We all know the pitfalls of Nigerian scam artists who prey via email. But now we know that there are other methods as well. We learned the hard way.
Yesterday, while riding in the car, I received a call on my Nigerian cell phone with a connection that wasn’t very good. The speaker was clearly in a panic. I probed, “Is this Majek?” … (the name of one of my Nigerian clients). The voice said: “Yes. I am in a terrible situation. I’ve been in a car accident and I need to make a payment to the police. You’re the only one who can help me out.”
“Can you purchase a MTN (Phone) scratch off card for 3,000 Nigerian Naira (NGN) and send the scratch off number to me?” (This scratch off number can be turned into untraceable cash though MTN money.) This sounded like a legitimate request, and I couldn’t really distinguish Majek’s voice over the scratchy mobile phone line, so, I had the driver stop and I purchased 3,000 NGN worth of credit. Ed quickly scratch off to reveal the code and I texted it to the number I had for Majek. The caller called back and said that his other phone was in his car that had had been locked by the police. So, he requested that I read the scratch-off numbers over the phone to him. I obliged. Total so far: 3,000 NGN ($19). One part of me felt glad that I could help out my client, and was flattered that he would come to me when he was in trouble.
Then he called back, stating that 3,000 wasn’t enough – he needed 3,000 more, since the police was requesting an additional “fee” to release him. So, I had the driver stop at a different MTN card seller and purchased more cards. In five minutes he called back to get the scratch-off numbers. Once again, I obliged. Ed waved the cash outside of the car window, purchased the cards, and quickly scratched off the numbers. Total so far: 6,000 NGN ($38).
Was this enough? Alas, no. He called back again to say the police was requesting an additional 3,000 NGN and I was the only one who could help him. We found another vendor, purchased the cards, scratched off the numbers and read him the numbers. Total so far: 9,000 NGN ($57).
Iteration Four. We did it again! This time the accident victim was going to die if he didn't pay for the hospital. Total so far: 12,000 NGN ($75).
Then, he called back and requested more funds for more hospital bills for the person in the accident. “I am afraid he might die….”, he said. Finally fed up, I said “That’s all I can do. Why don’t you call someone else. I am going to the hotel. And I won’t be near any scratch off card salespeople. Bye!” I left the car and went in to the hotel.
All this time, I never suspected a thing. Then, the next morning, the phone rang again. I assumed it was Majek who wanted to make a plan to repay me. But, no … he had a request for an additional 4,500 NGN saying “the person will definitely die if you don’t loan me the money. I can’t call anyone else about this.” I said, “Sorry Majek, I have no way of getting any cards right now. Please call someone else. “ After three more calls, he finally stopped calling.
Then, I began to feel a bit stupid. If the person in the accident hadn’t died yesterday, why was he about to die today? Was this really Majek? Had I been duped?
After breakfast, I emailed Majek to ask him whether he had been asking him for money. Of course, he said “no”, and was appalled that a fellow Nigerian had been scamming me this way. He wrote, “It’s really unfortunate. How could I have been asking you to send recharge cards to bail me out of police or hospital? It’s very bad. I never knew anything about it. Sorry that's Naija for you”. (He also later confirmed that if he needed money, he could ask other people, and he would never ask me!)
Writing this account makes me sound very gullible and stupid. But at the time, neither Ed nor I suspected a thing! The driver didn’t say anything either. The voice on the phone was very convincing when he was conveying his panic and desperation. Now thinking back, I should have been more wary …. But now I know!
So, if you ever need money from me, you’ll have to ask in person so I can verify the request! TIA.