The “Nigerian prince” letter, one of the better-known frauds, is often perpetrated by mysterious figures. But the police in Louisiana say they’ve put a face and a name to a man and charged him with more than 200 counts related to the scheme, reports New York Times.
The man, identified as Michael Neu, 67, of Slidell, La., is suspected of being the middle man in hundreds of financial transactions designed to con money from victims across the United States by phone and online, with some of that money wired to co-conspirators in Nigeria, Detective Daniel Seuzeneau of the Slidell Police Department said in a statement.
The 18-month investigation is continuing but is “extremely difficult as many leads have led to individuals who live outside of the United States,” the statement said.
Mr. Neu, who was charged with 269 counts of wire fraud and money laundering, was being held on Sunday at St. Tammany Parish Jail in Covington, La. It was unclear whether he had a lawyer.
The police did not say how many people Mr. Neu was accused of swindling. A police spokesman did not respond to messages on Sunday.
In one version of the Nigeria scheme, which often begins with a letter sent via email, the author claims to be a government official who wants to share a percentage of millions of dollars being transferred illegally out of Nigeria.
Victims are often asked to provide bank names and account numbers and other identifying information. They are also asked to send money. The author of the letter then falsely vows to reimburse all expenses as soon as the victim’s funds leave Nigeria. Of course, the promised money does not exist.
In other cases, the letter-writer will claim that the recipient is named as a beneficiary in a will, and asks for personal information in order to send over an inheritance.
The Nigeria scheme predates email.
As early as 1989, business executives in Britain received word via Telex that in exchange for some cash a tanker of Nigerian crude oil “could have its cargo claimed for bargain prices,” The New York Times reported in 2014.
The fraud went global when oil prices crashed in the 1980s along with Nigeria’s national economy.
If you receive a letter or email from Nigeria asking for personal or banking information, the F.B.I. recommends sending it to the Secret Service, your local F.B.I. office or the Postal Inspection Service. You may also use the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant or the F.B.I.’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
While such schemes might be dismissed as laughable, the public loses millions of dollars each year through such frauds, the police said in the statement.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Chief Randy Fandal of the Slidell Police Department said in the statement, adding that “Never give out personal information over the phone, through email, cash checks for other individuals or wire large amounts of money to someone you don’t know. 99.9 percent of the time, it’s a scam.”