Am I supposed to feel sorry for this guy?
THE PERFECT MARK
How a Massachusetts psychotherapist fell for a Nigerian e-mail scam.
by MITCHELL ZUCKOFF
Issue of 2006-05-15
Late one afternoon in June, 2001, John W. Worley sat in a burgundy leather desk chair reading his e-mail. He was fifty-seven and burly, with glasses, a fringe of salt-and-pepper hair, and a bushy gray beard. A decorated Vietnam veteran and an ordained minister, he had a busy practice as a Christian psychotherapist, and, with his wife, Barbara, was the caretaker of a mansion on a historic estate in Groton, Massachusetts. He lived in a comfortable three-bedroom suite in the mansion, and saw patients in a ground-floor office with walls adorned with images of Jesus and framed military medals. Barbara had been his high-school sweetheart—he was the president of his class, and she was the homecoming queen—and they had four daughters and seven grandchildren, whose photos surrounded Worley at his desk.This is who Sani Abacha was:
Worley scrolled through his in-box and opened an e-mail, addressed to “CEO/Owner.” The writer said that his name was Captain Joshua Mbote, and he offered an awkwardly phrased proposition: “With regards to your trustworthiness and reliability, I decided to seek your assistance in transferring some money out of South Africa into your country, for onward dispatch and investment.” Mbote explained that he had been chief of security for the Congolese President Laurent Kabila, who had secretly sent him to South Africa to buy weapons for a force of élite bodyguards. But Kabila had been assassinated before Mbote could complete the mission. “I quickly decided to stop all negotiations and divert the funds to my personal use, as it was a golden opportunity, and I could not return to my country due to my loyalty to the government of Laurent Kabila,” Mbote wrote. Now Mbote had fifty-five million American dollars, in cash, and he needed a discreet partner with an overseas bank account. That partner, of course, would be richly rewarded.
Mbote’s offer had the hallmarks of an advance-fee fraud, a swindle whose victims are asked to provide money, information, or services in exchange for a share of a promised fortune. Countless such e-mails, letters, and faxes are sent every year, with a broad variety of stories about how the money supposedly became available (unclaimed estate, corrupt executive, and dying Samaritan being only a few of the most popular). Worley, who had spent his adult life advocating self-knowledge and introspection, seemed particularly unlikely to be fooled. He had developed a psychological profiling tool designed to reveal a person’s “unique needs, desires and probable behavioral responses.” He promised users of the test, “The individual’s understanding of self will be greatly enhanced, increasing the potential for a fulfilled and balanced life.” And Worley was vigilant against temptation. Two weeks before the e-mail arrived, he had been the keynote speaker at his eldest granddaughter’s graduation from the First Assembly Christian Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts. He cautioned the students about Satan, telling them, “He’s going to be trying to destroy you every inch of the way.”
Still, Worley, faced with an e-mail that would, according to federal authorities, eventually lead him to join a gang of Nigerian criminals seeking to defraud U.S. banks, didn’t hesitate. A few minutes after receiving Mbote’s entreaty, he replied, “I can help and I am interested.” His only question was how Mbote had found him, and he seemed satisfied with the explanation: that the South African Department of Home Affairs had supplied his name. When Worley attributed this improbable event to God’s will, Mbote elaborated on the story to say that Worley’s name was one of ten that he had been given, and that it had been pulled from a hat after much prayer by someone named Pastor Mark. (A more likely possibility is that his e-mail address was plucked from an Internet chain letter, which he received and passed on, that promised a cash reward from Microsoft to anyone who forwarded the letter to others.) In e-mails, phone calls, faxes, and letters during the ensuing weeks, Mbote laid out the plan: If Worley would pay up-front costs, such as fees to a storage facility where the cash was being kept, and possibly travel to South Africa to collect the money, he would receive thirty per cent, or more than sixteen million dollars.
Worley told Mbote that he lived his life with the “utmost integrity” and didn’t want to jeopardize that. He also said that he couldn’t fund the operation. (Though he would report nearly a hundred and forty thousand dollars in income in 2001, he had declared personal bankruptcy in the early nineties, had relatively little saved for retirement, and wanted to help his grandchildren through college.) No problem, Mbote answered; “investors” would provide up to a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for airfare and other expenses needed to move the money to the United States, while Worley would act as middleman and curator of the funds.
As promised, in late August, 2001, Worley received a check for forty-seven thousand five hundred dollars, purportedly from one such investor. It was from an account belonging to the Syms Corporation, the discount-clothing chain whose slogan is “An Educated Consumer Is Our Best Customer.” Worley was wary. He called the Fleet Bank in Portland, Maine, where the check had been drawn. The bank told him it was an altered duplicate of a check that Syms had paid to the Maryland office of an international luggage manufacturer.
