Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Bishop from Nigeria

bishopj.jpg

This week, someone tried to scam Sophia out of a lot of money. 

Two weeks ago, Sophia, who frequently works as a Russian and Hebrew interpreter, received this email:

Hello Sophia,

I am Bishop Tobi Joshua, an English speaking clergy from Nigeria.  I will be coming over to California, on vacation from 25th of June to the 5th of July 2005 for a 10 days vacation with my Russian wife, daughter and son of the ages of 3 and 5 respectively.  My wife Rev. Lora only speaks Russian and my native language because her mother comes from Nigeria.  She will require the services of a Russian interpreter, for 5 hours daily for 10 days because I will not always be with them on most occasions due to other church functions which I must attend. Please acknowledge if you can offer this service and give me a price quote. We will like to pay in advance of our visit so she can be assured of an interpreter during her shopping and sightseeing because this is her first visit to US. An early reply will be appreciated.

Remain Blessed,

His Lordship,
Bishop Tobi Joshua.

OK, I know that a hundred red flags are already going up for you, but remember that both Sophia and I are kindhearted people and naïve about the ways of the world.   Well, at least I am.  Besides, she does get jobs over the Internet.

"I’m going to charge him X.   If he accepts, then I’ll do it.”

Sophia emailed the Bishop back, making sure that she blessed him, his family, and everyone in his country at the end of the email.  After all, being a Jewish girl, she didn’t want to offend a clergyman of another faith.  To every flowery blessing of his ("May God bless you abundantly" etc.), she returned two of her own.  The Bishop wrote back, saying that his California sponsor agreed to the deal.  That night, Sophia and I went out to an African restaurant on Wilshire to celebrate.  It wasn’t very good.

Sophia cancelled some jobs and shopped for some clothes appropriate for a Bishop and his Reverend wife (Sophia has a certain fondness for sexy low-cut tops). The Bishop and Sophia corresponded daily.  A lot of blessings were exchanged.  Sophia even started to feel guilty that she hasn’t gone to Temple in so long.

A week before the family were supposed to arrive, Sophia received another email.  Bishop Tobi’s wife had a mild stroke.  They would be unable to come to Los Angeles after all.  

Are you one step ahead of us?

Bishop Tobi said the check was already in the mail.  He thought Sophia deserved half of the fee for all her trouble. 

“Cash it and send half back to me,” he emailed.

I tried to convince Sophia to give more than half back to the Bishop.   After all, he was a religious man.  Also, being one of those guilty liberal types, I was concerned that Tobi was a poor African.

Sophia, being a Republican, called me an idiot.   After all, she gave up other jobs to do this and bought all these dowdy clothes.  This is the one time where her politics were right.

The check arrived the next day, and finally we saw all those red flags that you’ve been screaming to us about.  The check was a cashier’s check from a legitimate Texas bank.  The envelope was postmarked from Switzerland.  There was no evidence of a Bishop Tobi Joshua on Google.  Friends told us that “Nigeria” is a hotbed of scams.  I searched for “Nigeria” and “interpreters” online and found that hundreds of interpreters had gotten a similar email, the only difference being that the Bishop’s wife was Chinese or German or French.  The scam is that the interpreter deposits the cashier’s check, returns back half, and then finds out the cashier’s check is fake.

After verifying that the check was fake, Sophia called the Secret Service.  Since “24” is our favorite show, we visualized some Jack Bauer type jumping in, ready for action, wanting all the information and studying every inch of the Swiss envelope and the fake check for fingerprints and clues.   Instead, the Los Angeles branch said there was nothing they can do, especially since Sophia never cashed the check and therefore wasn’t “a victim.” 

Huh?

Sophia, being a woman of justice as well as a thrill-seeker, suggested that she help them do a sting operation.  The agent was totally uninterested.  He suggested that she call the Washington DC branch of the Secret Service.  When Sophia asked for the number, he said to just dial 411.

Washington’s branch of the Secret Service was more useless.   They told her that they get twenty phone calls a day from interpreters who have lost thousands of dollars.

“Exactly.  So, don’t you think we should do something about this?” Sophia asked.

The Secret Service agent suggested that Sophia email “the Bishop” and curse him out, telling him what she really thought about the scam. 

Very sophisticated. 

Instead, Sophia did one better.  She emailed “the Bishop,” telling him that since he must have a lot medical expenses for his sick wife’s treatment, she wasn’t going to charge him anything and was just going to rip up the check.  This way, she won’t have anything to send him back.  At least the crook will beat himself up, thinking he overplayed his hand.

Why was the Secret Service so inept?  I am beginning to understand why our government can’t stop illegal immigration or win a war in Iraq.

UPDATE from Sophia:

Today I received this E-Mail:

You can’t do that! Bank charges have been paid on the check and the money has to be refunded somehow. Tearing it up means the charges have been lost and apart from that it may take a longer time to get the refund on that check. You should have consulted me first.

Tobi Joshua…

This time I decided to take the Secret Service’s weird advice and wrote back to put an end to this charade:

Just Tobi, no Bishop anymore, no blessings?

Sorry I didn’t consult you, I consulted a higher authority instead- the US Secret Service , you asshole!

Update July 4, 2005:

Apparently, we were the only ones in America who didn’t know Nigeria is legendary for it’s email scams.

There’s even a brand new Nigerian scam targeting those desperate to be on a reality TV show.

23 Comments

  1. Good grief! I am so sorry to read this story. Makes me want to read again “Why bad things happen to good people?”

  2. Sophia, you probably look so much better in those low-cut tops anyway! 😉

  3. I believe the whole thing, but… is the Secret Service part for real?

  4. As real as my new dowdy wardrobe, Renee.

  5. Wow! I have suspected that this is a scam. I got a check and deposited but wise enough to wait until the money is really in my bank before sending half of the money as the Bishop requested. Thank you for the warning. GOD BLESS YOU!

