Public need to be warned of Nigerian email scam, says MP

For many e-mail users, it’s a familiar tale. A Nigerian official needs to transfer millions of dollars overseas – and they want you to help them, in return for a sizable share.

It sounds too good to be true, and of course it is. Most of us recognise the message for the scam it is, and delete it.

But a surprising number of professional people are being caught out, according to a West Midlands MP.

Lured by easy money, they respond – and find themselves out of pocket by tens of thousands of pounds or more, as fraudsters convince them to pay a series of fees before the promised windfall arrives.

Richard Taylor (Ind Wyre Forest) called for the creation of a new “Scam Awareness Day”, to be known as SAD, to educate people about the dangers of unquestioningly trusting the contents of their e-mail box.

Common internet scams include a promise a large sum of money will be deposited in the victim’s account. But as the scam progresses, the victim may be told cash is needed to pay lawyers or bribe officials.

If they pay, they receive more demands for money for supposed expenses.

Dr Taylor said he was alerted to the seriousness of the problem after a professional in his constituency was conned out of more than £100,000.

The MP said: “The person involved in the example I am using is a professional. We cannot say he is a fool. In retrospect, he was obviously unwise, but he is a professional man.

“He was told he had won a huge sum of money on a foreign lottery but it was held by customs awaiting payment of duty.

“To my utter amazement, he paid £104,500 – I do not know where he found it – as duty and then received a receipt, ostensibly on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs paper.”

He was then asked for £37,240 more for demurrage, payment for costs involved in holding the money.

“Thank goodness the poor chap approached his lender for the £37,240 – he thought he would get half a million pounds, or something like that – his lender smelled a rat.”

Dr Taylor said: “A huge co-ordinated awareness campaign on TV, radio, press and internet is needed, so few people can miss it and the elderly who do can be warned by relatives, friends, home helps or visiting nurses.

“I would hate to invent another special day, much as I would hate to invent another all-party group, but we could have a scam alert day – SAD – because it is sad that we need it.”

Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said: “Unfortunately, the case that he recounted is serious but not unique.”