Police in Slidell, Louisiana, have arrested a local man who they say served as a middleman for a “Nigerian prince” email scam.
Michael Neu, who was taken into custody last week, faces 269 counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering for allegedly scamming people out of thousands of dollars, The New Orleans Advocate reported.
The “Nigerian prince” scam involves the receipt of an email from a supposed Nigerian prince claiming that the recipient has been named a beneficiary in a will and will inherit at least $1 million. The victim is then asked to send personal information to prove that they are on the will so the money can be transferred.
The information entered is used to con people out of their money.
“Most people laugh at the thought of falling for such a fraud,” Slidell police said in a news release. “But law enforcement officials report annual losses of millions of dollars to these schemes.”
Neu, 67, allegedly used the internet and phone to participate in hundreds of these scams, and wired money to co-conspirators in Nigeria.
The 18-month long investigation is still ongoing, “but is extremely difficult as many leads have led to individuals who live outside of the United States,” police said.
There are at least five different types of common internet fraud, according to USA.gov: data breaches, malware, phishing or spoofing, internet auction fraud and credit card fraud.
Data breaches occur when sensitive information is leaked, while malware is composed of dangerous software that can get into your computer system. Phishing or spoofing happens when a scammer uses a fake email or text message to steal your personal information.
Internet auction fraud is a fake sale of an advertised product, and credit card fraud is the unauthorized use of a credit or debit card.
The FTC describes “The ‘Nigerian’ Email Scam” as “characterized by convincing sob stories, unfailing polite language, and promises of a big payoff.” They are a kind of phishing or spoofing fraud.
Some try to steal money or an individual’s identity, and many people are even are asked to travel to Nigeria, where they are imprisoned against their will, according to the FBI.
“The Nigerian government is not sympathetic to victims of these schemes, since the victim actually conspires to remove funds from Nigeria in a manner that is contrary to Nigerian law,” the bureau said.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has received over 3.7 million complaints since its creation in 2000, averaging 280,000 complaints a year over the past five years. Since 2012, losses to victims have reached over $4.6 billion.
According to the center, 20 percent of the 266,000 reported victims in 2016 were people in their 30s and those older than 60.
Police hope the Nigerian prince scam will remind people to be cautious of suspicious emails and phone calls, and they are warning individuals not to disclose personal or financial information, according to The Advocate.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Slidell Police Chief Randy Fandal said. “Never give our personal information over the phone or 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.”
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