“Naeem Ibrahim Atiea” has a problem. His father was a cabinet minister for “Muhammad Gadaffi,” but when it was learned the elder Atiea didn’t support the Libyan president’s political ideology, he was killed, his property was burned and his investments were confiscated. Before his death, Atiea’s father deposited $3.7 million in a bank in Côte d’Ivoire, an African country along the Ivory Coast.
“I need your help in the transfer of the fund I wish to request for your assistance in investing this sum in lucrative venture or manufacturing and real estate management in your country,” the 19-year-old Atiea wrote in an email.
“The death of my father and family member actually brought sorrow to my life. I also want to invest the fund under your care because I am ignorant of business world. What percentage of the total amount in question will be good for you after the money is in your account? Can you honestly help me from your heart?”
Atiea is actually a participant in a variation of a “Nigerian scam.” Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson said the Nigerian Scam is just one of several genres of underhanded tactics identity thieves have been known to use. A typical Nigerian Scam would be asking for money to send contest winnings to the victim, but the story often varies from scammer to scammer.
“The reason why it’s called the Nigerian Scam is because it was developed down there and it’s prevalent in email, chat rooms and what not. You’ll get that on the phone occasionally.”
Before taking his position with the Valley City Police Department, Thompson said he investigated identity theft cases, and said even when an arrest was made, the stolen information was often shared or sold to other thieves.
Identity thieves look for any type of identifying information on a potential victim, including date of birth, social security number, credit card information, bank accounts and other things people might not even think to keep secret.
“The name of your mother is a particularly popular one because that’s what a lot of websites look for,” Thompson said. “Any information that identifies an individual person is really what they’re looking for.”
Thompson said the best offense against ID thieves is a good defense: “Do anything that you can to safeguard that information ... An honest business will not ask you for that information, that’s usually a flag right up front if somebody is asking for that information. That being said, there are times when that’s appropriate, but that’s when you’re fully aware of who you’re talking to. It’s a case by case basis, and if somebody’s looking for something, you have to be careful of what you give them.”
Possible scams can take many forms. The Times-Record recently and unwittingly printed a help wanted ad in the classifieds page that turned out to be a scam. Publisher J. Reed Anderson said in 15 years, this is only the second time a fake ad like that made it into a paper under his watch.
“It happened because every once and a while, they get lucky,” Anderson said. “No matter how many deterrents and safeguards we have, it does on occasion just happen.”
Anderson said the ad was written in perfect English, which is extremely rare for a scam, and the credit card number used to pay for the ad was valid.
“Poor English is actually a filtering device used by the scammers. We don’t get as as far as the credit card unless the ad seems genuine. It was written well and didn’t have any of the signs of being a typical scam,”
Anderson said one of the things he looks for in the hundreds of emails the Times-Record receives is from where the email was sent. From now on, the TR will delete any potential request for an ad sent from yahoo, hotmail and gmail addresses he said.
The Federal Trade Commission said if you feel your personal information has been compromised, immediately contact your financial institutions, place an initial fraud alert, order credit reports and create an identity theft report. The next steps are to review credit reports and dispute errors, reporting them to the credit reporting companies and businesses they were involved with. Also get copies of documents the ID thief used.
Thompson said some insurance policies now cover identity theft, but more times than not, once money is gone it’s gone for good.
“In my prior agency we were able to make a recovery and make an arrest, but it’s not often,” he said.
“You are the gate keeper of your own information, and unfortunately it’s up to the individual to be responsible enough to be sure that information is used in a legal matter. Don’t hesitate to contact law enforcement if you feel you have been a victim in one of these scams or somebody got a hold of your information.”