Beyond the Nigerian Email Scam

If you are reading this, you most certainly have at one time received an email from the sister-in-law to the Finance Minister of Nigeria (or someone like her), telling you they have $xx million in a bank they need to get out and you can help and get 10% (or some incredible number).  The whole idea is to get you to accept a check from them, to show good faith.  Once you are CERTAIN enough time has passed for the check to clear, you send them back some amount.  Months later, you find their check was phony and your account has been debited, leaving you out the amount you sent them. This is the Nigerian Email Scam.

Being in the collection and bankruptcy biz, we have been receiving the new Asian Email Scam messages.  These entreat us to represent XYZ Shanghai Company (or someone) who is owed $xxx,xxx from a US company and they offer us a piece of the action to collect it.  The US company is, we are told, afraid to send a check overseas (or some similar excuse).  That is what we do, right?  Collect money.  So we are interested.  They will even pay a retainer and pay us hourly if we want.  We are already sensitized to possible scams, so we look closely.  We ask questions.  They have invoices.  The email address for the sender looks like the XYZ domain (although when we look closely, perhaps the email domain for the alleged Accountant from XYZ Shanghai Company Ltd is, rather than the real  Pretty subtle, huh?

In any event, there is almost no way to be sure!  The idea is that the US “debtor’s” contact information could be a confederate of the scammer.  They could argue a bit or willingly agree to pay the huge sum, sending us a check.  We could deposit the check and wait several days, even checking with the US company’s bank to make sure it went through their account.  We would feel confident it has cleared and we could send a check (most likely a wire) to XYZ Company in Shanghai.  Weeks later, we would get that fateful notice that the US debtr’s check was fraudulent and our account has been charged back.  Gulp.

I wonder whether insisting the US company pays by wire would be enough protection.  Can someone send a fraudulent wire that can be reversed?

Every collection we make and every check I sign, I look to see if it is a regular client/forwarder or whether the collection was too easy for a large amount.  Or if there is anything unusual about it.  It adds a whole new dimension to this business.

Written by Bernstein- Burkley, P.C. on August 21, 2008

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