An Australian man has been charged with defrauding a Saudi prince and others of AUS $5 million in an Internet lottery scam.
The Aussie papers are referring to this as a Nigerian or 419 scam and report that the accused, Nick Marinellis, 39, of Sydney told police: "I have 220 African brothers worldwide. I am the Australian headquarters for those scams."
Marinellis is charged with sending spam emails which conned people into believing that they had won millions of dollars in overseas lotteries, or inheritance, or through a business opportunity. But before they could collect the money, the victims were required to pay an advance fee to process the payment.
The biggest victim was an unnamed Saudi prince, who coughed up more than $AUS 500,000.
Marinellis lives off a disability pension and is diagnosed as schizophrenic, according to reports.
419 scams are so-called in reference to Article 419 of the Nigerian penal code which forbids fraudulent activity. The 419 scams have been in operation since the early 90s, then in the form of airmail letters from Nigeria. The Internet has massively increased their reach.
The usual come-on is an appeal to the reader's greed, offering a fat commission for processing a huge, illegally gotten sum of money. The lottery win is a more recent innovation and is a speciality of the 419 gangs in Amsterdam. Dutch police estimate that up to 300 419 fraudsters are operating in the city.
Although Nigerians invented the 419 scam, it looks like the fraud has now gone global. ®
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