  6. varuna tejwani

    June 28, 2005 at 7:49 am

    I also got his e-mail but i totally igorned it.

  7. What language did your “Bishop’s wife” speak?

  8. If he was a Catholic bishop it would’ve been a red flag that he had a wife. 🙂

    I had a similar experience once. I posted an ad on Craigslist and an Italian businessman emailed me inquiring about the price. He said he’d like to buy it and was going to send me $30,000 for my bed, which I was selling for $200. He said he had made arrangements for someone to ship it to him and I was to cash the $30,000 check and forward the rest of the money to his “shipper.”

    It would’ve been cool to play along with it except this scammer wasn’t very good with handling multiple deals. He started getting his emails mixed up and pretty soon I was receiving emails about a horse I was supposedly selling, and then some other farm animals he’s trying to buy.

    In my last email I told him that the email mix-ups were very unprofessional and that I was not interested in conducting business with such people.

  9. I was also confused about the Bishop thing, but I guess he was supposed to an Anglican bishop. I’m surprised that the crooks said he was from Nigeria, since apparently there are a whole bunch of famous scams that come out of that country. Just so I don’t badmouth Nigeria too much, the scam artists may not have been Nigerian at all, but from Switzerland. And I thought the Swiss were just into cheese.

  10. I also heard that this type of scam is common on Ebay, where someone sends a check that’s too large and then wants half back.

  11. Thank you so much por posting, I was in the process of talking to “a bishop” myself (French wife) and almost fell for it. THANK YOU!

  12. Make sure to check out Sophia’s update at the bottom of the post.

  13. There goes another idea for a job. Rats.

  14. I suppose I sound like I am just covering for the USSS, but you have to understand something. This Nigerian scam has been around for decades and there are literally thousands of reports each year. If the USSS or any agency tried to work these cases they would have no time to do anything else.

    Plus, the scam originates in Nigera (or other foreign nations) and the USSS and other US agencies have no authority there. The Nigerian police are not going to help either because they do not care or they are being paid to look the other way by the scam artists.

    Believe me, they would love to catch some of these guys if they could, but it is pretty much impossible to do so.

    So, while the USSS agents might have been more sympathetic to Sophie’s plight, they would have just been leading her on if they made her think that they could actually do anything.

  15. This one is more dangerous then other scams because it is harder to readily intentify as a scam.

    I have several rounds of email exchange with that “Bishop”. It sounded nothing wrong in the beginning. They hid their intention and you had no reason to suspect them. I was very demanding in my response when they approached me to do interpretation. Later on I found whatever you demanded, they always said OK and they seemed to be able accommodate all your requirements….

  16. I, too, got this e-mail and found it to be quite seductive. Since my intuition was telling me “NOOO” I decided to listen and deleted this message to avoid further temptation. Thank you for the reality follow-up to this epic.

  17. I was in the middle of a negotiation with this bishop for services for his Armenian wife… Thanks God for this post!

  18. I meant to add that my neighbor got his by a version of this scam. He was selling his old car and went to one of those Internet sites to post the sale. Someone from Europe emailed him and said he owned some kind of wholesale car dealership and told the boy that he would send him a check for what the boy was asking for the car PLUS $2000. Then the boy was supposed to deposit the check and send the two grand back to him — some kind of way to avoid taxes it was explained. Unfortunately, the boy did it but the check was bogus and no one ever came to pick up the car.

    So the boy’s checking account was two thousand poorer.

    His parents asked me to help and while I did take copies of the e-mails to several agenices I work with they couldn’t do anything for the reasons I mentioned earlier.

    Basically, if something sounds too good to be true, folks, it is.

  19. Sophia,
    I am so glad you caught it in time! Just shows that we all need to stick together and help each other.
    Varvara

  20. After getting a letter from a bishop whose name actually came up on Google, I contacted the “real” bishop in Nigeria and was told by his secretary that the bishop never travels with his wife and that someone is probably trying to con me. What a blessing that revelation was!
    I have received other versions, some from Mirriel Zusien who actually responded to me in broken German (he was looking for an interpreter for his daughters who come to Alaska in the winter (cold and dark) for sightseeing (…in the cold and dark). We really have to be super careful because it seems that con artists and scam masters are lurking around every corner in the www.

  21. Kirsten, glad you caught on to the scam. I’m sure there are quite a few who get suckered into it. Sophia and I almost did, too.

  22. Same here! I received same kind of email from “Mirriel Zusien” with the same request of interpreting services for his 2 daughters…..I am glad I did not reveal any SS#, etc. just my name and address. Is there something else I should have done to protect myself?

  23. From: “henshaw amah”
    To: Victim
    Sent:
    Subject: Interpreting Service…

    Hello,
    I am Rev.Henshaw Amah.Am an English speaking clergy from London.I will be coming over to [Your City] on holidays from 12th of December to the 19th of December 2005 for a 7 days vacation with my [your language] wife,daughter and son of the ages of 3 and 5 respectively.My wife Mrs Kate Amah only speaks [language] and my native language,because her mum happens to come from Gambia. We will require the services of a [your language] translator for 5 hours daily X 7 days because i will not always be with them on most occations due to other church functions which i most attend.Please acknowledge if you can offer this service and give me a price quote.We will like to pay in advance of our visit so she can be assured of an interpreter during her shopping and sightseeing because this is her first visit to the state .
    An early reply will be appreciated.

    Remain Blessed,

    Rev.Henshaw Amah

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