easily
fall for–particularly children who are looking for pen pals on the Internet.
I HAVE RECEIVED
countless reports from readers about Nigerian scams
that I may never have time to publish, but what follows is an amazing
story of a merchandise con game different from any I’ve ever heard
about. It has been referred to by authorities as a "re-mailing scam,"
but it’s unlike the stories I turned up on Goggle when I searched for
this phrase. If this sort of thing is happening in a small town in
Wisconsin, it’s probably happening in towns and cities all over the
This reader’s story illustrates the danger of giving your address to
a stranger on the Web that you think you know because you’ve been
exchanging e-mails for awhile (as in a new pen-pal relationship, or
someone you’ve met in a chat room). The other message in this story is
how difficult it might be for you to receive help if you are victimized
by a con artist.
See also this new report,
received May, 2007 from another mother whose daughter was caught in this same scheme.
I first heard from Deanna Ludwig in mid-April of 2006, after she
found my series of articles on African con artists. She contacted me
not only because she needed help, but because she wanted to warn others to
avoid the situation she found herself in.
"I'm not a business owner or operator, but I am a mom with a
17-year-old daughter who has been duped by her pen pal in Africa,"
Deanna wrote. "My daughter first met Emmanuel (from Ghana) after going
to some international pen pal web site about a year ago. She recently
told me that he had been asking her for her home address almost since
they met, but she didn't give it to him until about two weeks ago, and
only then because he asked her if he could send her a gift as a token of
Shortly afterwards, FedEx dropped Emmanuel’s "gift" on the Ludwig’s
porch–some computer software items valued at over $800 that no one knew
what to do with. Then, day by day for several days in a row, more
packages were delivered, literally overwhelming the family. Items in
these first packages included a Nike woman’s outfit, three pair of men’s
tennis shoes in assorted sizes, and four pair of men’s jeans. These were
soon followed by several boxes of men’s clothing, shoes, more software,
and some collector stamps. (Later, the family learned that Emmanuel had
also signed up Deanna’s husband for some audio/Internet class course in
London for a cost of $500.)
When Nikki questioned Emmanuel online about all this, he said to just
send the computer items and some of the shoes to his ‘cousin’ in
Kentucky, and the rest of the items to him in Ghana, explaining that his
"cousin" didn't have a green card yet and he was afraid to have anything
sent to him because it would draw attention to him. When Nikki told him that her
mom wouldn't allow her to do this, and that she was concerned that
something wrong was taking place, Emmanuel was quick with excuses,
assurances, and apologies.
"Nikki told him that I would be contacting the companies to return
the items and letting them know we were victims of a scam," Deanna
wrote. "I personally wrote to Emmanuel after even more packages
continued to arrive. He said that he had foolishly given Nikki's address
to a friend, and that it had been his friend all along who was having
packages ordered and sent to Nikki's home. (With all that had been said
by him from the beginning of this mess, this couldn’t be true. But he
continued to maintain his innocence.)"
Meanwhile, Deanna was doing some serious investigating. Very
interesting, what she discovered. In calling each of the companies that
had shipped the various packages, she learned that all orders had
supposedly been made by her daughter, using various credit cards in her
daughter’s name (but her daughter didn’t own a credit card). Further, her
daughter’s telephone number was on record for each of these bogus cards,
but all the telephone numbers used with the cards were false
numbers. Some companies had two accounts in her daughter’s name because
Emmanuel had changed the spelling of her name and switched the numbers
around in her false phone number.
Once Emmanuel realized none of the packages were being remained, he
began to bombard Nikki with telephone calls, sometimes as often as fifty
times before 7 a.m. "He would try calling from many different numbers
hoping she would answer one that she didn't recognize on her caller ID,"
Deanna said. "He even used the relay operator a few times making us
think it was someone deaf or with a speech problem. He had other people
call on his behalf, too, and they were not always kind."
My Advice to Deanna When She Wrote for Help
It was at this point that Deanna wrote to me for advice, sharing all
of the above information in several e-mail messages. One company (Old
Navy) told Deanna that the card Emmanuel had given them had a
stop-payment on it, and since the package they had shipped had a return
label, Deanna returned that merchandise. But she was amazed to find that
none of the other companies seemed to care about getting their
merchandise back. "I offered to return all the merchandise if the
companies would pay the shipping charges, but none of them got back to
me on this," Deanna said. "We are being bombarded with phone calls, my
living room is now filled with boxes or expensive merchandise, and I
don't know what to do. We don't have the extra money to ship everything
back to the companies in question."
