A ‘Herbert Nicolas’, who describes himself as a managing agent for National Westminster Bank in the UK (NatWest), offered me £2 million (R41 million) to help him cheat the estate of one of his former clients.
Nicolas wrote in an email that he helped a client invest £4 million (R82 million) in a secret account with a secret private bank, Reliance Private Bank Limited & Security.
Unfortunately, the customer died in a car accident before he could recover the deposit and a worldwide search failed to trace any of his family.
“This is the situation,” Nicolas says in his unsolicited email. “This bank has spent large amounts of money trying to track down this man’s family; they spent years researching and found no family.
“The investigation has been completed. My proposal is; I am willing to place you in a position to instruct Reliance Private Bank Limited & Security Company to release the deposit to you as the closest surviving relation.
“After receiving the deposit I am willing to split the money in half with you. That is, I just nominate you as next of kin and have them release the deposit to you.
“We split the proceeds 50/50”, Nicolas suggests.
Okay then …
I agreed – to see how his dubious plan would turn out.
He went on to explain that the private bank “has no idea whatsoever” of the history or nature of the deposit, but is simply waiting for instructions to release the deposit to a party who comes forward.
“However, I have communicated with Reliance Private Bank Limited & Security Company and have obtained their support to release the aforementioned fund without any hiccups to anyone who will be named by me as the next of kin.
“Therefore, an appropriate arrangement has already been made with a special envoy here in the UK to transfer the above-mentioned fund as an investment fund to one of your designated addresses in your country,” I was told.
“And we have completed the formalities and the date of departure and the date of arrival in your country that will be made known to you,” Nicolas said in one of his several emails, which he addressed to the Moneyweb mail server.
And there it is…
An elaborate story, nearly 30 emails and multiple phone calls from Nicolas, and it turns out to be nothing more than the old advance money scam.
Nicolas sent me instructions to pay R4 980 to a courier company, Maxline Logistics, who would deliver the suitcase full of money to my door.
Nicolas even sent a photo of the suitcase waiting at OR Tambo.
I would necessarily receive the full £4 million, and we would split it later. Nicolas clearly trusted me with his share.
Maxline Logistics has meanwhile sent an invoice and the details of a bank account at Absa.
Inquiries with Absa showed how far South African banks go to safeguard their customers’ money and fight fraud.
Within hours, Absa had investigated the Maxline Logistics account waiting to receive my R4 980 and confirmed that transactions through this account appeared suspicious.
“The account was opened according to standard procedures as prescribed by regulations, but the transactions do not reflect the usual business transactions,” said Ulrich Janse van Rensburg of Absa’s fraud department.
Absa’s financial crime team categorized it as a “mule” bill, a term the banking industry apparently borrows from drug smugglers.
Mule accounts are used as a medium to withdraw money from the financial banking system through withdrawals or purchases at the point of sale.
“Crime syndicates open bank accounts using third-party identities or pay vulnerable people money to open a bank account,” says Janse van Rensburg.
This creates problems for these people when they want to open a bank account for themselves in the future, as banks record consumer data associated with fraudulent activities, such as mule accounts, in a central industry database hosted by the South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS). .
The individual must then go through an extensive process to prove that they are not involved in fraudulent activity before gaining access to financial products.
“Mule accounts are a challenge for the sector that Absa and the industry take very seriously,” says Janse van Rensburg.
“All know-your-customer [KYC] and Financial Intelligence Center Act [Fica] procedures are followed in addition to internal customer authentication controls to identify the entities that open transaction accounts. Then Absa monitors the accounts to identify fraudulent behavior.
“If such behavior is found, the bank has a duty to close the account and record information associated with the account with the SAFPS.”
Banks also work together to track the funds and recover any amounts held in accounts involved in committing fraud.
“The bank will also appoint forensic investigators to continue our fight against syndicates where sufficient evidence is available,” added Janse van Rensburg.
Banks try to get money back, but can only do so if it is still in the banking system – and criminals generally spend the money at a payment terminal as quickly as possible.
Janse van Rensburg says that banks use different means to identify the perpetrators. Closing suspicious bank accounts benefits criminals as they have to go through the hassle of opening new mule accounts.
“However, it’s important for consumers to remain vigilant,” he says, noting a few things people should pay attention to:
- Never rush into urgent action to transfer money to meet a certain deadline.
- Always confirm the application independently with a party you trust.
- Beware of bank account change requests received via email, including from known parties. Criminals hack into email accounts, find unpaid invoices and issue invoices with their own bank details. They then ask for payments to the new bank account. It is recommended that you personally confirm any changes to bank account information with the company you do business with.
- Be careful when answering emails from an unknown and very “friendly” person, such as someone: who wants to deliver a package; informing you that you have inherited money from an unknown relative; offer you lottery winnings; or ask for help and information if they plan to immigrate to South Africa.
- Beware of scams when, for example, you receive an email or find a website with a one-time offer. Always validate the parties independently. If it’s too good to be true, it’s usually a scam. Always consider the safest payment process.
- Then there are dating frauds. Vulnerable and lonely people can be attacked and charmed by phone and email. Criminals will ask for financial support and assure you that they will repay you. Always seek advice from a trustworthy person before making payments to anyone you have met online.
Janse van Rensburg says there are far more scams and people should be careful when they receive an unsolicited email or social media message.
Nicolas and his partners have lost their mule account.
“The mule account has been confirmed as fraudulent by other banks,” says Janse van Rensburg.
“Standard process is followed, including forensics, blacklisting and customer exit.”
By Adrian Kruger
This article first appeared on Moneyweb and has been republished with permission. Read the original article here†