Every swindle is driven by a desire for easy money; it’s the one thing the swindler and the swindled have in common. Advance-fee fraud is an especially durable con. In an early variation, the Spanish Prisoner Letter, which dates to the sixteenth century, scammers wrote to English gentry and pleaded for help in freeing a fictitious wealthy countryman who was imprisoned in Spain. Today, the con usually relies on e-mail and is often called a 419 scheme, after the anti-fraud section of the criminal code in Nigeria, where it flourishes. (Last year, a Nigerian comic released a song that taunted Westerners with the lyrics “I go chop your dollar. I go take your money and disappear. Four-one-nine is just a game. You are the loser and I am the winner.”) The scammers, who often operate in crime rings, are known as “yahoo-yahoo boys,” because they frequently use free Yahoo accounts. Many of them live in a suburb of Lagos called Festac Town. Last year, one scammer in Festac Town told the Associated Press, “Now I have three cars, I have two houses, and I’m not looking for a job anymore.”
According to a statement posted on the Internet by the U.S. State Department, 419 schemes began to proliferate in the mid-nineteen-eighties, when a collapse in oil prices caused severe economic upheaval in Nigeria. The population—literate, English-speaking, and living with widespread government corruption—faced poverty and rising unemployment. These conditions created a culture of scammers, some of them violent. Marks are often encouraged to travel to Nigeria or to other countries, where they fall victim to kidnapping, extortion, and, in rare cases, murder. In the nineteen-nineties, at least fifteen foreign businessmen, including one American, were killed after being lured to Nigeria by 419 scammers. Until recently, Nigerian officials tended to blame the marks. “There would be no 419 scam if there are no greedy, credulous and criminally-minded victims ready to reap where they did not sow,” the Nigerian Embassy in Washington said in a 2003 statement. The following year, Nuhu Ribadu, the chairman of Nigeria’s Economic & Financial Crimes Commission, noted that not one scammer was behind bars. Last November, however, Ribadu’s commission convicted two crime bosses who had enticed a Brazilian banker to spend two hundred and forty-two million dollars of his employer’s money on a fictitious airport-development deal. (Prosecutions by U.S. authorities are rare; most victims don’t know the real names of their “partners,” and 419 swindlers are adept at covering their tracks.)
After the Syms check proved false and Mbote failed to send a replacement, Worley told him that their partnership was over. A few days later, though, he began receiving e-mails from someone claiming to be Mohammed Abacha, the eldest surviving son of Nigeria’s late dictator General Sani Abacha, who reputedly stole billions from the Nigerian treasury. Mohammed Abacha told Worley that Joshua Mbote had been operating surreptitiously on the Abacha family’s behalf, but had bungled so badly that Abacha decided to step forward. He told Worley that the story about buying weapons had been a ruse to protect the Abacha family and their money, which, he said, was actually hidden in Ghana. Soon Worley was put in touch with someone claiming to be the General’s widow, Maryam Abacha. In a torrent of phone calls and e-mails, she appealed to Worley. “I learned you wanted to hear from me,” she wrote. “Here I am. Help me.” In his e-mails, Worley seemed invigorated by this new scenario; he apparently believed that he was on the verge of becoming rich while rescuing a woman in distress.
In late November of 2001, Worley spent several thousand dollars on an attorney who specialized in international tax planning. The attorney warned him against the seeming opportunity, as did Barbara Worley. She knew little about her husband’s “project,” as he called it, but she didn’t like it. Barbara lived a life that revolved, as she put it, “around God and family.” In some ways, she still looked to her husband for guidance, as she had when they were in high school; she expressed her opinion, but deferred to his judgment.
Worley dismissed these warnings; now that he had committed money to the partnership, he had a vested interest. By the end of 2001, he was telling the Abachas that he had investigated ways to ship the cash secretly and had searched a half-dozen countries for a bank that would accept a huge deposit without alerting authorities. He reassured them that they had chosen the right partner, and begged for patience: “I am a smart man and very cautious and do not want anything to go wrong.” He settled on the Bermuda-based Bank of Butterfield, and in late January, 2002, he told Mrs. Abacha that he had spent forty-three hundred dollars to open an account there. “There will be no trail back to the U.S. and no tax to be paid,” he wrote.
Worley’s partners soon persuaded him to wire more than eight thousand dollars to retain a Nigerian lawyer and “to cover the bank fees and late fees” that supposedly were the last barriers to the transfer. But, after more delays and growing doubts, Worley told them that he would not travel abroad—the money, they said, had been moved to Amsterdam—to collect the cash. They couldn’t change his mind, so they tried a different approach. Mrs. Abacha asked him for help in claiming forty-five million dollars that she told him was hidden in an account of the Federal Ministry of Aviation at the Central Bank of Nigeria. It was a textbook 419 tactic. When Worley doubted Mbote, he disappeared; when Worley wouldn’t travel for one treasure, they found another. He sent more money.
