Recognizing our credit crunch, Nigerian scammers have come up with a new way to swindle. They're now posing as bankers offering loans at a 2 percent interest rate.
See also: A decade of deceit.
If you think that rate is unbelievable, the loan process is even more so.
Reply to emails or website advertisements for Evdo Financing Corp., Merlin Leo Loans and other operations, and you'll immediately receive an application form asking for your name, address, age, monthly income, phone numbers and marital status.
When I replied using a fake identity as a 72-year-old widow with a monthly income of $1,750, it took less than one hour to get approval from the "board of directors" for a $23,000 loan — with no credit check or bank account required.
Apparently, the board just happened to be meeting at 1 a.m. Malaysia time, where Evdo is supposedly located. The news was conveyed to me by emails carrying the name of the surely equally imaginary CEO Dr. Walt Siemsen.
It's the latest form of the infamous "Nigerian letter," in which the writer pretended to be or to represent a deposed monarch or wealthy businessman, and offered you big money for help in moving a fortune out of Africa and into the safe haven of your bank account.
Cheap loan, old trick
The hook in the new version is the same: To get your bounty, you must first pay something, usually by wire transfer. The scam has been around for years.
Nigerian kings claim the money is needed to bribe bank officials or settle "dormant bank account" expenses. Evdo — whose corporate motto is "Your financial problem is our target" — wanted me to send $282 to pay an official at the Nigerian "Ministry of Finance and Commerce" in order to transfer the loan money overseas.
My online identity may have been fake, but the problem is real: I heard from an AARP member in time to help her head off the scam. She was about to wire $350 for her $25,000 "approved" loan from Evdo.
If you do fall for the scam and send that money, you'll be barraged with demands to pay additional "unforeseen" expenses, a pattern that will continue until your bank account is empty or you realize it's a scam. Your money will have passed outside U.S. law enforcement jurisdiction. You can kiss it good-bye.
The perils of being a patsy
You'll never see a dime of the loan, of course. But later, under some other phony name, the scammers may target you again as a proven patsy.
So, if you get one of these emails, don't respond. Don't provide any identifiers: no name, address, phone number, driver's license. Nothing.
As laughable as some Nigerian letters may be, riddled with misspellings, "scammer grammar" and other mistakes not typically made by royalty or bank presidents, the last laugh often goes to the scammers penning them.
From 2000 to 2010, Nigerian emails ranked among the most prevalent online scams, after snagging infamy years earlier as the first known mass scam on the Internet.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.