Woman Leads Fight Against Nigerian Fraudsters
Tuesday, November 25, 2003; 8:55 AM
By Daniel Balint-Kurti
LAGOS (Reuters) - Five years ago, three Nigerian men
tracked Frieda Springer-Beck to her village in Bavaria, put a
gun to her head and told her to drop charges against a man she
accused of staging an elaborate international fraud.
Now the 54-year-old German woman's fight against Nigeria's
notorious junk-mail conmen is starting to see results.
Since May, Nigeria's new anti-fraud unit, the Economic and
Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has arrested more than 200
people for junk mail scams, including the man Springer-Beck
says duped her out of $360,000 in 1993.
The so-called 419 scam, named after the article in
Nigeria's criminal code outlawing it, has become so successful
over the last 20 years that campaigners say it is now one of
the African country's biggest exports after oil, natural gas
The fraud swindles hundreds of millions of dollars every
year from people around the world who respond to junk e-mails
promising them a share of nonexistent fortunes in return for an
"I know through my own experience how you feel when you say
you have been cheated. Nobody is in a position to help you or
wants to listen at all," said Springer-Beck, who moved to Lagos
last year to push ahead with her campaign.
In 1994 Springer-Beck formed the International Nigerian
Interest Group, an association of fraud victims battling the
swindlers through Nigeria's notoriously slow and corrupt
justice system. The association is currently handling 89 cases.
None has led to a conviction and, up until May, the
association had brought about only one arrest.
Nigeria's inaction over the fraud helped earn it the
dubious distinction of the world's second-most corrupt country
after Bangladesh from the sleaze watchdog group Transparency
Nuhu Ribadu, who heads the EFCC, said property worth $200
million has now been confiscated in connection with more than
30 cases now before court.
A member of parliament was among those arrested, and others
are being held for the biggest ever 419 swindle, which was
worth $180 million and brought down a Brazilian bank.
"Our intention is to bring them to justice for the first
time...to return the money to the victims," said Ribadu.
"419 has destroyed the credibility of our country. As a
result of this it is almost impossible to do business. No one
takes us seriously," he said.
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