Under this new plan, Worley allowed his partners to file false documentation claiming that he was a private aviation contractor to whom the Nigerian government owed forty-five million dollars. At the end of February, Worley crossed another line when a patient named Jennifer Morlock came to his home office for a counselling session. She had barely arrived when he told her he was engaged in a business venture with partners in Nigeria. Violating his profession’s code of ethics, he asked to borrow fifteen thousand dollars. Morlock went home, spoke with her husband, and agreed. By noon, Worley was at her door to collect the money. The same day, he went to a nearby liquor store with a Western Union outlet and wired all fifteen thousand dollars to Nigeria. He soon repaid Morlock, with interest, by borrowing on his credit card.
In May, 2005, Worley went on trial in U.S. District Court in Boston on charges of bank fraud, money laundering, and possession of counterfeit checks. Worley’s overseas correspondents, whose real identities he never knew, disappeared, and were never located or charged. With them went more than forty thousand dollars of Worley’s money and nearly six hundred thousand dollars from the checks. Including credit-card interest, money-wiring fees, long-distance telephone charges, and the tax lawyer’s bills, Worley’s losses may have been closer to eighty thousand dollars.
The prosecutor, an Assistant U.S. Attorney named Nadine Pellegrini, urged the jury to reject suggestions that Worley had simply been scammed. At best, she said, Worley “got in over his head.” Pellegrini portrayed Worley as the puppeteer, not the puppet, and said that he knowingly passed bad checks, in the belief that he was entering into a “mutually beneficial arrangement.” She focussed on Worley’s recognition at various points that he was dealing with liars, and said that he displayed “willful blindness” by ignoring the warning signs of their criminality and his own. Pellegrini said that Worley’s claims of innocence were undermined by consistent bad conduct—lying to his wife, borrowing from a patient, plotting to avoid taxes, posing as an aviation contractor, claiming to have cancer, and agreeing to bribe Nigerian bank officials. She was unsparing during her cross-examination. “So you don’t have any integrity either, do you, Dr. Worley?” she asked. He answered, “No, I don’t.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she told the jury, “it’s clear John Worley understands behavior of people and motivation of people, and he could and he can manipulate both behavior and reaction. . . . There is only one story here, and that’s the story of John Worley’s greed.”
Worley’s lawyer, a former prosecutor named Thomas Hoopes, cast him as a childlike man who was tricked by sophisticated con artists into a check-cashing scheme. Hoopes stressed that Fleet and Citizens had approved payment on the checks, which, he said, reasonably led Worley to believe they were legitimate. He urged the jury to focus on the final thousand dollars that Worley had sent after he knew an investigation was under way—this was evidence, he said, of Worley’s gullibility. He likened Worley to Marcia Cartwright, whom the government viewed as a victim despite her also having passed a bad check. (Cartwright made partial restitution, testified for the prosecution, and was not charged.) Mostly, Hoopes urged the jury to view Worley’s acts as foolish, not criminal. Hoopes emphasized that Worley had lost heavily in the scam. “It’s not willful blindness,” Hoopes said. “It is blind trust.”
In addition to witness testimony and lawyers’ arguments, the jury was given hundreds of e-mails between Worley and the Nigerians which told a story of their own, about a man transformed by his pursuit of riches. Reading the e-mails, in which Worley displays both cunning and credulousness—sometimes in the same message—it is clear that the Nigerians were able to take advantage of his religious convictions, his stubbornness, and his desire to be a hero to Mrs. Abacha and to his family. Patiently and persistently, the Nigerians turned Worley’s skepticism into suspension of disbelief, to the point where he seemed to worry that they might not trust him. They made Worley the perfect mark.
The trial took six days, and the jury found Worley guilty on all counts. On February 15th, Worley, now sixty-two, returned to the federal courthouse at the edge of Boston Harbor to face sentencing. Accompanied by more than three dozen family members and friends, he arrived wearing a charcoal suit with a support-the-troops pin on the lapel. U.S. District Judge George O’Toole, Jr., acknowledging the “ordeal” that Worley had been through, said that he was nevertheless bound by the jury’s finding. He sentenced Worley to two years in prison, plus restitution of nearly six hundred thousand dollars, and gave him five weeks to turn himself in. Outside the courtroom, Barbara Worley, a stout woman with blond hair, said they would appeal. (They eventually decided not to.) “My husband is the victim here,” she said. “It’s an atrocity.”
