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E-mail scam adds to clutter

E-mail account holders at U-M and across the country repeatedly have received requests to "help" the senders retrieve their money from foreign countries in exchange for large returns. According to the FBI, the e-mails are part of a worldwide effort known as the "Nigerian Letter Scam" or "Four-One-Nine scam," a number that refers to the Nigerian criminal statute for fraud.

The Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) at the FBI reports receiving more than 600 complaints about the e-mail scheme in the past two years. The Nigerian Letter Scam has been around since the 1980s, though originally it appeared as a postal letter that originated in Nigeria or other African countries.

"Most of the perpetrators present themselves as bank auditors, directors of finance, or relatives of deceased heads of state from Nigeria or other African countries," says Capt. Joe Piersante, commander of police services with U-M's Department of Public Safety (DPS). "Our U-M e-mail accounts get hit with these 'offers' several times a week. Fortunately, no one at U-M has fallen for the scam as far as we know."

The e-mails usually offer the victims a 30 percent return for their help. The victim typically is asked to "invest" in a scheme or provide bank account information to help "retrieve" large sums of money, often $20 or $30 million, from unsafe Nigerian or African banks. At some point, the victim is asked to pay money up front to cover expenses.

"U-M staff and faculty should be aware that the University will not be able to cover losses incurred with investing in such schemes," says Dan Sharphorn, associate vice president and deputy general counsel. "These e-mails are a nuisance, but we don't want anyone falling prey to the scams."

At its Web site,, the IFCC warns people to be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as Nigerian or foreign government officials asking for help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts.

"Do not believe the promise of large sums of money for your cooperation," the FBI warns. "Guard your account information carefully."

DPS officials also offer a warning. "Recipients of these e-mails can simply delete them," Piersante says. "However, if anyone feels they are specifically targeted with suspicious e-mails or they feel they've become a victim of a scam, they should contact DPS or the FBI right away."

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