Never having encountered such a situation before, I offered the best
logical advice I could think of. "Immediately contact your local police
department and explain to them what has happened because there might be
more at work here than you know," I counseled in an e-mail. "Explain to
them that you have been victimized, and you want this merchandise
removed from your home, that you cannot afford to ship it back to the
companies in question (perhaps the police will contact them on your
behalf?), and that you have been victimized here and don't know what
else to do.
"Also tell the police that you are frightened about retribution from
this ‘cousin in Kentucky’ who can easily find out where you live and
might end up on your doorstep some day demanding this merchandise. If
Emmanuel gave you the address for this ‘cousin,’ be sure to give it to
the police and perhaps they can check out this guy. If by chance the
police department doesn't give you the help you need, then you should
contact the editor of your local newspaper and tell them the whole
story. In fact, you should do this anyway if you want to spread the word
about this scam. It's the first I've heard of it, and this suggests to
me that it's a ‘new twist’ they're now pulling that others are going to
"I assume you have the addresses of all the companies who shipped
this merchandise to your home, so I think what you should do next is
send each of them a letter (and keep a copy for your files) addressed to
their credit department (since they are the most likely to want their
money back). Explain who you have already contacted about this matter,
and tell them you’re sitting with merchandise some con artist ordered
from them with a stolen credit card, and you want them to send you a
postage-paid return label so you can return the merchandise. And if they
do not send this label within two weeks, tell them you will donate this
merchandise to Good Will or otherwise get rid of it because you don't
want it sitting in your house. Also, for your added protection, make a
copy of these letters and give them to the Police Department so there is
NO QUESTION about your having any liability in this case."
I also told Deanna to contact the FTC, and suggested she consider changing her telephone number to
stop the relentless telephone calls.
No Help From Anyone!
A couple of weeks later, Deanna gave me another update. I was stunned
to learn that she was not getting any help from anyone! She wrote:
"I tried contacting the FTC via their web page, but they must have
been having trouble with their site at that time. I'm currently trying
to get a copy of my daughter’s credit reports to make sure these people
didn't open any credit cards in her name or do any damage to her credit.
I did contact a particular division of the FBI that deals with Internet
fraud (using their IC3 Complaint Referral Form). After filling out this
form, I was advised to keep any and all evidence, and also got the
message that, basically, because they have SO MANY different cases, if
mine isn't as important as others, they may or may not investigate it.
"I also reported all this to our local police department who came out
and took our statement, but refused to take the packages. In so many
words, they told us ‘good luck, there's not much the local police can do
about a guy in Africa.’ But we did learn from the police department that
we weren’t the only one in our town that this had happened to, or was
happening to (thank you very much)."
At this point, I again urged Deanna to take her story to the media,
to both her local newspaper and television station, pointing out that
now, the story here--in addition to the scam itself--was Deanna’s
inability to get any help from the FTC, the FBI, or the police. She
later wrote back saying she did write to her newspaper, but it was the
local TV station who finally brought her story to light.
Basically, once WSAW-TV brought this problem to light (embarrassing
the local police department, I’m sure), the police got more involved.
A local detective was interviewed for the story as well, and he called
Deanna the next morning to discuss her case and take the packages off
her hands. "He said he wasn't aware of our situation until the TV
station talked with him about it," Deanna reported. "I was thrilled that
he was going to remove all those boxes!"
The police not only took all the packages out of Deanna’s home, but
took responsibility for returning the merchandise to the companies
involved, started communicating with the credit card companies about
this "re-mailing scam," and announced publicly that they were educating
all the officers on the force about this scam and, in future, would be
taking all "evidence" off victim’s hands. (Interesting, isn’t it, how a
shot across the bow from the media can spring officials to action?)
Later, a woman from the station called Deanna and asked her to do a
follow-up interview because the station had received so many hits on
their Web site about her story. Their report still appears on
WSAW-TV's Web site.
Five months after Deanna first reported this scam to the FTC and the
FBI, she had not heard anything back from either of them. While the FTC
maintains it "works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive
and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide
information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them," it doesn't
seem to do much once a consumer has fallen victim to a fraudulent or
deceptive con game.
Deanna thought she was through with this mess when the police took
responsibility for the packages and communication with the various
companies involved, but she's still being aggravated by this situation,
as she explained in her last message to me:
"The police must have started mailing some of the items back
to some of the companies; however, instead of adjusting credit cards in
every case, some have mailed checks to our daughter in the
amount of the refund. I'm sure we'll have to return them to the police
once I contact them about the checks since it would be considered
evidence once again."
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