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.” 


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.