A Canadian man who fell for a 419 scam was taken for $150,000 by advance fee fraudsters who conducted a textbook operation to fleece their victim.
John Rempel of Leamington, Ontario, got an email back in 2007 from "someone claiming to be a lawyer with a client named David Rempel who died in a 2005 bomb attack in London", the Windsor Star reports. The email claimed the "deceased" had left $12.8m, and since he had no family "wanted to leave the money to a Rempel".
Rempel, 22, said: “It sounded all good so I called him. He sounded very happy and said God bless you.”
The 419er told Rempel he had to pay $2,500 to transfer the money into his name. He then had to stump for several more documents, some of which cost $5,000. The scammer told Rempel he had to open a bank account in London, with a minimum $5,000 deposit. He said some of the money had been transferred into the account for “safe keeping".
The scammers then upped the ante, sending an email from a "government department" claiming he owed $250,000 tax on his inheritance. Rempel's contact assured him he'd "negotiated the fee down to $25,000".
Rempel decided to travel to London to check that the deal was legit. He made his way to Mexico, where his farm-owning uncle gave him cash and money for a plane ticket. He said: “I had $10,000 in cash in my pocket and my uncle sent another $25,000 when I was over there.”
Once in London, Rempel met "some people" and handed over the $10k. The next day, the 419ers showed their target a suitcase they said contained $10.6m in shrink-wrapped US bills. Rempel demanded further proof, at which point one scammer extracted a bill and “cleansed” it with a liquid “formula" which "washed off some kind of stamp". The process converted the cash into “legal tender", Rempel was told.
Rempel said: “I was like holy crap, is that mine?” he said. “They said ‘yes sir, it’s yours.’ It all sounded legit.”
Rempel went back to his hotel room with the magic formula to wait for the 419ers "so they could cleanse all his money". They, of course, disappeared, later claiming they'd "been held up".
The victim then managed to drop the bottle containing the formula, breaking it. He rang his contact who said he'd get further supplies. Rempel flew back to Leamington and waited several weeks until a call which confirmed more formula was available for $120,000.
Rempel said: “I thought, ‘let’s work on it, nothing is impossible.’”
The 419ers told Rempel they "were willing to meet associates in different countries to get cash for the formula", but that they'd need several plane tickets, at $6,000 a pop.
The scammers subsequently confirmed they'd collected $100,000, but were still $20,000 short. Apparently, there was "a guy in Nigeria who had it, but another plane ticket was required". The contact then insisted he could only get $15,000 of the balance and “begged” Rempel for the remaining $5,000.
Rempel obliged, borrowing the money and defaulting on his credit card and car payments.
A week later, Rempel got the call he'd been waiting for - the cash was ready to go if he could just find an extra $6,900 for "travel costs and to rent trunks to ship the money".
The final contact between Rempel and the scammers was when they called to say they'd arrived at the airport in New York. However, there was a slight snag - security had stopped them and they needed $12,500 for a bribe.
Rempel, still none the wiser but substantially lighter in the wallet, told them: "No way, I’m cleaned out.”
In one last desperate act, Rempel drove to the airport with his parents and 10-year-old brother, but found no trace of his friends or the money. They then went home and called the police.
The final cost of Rempel's mix of greed and remarkable stupidity was $55,000 from his uncle in Mexico, $60,000 from his parents to "cover fees for transferring $12.8 million into his name", plus the money he personally lost - a total of $150,000.
He said: “They’re in it now because of me. If it wasn’t for me, nobody would be in this mess. You think things will work out, but it doesn’t. It’s a very bad feeling. I had lots of friends. I never get calls anymore from my friends. You know, a bad reputation.”
He concluded: “I really thought in my heart this was true." ®
Those of you familar with 419 scams will note there isn't one aspect of this operation which doesn't come from the Lads from Lagos manual: a surprise inheritance; up-front fees and taxes; the fake bank account trick; magic money-laundering fluid; plane ticket expenses; bribes, etc etc.