On March 21, 2012, the United States of America filed a complaint in intervention against AT & T Inc. in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in case no. 2:10-cv-01376-NBF-RCM (Anyone who has access to www.pacer.gov can access the full details of the case).
In the 22-page complaint, USA government alleges that the telephone giant AT & T Inc. allowed Nigerian fraudsters to hijack a special telephone service provided by AT & T Inc. that allowed individuals with hearing or speech disabilities to make phone calls through the Internet to anyone. The caller does not pay a dime to AT &T for making the call. Instead AT and T recover the costs of the service from the United States of America government under federal rules. AT and T is reimbursed by the United States of America at a rate of approximately $1.30 per minute. For the telephone company to be reimbursed for providing the special telephone service to the hearing or speech impaired, the company was required to verify that the person making the call (1) is impaired and (2) lives in the United States by checking the actual address provided by the caller during registration before providing the special telephone service.
USA further alleges in the complaint that AT and T knew that more than 95 percent of those calls emanated from fraudsters from Nigeria since 2002 and did not stop the calls. Instead, it allowed the fraudsters “to defraud merchants in the United States by ordering goods with stolen credit cards and counterfeit checks, and by other illicit means.” The USA alleges that it had paid over $100 million to AT and T Inc. between 2002 and 2012 for the special telephone service even though 95 percent of the callers were Nigerian fraudsters calling from Lagos, Nigeria.
The telephone giant is yet to formally respond to the allegations of the complaint.
Major televisions and radio stations in the United States are carrying this sensational lawsuit with emphasis on the fraudulent use of the services by Nigerian fraudsters.
IMPLICATION FOR NIGERIANS IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
I have lived in the United States of America for over a decade. Our image as Nigerians here in USA is horrible. I have said repeatedly in various fora and conferences that more than 98% Nigerians are hardworking, honest and god-fearing. The fraudsters are just about 2% Nigerians. They usually consist of college graduates and their stooges who send scam letters to anyone living outside Nigeria regardless of nationality. Americans now view the legitimate activities of those of us living in the United States of America with suspicion. When we file tax returns, the IRS specially scrutinizes them. When we file immigration papers, the USCIS specially scrutinizes them. Any document or statement coming from a Nigerian is subject to extra scrutiny. Our friends ask us about the scam letters they receive in their emails every time. Recently, about six Nigerians living outside the United States of America defrauded about seven major law firms in the United States of America and Canada of over 100 million dollars through Internet scam letters and emails. American women do not like to date Nigerians because they believe that Nigerians are capable of pulling the trigger of fraud at any time.
I really believe the Nigerian government in general and the Nigerian police in particular are not doing enough to redeem our battered image as fraudsters. I really do not know why the Nigerian government is lax on “419” despite our negative international image. Some people in Nigeria think that the fraudsters are using the money they obtain from American citizens by fraud to develop Nigeria, and on that basis, think it is okay. Some other Nigerians think that American citizens who fall into the trap of the Nigerian fraudsters are merely making reparation for their involvement in slave trade in Nigeria during the colonial era and for forcing several Nigerians to work in their plantations without just compensation. Other people in Nigeria simply refuse to sympathize with the American citizens who fall prey to fraudulent scams on the basis that their greed caused them to fall prey. As far as I am concerned, there is no and there can be no justification for fraud or white collar crimes or for any crimes at all.
IMPLICATION FOR NIGERIANS IN NIGERIA
As long as the Nigerian government continues to allow “419” to thrive in Nigeria, the country will not attract genuine foreign investment to Nigeria. The country will continue to lose foreign investment to other African countries like Ghana and South Africa. This will result in more unemployment, lack of development and pulling out of foreign investment from Nigeria. Additionally, the United States embassy in Nigeria may refuse to issue visas to genuine Nigerians because of the negative image. It is well documented that some Nigerian policemen collude with Nigerian fraudsters to avoid being punished for defrauding foreigners. This is a sad reflection of the general moral decay in Nigeria where money is king or “eze-ugo”. I respectfully call on the Nigerian government to urgently pass a law that will make it mandatory for Nigerian judges to jail convicted fraudsters for life without possibility of parole especially when the victims are non-Nigerians. I believe this kind of law will greatly reduce the get-rich-quick syndrome prevalent in Nigeria.
Integrity is the hallmark of our economic and political development.