Check out these other articles on the site relating to African scams and con artists.

Nigerian Scams on the Rise

More Reports from Readers Who Have Been Targeted by Nigerian Con Artists

ATTENTION! Nigerian con artists who are using stolen credit cards are also trying to sucker website owners into buying and shipping expensive electronic equipment along with other ordered merchandise. This scam is not just being tried against small craft and homebased businesses (as indicated in my first report on this topic), but on bookstores and other retail outlets, manufacturing companies, even individual sellers on eBay. If you have any kind of presence on the Web, you may be contacted by one of these guys sooner or later.

BE AWARE! Spread the word to your business friends by linking them to my reports on this topic.

See also Caught in the Middle! The Plight of Relay Telephone Operators Nationwide

A New Kind of Merchandise Con Game

Here’s a report on a new type of merchandise con game anyone could easily fall for–particularly children who are looking for pen pals on the Internet.

~ September, 2006 by Barbara Brabec ~

I HAVE RECEIVED countless reports from readers about Nigerian scams that I may never have time to publish, but what follows is an amazing story of a merchandise con game different from any I’ve ever heard about. It has been referred to by authorities as a "re-mailing scam," but it’s unlike the stories I turned up on Goggle when I searched for this phrase. If this sort of thing is happening in a small town in Wisconsin, it’s probably happening in towns and cities all over the country.

This reader’s story illustrates the danger of giving your address to a stranger on the Web that you think you know because you’ve been exchanging e-mails for awhile (as in a new pen-pal relationship, or someone you’ve met in a chat room). The other message in this story is how difficult it might be for you to receive help if you are victimized by a con artist.

See also this new report, received May, 2007 from another mother whose daughter was caught in this same scheme.

I first heard from Deanna Ludwig in mid-April of 2006, after she found my series of articles on African con artists. She contacted me not only because she needed help, but because she wanted to warn others to avoid the situation she found herself in.

"I'm not a business owner or operator, but I am a mom with a 17-year-old daughter who has been duped by her pen pal in Africa," Deanna wrote. "My daughter first met Emmanuel (from Ghana) after going to some international pen pal web site about a year ago. She recently told me that he had been asking her for her home address almost since they met, but she didn't give it to him until about two weeks ago, and only then because he asked her if he could send her a gift as a token of friendship."

Shortly afterwards, FedEx dropped Emmanuel’s "gift" on the Ludwig’s porch–some computer software items valued at over $800 that no one knew what to do with. Then, day by day for several days in a row, more packages were delivered, literally overwhelming the family. Items in these first packages included a Nike woman’s outfit, three pair of men’s tennis shoes in assorted sizes, and four pair of men’s jeans. These were soon followed by several boxes of men’s clothing, shoes, more software, and some collector stamps. (Later, the family learned that Emmanuel had also signed up Deanna’s husband for some audio/Internet class course in London for a cost of $500.)

When Nikki questioned Emmanuel online about all this, he said to just send the computer items and some of the shoes to his ‘cousin’ in Kentucky, and the rest of the items to him in Ghana, explaining that his "cousin" didn't have a green card yet and he was afraid to have anything sent to him because it would draw attention to him. When Nikki told him that her mom wouldn't allow her to do this, and that she was concerned that something wrong was taking place, Emmanuel was quick with excuses, assurances, and apologies.

"Nikki told him that I would be contacting the companies to return the items and letting them know we were victims of a scam," Deanna wrote. "I personally wrote to Emmanuel after even more packages continued to arrive. He said that he had foolishly given Nikki's address to a friend, and that it had been his friend all along who was having packages ordered and sent to Nikki's home. (With all that had been said by him from the beginning of this mess, this couldn’t be true. But he continued to maintain his innocence.)"

Meanwhile, Deanna was doing some serious investigating. Very interesting, what she discovered. In calling each of the companies that had shipped the various packages, she learned that all orders had supposedly been made by her daughter, using various credit cards in her daughter’s name (but her daughter didn’t own a credit card). Further, her daughter’s telephone number was on record for each of these bogus cards, but all the telephone numbers used with the cards were false numbers. Some companies had two accounts in her daughter’s name because Emmanuel had changed the spelling of her name and switched the numbers around in her false phone number.

Once Emmanuel realized none of the packages were being remained, he began to bombard Nikki with telephone calls, sometimes as often as fifty times before 7 a.m. "He would try calling from many different numbers hoping she would answer one that she didn't recognize on her caller ID," Deanna said. "He even used the relay operator a few times making us think it was someone deaf or with a speech problem. He had other people call on his behalf, too, and they were not always kind."

