The Nigerian government has launched a new crackdown on organised criminals who attempt to con email users with get-rich-quick schemes.
According to BBC News Online, President Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria's political leader, announced an inquiry into the problem on Wednesday, vowing to "step up measures against these criminal activities."
The notorious email scam is also known as the 419 scam -- 419 being the part of the Nigerian criminal code that relates to fraud. It begins with a message offering the recipient a very large sum of money in return for helping to move an even larger amount of cash out of a foreign bank account.
Anyone who expresses an interest is then told that they must first hand over a substantial amount of money to cover expenses such as banking fees and administrative costs. These "advanced fees" often run to thousands of pounds. Some American victims have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Now prevalent online, the 419 scam was originally conducted by post, and then by letter. It has become an issue of some embarrassment to the Nigerian government, even though many of those responsible are not thought to be based in the country at all.
Back in May 2002, six people were arrested in South Africa on suspicion of involvement in the fraud.
President Olusegun Obasanjo's inquiry has two months to come up with ways of combating the problem, which could include new legislation. Many governments and police forces have issued warnings about the letters, but those responsible continue to find victims, and in Nigeria at least, so far appear to have been able to escape justice. According to the chairman of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Alhaji Nuhu Ribadu, quoted in Lagos' This Day newspaper recently, Nigeria has yet to convict a single person for the 419 scam.
"How can it be that in South Africa, there are 38 Nigerians convicted for 419, but in Nigeria there is no single conviction. How do you think that the international community will take us seriously?" Nuhu was quoted as saying. Nuhu told This Day that the judiciary was being used to frustrate prosecution of crime suspects in Nigeria: "Any time we commence full prosecution, lawyers to these 419 kingpins will use the courts to stall prosecution. They will file one motion or the other at the Court of Appeal. We need to set example by actual conviction. In this country, there is no single case of conviction, yet there are over 27 Nigerians in detention for crimes of 419," he said.
ZDNet U.K.'s Graeme Wearden reported from London.