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Sorted: Gold-fingered; COPS NAB TWO BEHIND MASSIVE EMAIL FRAUDS.

Byline: Andrew Penman & Michael Greenwood

AN international sting has snared two godfathers behind a multi-million- pound fraud.

British police joined forces with South African officers to catch the pair of key villains behind a global scam repeatedly exposed by Sorted.

We have warned how conmen claim to be highly-placed Africans who say they've siphoned millions of dollars from government contracts.

It's called the "419" fraud, so-called after the Nigerian law which makes it illegal.

It works like this...

The crooks promise you a cut of the non-existent pot of gold if you help move the money out of their country.

Victims are asked for a small sum to set the ball rolling, but end up paying thousands more on the pretence of bribing officials or hiring lawyers and armed guards to complete the deal.

The scam used to begin with unsolicited letters but the fraudsters have now turned to email.

Only this week we saw one which began: "Appeal for urgent business assistance. Permit me to inform you of my desire of going into business relationship with you."

It allegedly came from one Alexander Samuel of the Ivory Coast who claimed to have access to $23.5million, about pounds 15million.

Victims who take the bait lose enormous sums.

So far this year five people in Britain have handed over more than pounds 250,000, three have lost more than pounds 300,000, one lost pounds 430,000 and one pounds 1.4million.

Scores of people have lost smaller amounts, the victims often re-mortgaging their homes to find the cash. Police believe much of the swindled cash is used to fund drug trafficking.

Some of the fraudsters are so vile they have even targeted charities. To claim the fictitious bequest the charity has to put up money to "process" the deal.

But now it's finally gone horribly wrong for two of the prime culprits.

Their downfall began when they snared a 26-year-old student from London. After handing over pounds 8,000 he realised that he was being fleeced and contacted Scotland Yard, who informed the National Criminal Intelligence Service.

NCIS are global experts at this sort of fraud and saw their chance. They persuaded the victim to play along and arrange a meeting, at which the student promised to hand over more money.

This time it was the conmen who were being set up and officers from Britain and South Africa pounced. The two fraudsters were Nigerians with fake South African papers - Francis Chinuwda Ibe, 27, and Jude Okechukwu Onugoagu, 31.

A spokesman for NCIS told us: "We are always delighted when people like this are caught and, in a partnership with South Africa, we think we have two of the key players."

Apart from the arrests, the good news is that the public is getting wise to the scam.

Last year victims lost an average of pounds 35,000, this year the figure is nearer pounds 22,000.

"People are still falling for it but, partly as a result of greater awareness, they realise earlier that they are being scammed and pull out," said the NCIS spokesman.

If you get one of the 419 emails forward it to NCIS at 419@spring39.demon.co.uk.

They need your evidence. It could help put the two Nigerian conmen and their mates in jail for 10 years.

CAPTION(S):

WATCH IT: How we warned readers of the scam; NICKED: Fraudster Jude Okechukwu Onugoagu; NICKED: Fraudster Francis Chinuwda Ibe
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 14, 2002
Words:576
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