Nigerian-style scammers use extortion in the form of death and injury threats to force victims to launder money

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Leah Winslett is no stranger to fraud.  In her battles against child slavery and crimes perpetrated against Native Americans, she has encountered every lie and form of degradation that one person can inflict on another.  She feels stupid that she did not see the scam right from the start.

"I feel like such an idiot," Winslett told us, "You'd think I'd have picked up on the scam somewhere along the line."

No need to feel stupid, Leah.  These people are pros.  Unfortunately, this pro became obsessed with her, calling her "Wife" and calling himself "Your Husband."  See excerpts from sample letters.

Under her given name, Winslett posted on a web site for religious singles.  She was looking for a pen pal and romance in what she felt was a safe environment.

"I have several friends who met and married successfully from this site," said Winslett, "so I posted my profile without even thinking about bad guys."

A man calling himself Powell Willson answered Winslett's post, claiming to be a computer engineer designing Hard Disk Programs with clients all over the world.

After several months of increasingly romantic communication, Willson proposed.

"He stated that he loved me [and] sent many very persuasive and touching letters to me," Winslett wrote in her first letter to us asking for help.

Having completed his setup, Willson said that he wanted to fly to the United States for the wedding.  He told Winslett that he needed her to cash checks from some of his clients and send him money for the trip and for medical expenses because he was sick.  Emergency and urgency are always included in the message.

The claim of ill health, personal injury, death of a relative, and a relative needing an operation are common denominators in Nigerian-style scams. 

Willson struck quickly and with a vengeance.  Over the period of about a week and a half, he sent her  3 counterfeit checks, 2 counterfeit money orders, and a counterfeit foreign bank draft adding up to total of $20,000.  She dutifully cashed the first two checks at a check cashing store and wired the funds by Western Union to Lagos, Nigeria.  Part of the money went to his alleged travel agent, and the balance back to him.  Willson tricked Winslett into sending him over $21,000, some of which was her own money.

Granted, the threats to Winslett and her family are probably idle threats.  Unless and until there is evidence of attack or intrusion, there is little local law enforcement can do.  Our tax dollars do not stretch law enforcement budgets far enough to allow for the cost of surveillance that may lead nowhere, based on threats from foreign residents.

Yet, although email tracking and telephone number tracking show that the person calling himself Powell Willson is in Nigeria, from Winlsett's report it appears that someone local may be feeding him information.  Willson's attempts to contact her continue to this day.

One of Winslett's business associates isn't taking any chances and is providing her a bodyguard.  She has been advised of measures she can take to protect herself and her family from attack.  The children are under constant supervision.  The question remains - at what point will she let her children out of her sight without worry?  At what point will she feel she no longer needs to look over her shoulder?

Winslett, at extremely high risk of Identity Theft, is following instructions from Senior Volunteer Karyn Solochek to ensure that the worst never occurs.  Unfortunately, because of the amount of personal information the scammer gathered, Winslett will have to be vigilant about her ID for the rest of her life.

Winslett's reaction to Nigerian threats is typical.  We hear the same gamut of fear and mixed emotions from their victims here in the US, in Canada, and all over the UK.

The threats are pointless.  The scammers are pressing their victims to continue to cash and deposit counterfeit checks after the crime has been brought to the attention of the victim's bank and often, local and Federal enforcement.  In many cases, the victim has already wired a large portion of the funds to the scammers by Western Union and is left with little money and a large bank repayment obligation.

Those who became aware of the fraud before wiring any money at all are threatened as well.

The scammers will continue their threats as long as they believe they can force a victim to incriminate himself and risk arrest and impoverishment by continuing to send money from counterfeit and stolen funds.  They don't care.  They just want the money.

I strongly urge you to fraud-safe your personal community.  Pass on what you learn at Fraud-Aid and other fraud warning web sites.  Remember our slogan: "Silence is fraud's best ally.  Word-of-mouth is fraud's worst enemy.  Pass the word!"

It works, it really does.

Further study:

The Nigerian Scams

Lottery Scam Letter Free Online Database

Nigerian Counterfeit Check Fraud

Work-at-Home Check Processing Business Fraud


If you have been drawn into a scam and have received threats in an email, please forward the letter to us with Full Headers (aka Details, aka Message Source).  For instructions on how to find the Full Headers in your email service, please refer to its Help file.

The letters will be tracked.  The tracking results, along with the letter, will be published on Fraud-Aid.  As always, all reference to you will be removed prior to publishing.

Please send your letters containing threats, with Full Headers included in the body of the text to: .

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This article was printed with permission from Leah Winslett. 

Any and all communications between Fraud-Aid and the victims who come to us are treated as being confidential and not to be shared outside the organization and those immediately involved except by permission from the victim or by court order.  -  from the Fraud-Aid Credo


Global Copyright 2005, Annie McGuire.  All Rights Reserved.