My Advice to Deanna When She Wrote for Help

It was at this point that Deanna wrote to me for advice, sharing all of the above information in several e-mail messages. One company (Old Navy) told Deanna that the card Emmanuel had given them had a stop-payment on it, and since the package they had shipped had a return label, Deanna returned that merchandise. But she was amazed to find that none of the other companies seemed to care about getting their merchandise back. "I offered to return all the merchandise if the companies would pay the shipping charges, but none of them got back to me on this," Deanna said. "We are being bombarded with phone calls, my living room is now filled with boxes or expensive merchandise, and I don't know what to do. We don't have the extra money to ship everything back to the companies in question."

Never having encountered such a situation before, I offered the best logical advice I could think of. "Immediately contact your local police department and explain to them what has happened because there might be more at work here than you know," I counseled in an e-mail. "Explain to them that you have been victimized, and you want this merchandise removed from your home, that you cannot afford to ship it back to the companies in question (perhaps the police will contact them on your behalf?), and that you have been victimized here and don't know what else to do.

"Also tell the police that you are frightened about retribution from this ‘cousin in Kentucky’ who can easily find out where you live and might end up on your doorstep some day demanding this merchandise. If Emmanuel gave you the address for this ‘cousin,’ be sure to give it to the police and perhaps they can check out this guy. If by chance the police department doesn't give you the help you need, then you should contact the editor of your local newspaper and tell them the whole story. In fact, you should do this anyway if you want to spread the word about this scam. It's the first I've heard of it, and this suggests to me that it's a ‘new twist’ they're now pulling that others are going to fall for."

"I assume you have the addresses of all the companies who shipped this merchandise to your home, so I think what you should do next is send each of them a letter (and keep a copy for your files) addressed to their credit department (since they are the most likely to want their money back). Explain who you have already contacted about this matter, and tell them you’re sitting with merchandise some con artist ordered from them with a stolen credit card, and you want them to send you a postage-paid return label so you can return the merchandise. And if they do not send this label within two weeks, tell them you will donate this merchandise to Good Will or otherwise get rid of it because you don't want it sitting in your house. Also, for your added protection, make a copy of these letters and give them to the Police Department so there is NO QUESTION about your having any liability in this case."

I also told Deanna to contact the FTC, and suggested she consider changing her telephone number to stop the relentless telephone calls.

No Help From Anyone!

A couple of weeks later, Deanna gave me another update. I was stunned to learn that she was not getting any help from anyone! She wrote:

"I tried contacting the FTC via their web page, but they must have been having trouble with their site at that time. I'm currently trying to get a copy of my daughter’s credit reports to make sure these people didn't open any credit cards in her name or do any damage to her credit. I did contact a particular division of the FBI that deals with Internet fraud (using their IC3 Complaint Referral Form). After filling out this form, I was advised to keep any and all evidence, and also got the message that, basically, because they have SO MANY different cases, if mine isn't as important as others, they may or may not investigate it.

"I also reported all this to our local police department who came out and took our statement, but refused to take the packages. In so many words, they told us ‘good luck, there's not much the local police can do about a guy in Africa.’ But we did learn from the police department that we weren’t the only one in our town that this had happened to, or was happening to (thank you very much)."

At this point, I again urged Deanna to take her story to the media, to both her local newspaper and television station, pointing out that now, the story here--in addition to the scam itself--was Deanna’s inability to get any help from the FTC, the FBI, or the police. She later wrote back saying she did write to her newspaper, but it was the local TV station who finally brought her story to light.

Basically, once WSAW-TV brought this problem to light (embarrassing the local police department, I’m sure), the police got more involved. A local detective was interviewed for the story as well, and he called Deanna the next morning to discuss her case and take the packages off her hands. "He said he wasn't aware of our situation until the TV station talked with him about it," Deanna reported. "I was thrilled that he was going to remove all those boxes!"

The police not only took all the packages out of Deanna’s home, but took responsibility for returning the merchandise to the companies involved, started communicating with the credit card companies about this "re-mailing scam," and announced publicly that they were educating all the officers on the force about this scam and, in future, would be taking all "evidence" off victim’s hands. (Interesting, isn’t it, how a shot across the bow from the media can spring officials to action?)

Later, a woman from the station called Deanna and asked her to do a follow-up interview because the station had received so many hits on their Web site about her story. Their report still appears on WSAW-TV's Web site.

Five months after Deanna first reported this scam to the FTC and the FBI, she had not heard anything back from either of them. While the FTC maintains it "works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them," it doesn't seem to do much once a consumer has fallen victim to a fraudulent or deceptive con game.

Deanna thought she was through with this mess when the police took responsibility for the packages and communication with the various companies involved, but she's still being aggravated by this situation, as she explained in her last message to me:

"The police must have started mailing some of the items back to some of the companies; however, instead of adjusting credit cards in every case, some have mailed checks to our daughter in the amount of the refund. I'm sure we'll have to return them to the police once I contact them about the checks since it would be considered evidence once again."

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by Barbara Brabec
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