“What if they sent you a check?” Barbara demanded. “Would you put it in the bank to see if it cleared again?”
“John!” she said.
“I don’t know,” Worley said finally, sounding defeated. “I have to have time to think about what I would do in that situation.”
“My husband is naïve,” she explained to me. “He trusts people.”
Nigeria under Abacha
OK, so Worley engaged in criminal fraud, received stolen checks and we're supposed to think he was clueless?
The general seized power in 1993 after cancelling presidential elections.
He steadily consolidated his grip on power, with purges of the army and restrictions on political activity.
After the execution in 1995 of nine opposition activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, and with the presumed winner of the 1993 elections, Chief Moshood Abiola, still in jail, Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth and became diplomatically isolated.
Yet it spearheaded the African military intervention that restored Sierra Leone to civilian rule in March 1998.
Government members portrayed General Abacha as the only man who could unite such a diverse nation.
But his opponents in Nigeria saw him as part of a military elite desperate to hang on to power. While repeatedly promising to oversee the country's return to democratic civilian rule, in April he became the only nominated candidate for the presidency and was expected to keep hold of power.
I can't imagine why anyone would want to help someone who stole millions in aid money at the cost of his people so he could feel better about himself. If the Abachas aren't living off stolen aid money today, I'm a confederate reenactor.
Five minutes of research, five, would have revealed that the Abachas are scum who got what they deserved, which was to be shoved out of power.
When I see these 419 letters, many contain a pitch to help the exiled dictator of the day, Mobutu, Abacha, whomever, and they must play on the lack of awareness of Americans.
I mean, if you can steal millions of dollars in aid money, do you really need some random person to offer up their bank account to transfer funds? Don't you have some gnomish Swiss lawyer in your pocket with all the illegal to legal skills you'll ever need?
Of course you do.
This relies on the greedy and gullible to work. But jesus, it's random e-mail, why would they e-mail YOU?
Let's break down one of the 50 or so solicitiations I get a day from 419 scammers
Greeting from Mark Edward,This requires you to think that there no Ghanian with the skills to call a lawyer in London, dig up an American to make the claim and then split the money with none the wiser. If this was real, they could arrange this in days, just days. But it is just a scam to get money from the greedy and foolish.
My name is Mr. Mark Edward, in charge of Credit and Foreign bills Of (International Commercial Bank Ghana) I am writing in respect of a foreign customer of my bank with account number 014-2505-114822 whose name is Mr. Kim, Changho a citizen of United State Of America who perished in a plane crash (Korean Air Flight 801) with the whole passengers aboard on August 6, 1997. For your perusal you can view this site http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9708/06/guam.passenger.list
They pick a random person with a verifiable idenitity, but unverifiable information. Why would an American have an account with a Ghanaian bank instead of Barclays or HSBC which does business in Ghana?
Since the demise of this our customer, I personally has watched with keen interest to see the next of kin but all has proved abortive as no one has come to claim his funds of US$9.5M (Nine Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) which has been with my branch for a very long time.
The missing kin. This is always a part of this. Despite the fact that unless he was adopted, Koreans have unusually close family ties, it is unlikely this is the case, this is essential to believe the scam
On this note, I decided to seek for whom his name shall be used as the Next of Kin as no one has come up to be the next of kin. And the banking ethics here does not allow such money to stay more than eight years, because money will be recalled to the bank treasury as unclaimed after this period.
The clock is running. They need a name to claim the account. Why not ask a US or UK relative to find someone to do this if they really had access to the money?
In view of this I have gone extra mind to make sure that I got a responsible person who will not betrayed me or trying to blackmail me this which I got many information’s but after I had series of prayers and fasting for divine direction to an honest and trustworthy person who will not betray me once the fund is in his or her custody, amoung all the information’s you are only person my spirit directed me to contact for this with full hope that you are the right person.
A play on religion which works especially well on Americans. See, you're really special, God directed me to you, honest person. It also makes them seen slightly naive
Upon the receipt of your response, I will send you by fax or e-mail the application, bank's fax number and the next step to take. I will not fail to bring to your notice that this business is hitch free and that you should not entertain any fear as all modalities for fund transfer can be finalized within five banking days, after you apply to the bank as a relation to the deceased.
What this doesn't mention is that you'll have to come up with some kind of fee. This will be anything but hitch free once you answer this
As soon as you receive this letter, kindly send me an e-mail signifying your decision including your contact address, private Tel/Fax numbers for quick communication.
Once you do this, they have you hooked. Then comes the pleas for opening accounts, bribe money and the rest.
Mr. Mark Edward.
posted by Steve @ 8:04:00 AM