LAGOS/WASHINGTON — Nigerian businessman Karim Oluwaseyi created a Gmail account to impersonate U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Now, Oluwaseyi has been charged with attempting to extort money under false pretenses.
According to charges filed by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Oluwaseyi requested money using the email address email@example.com in exchange for services rendered in the United States, in what is known as an “advance-fee scam.”
The exact contents of his messages have not been made public, but Oluwaseyi may have offered to provide legal advice or assistance, key functions of the U.S. attorney general, in exchange for undisclosed sums of money.
Online scammers often use technical prowess and a keen understanding of the human psyche to defraud people of hundreds, even thousands of dollars. But Oluwaseyi appeared to take a more understated approach.
His subject lines were terse, such as “Grant.” In at least one case, he sent a message titled “no subject,” according to The Premium Times, an online news site based in Nigeria.
Oluwaseyi committed the alleged crimes on June 29, according to witnesses procured by A.M. Ocholi, a lawyer for the EFCC.
Just two weeks earlier, U.S. officials had arrested 74 people in Nigeria, the United States and Canada for their roles in a multinational fraud syndicate, Wired magazine reported.
It’s unclear how many people received messages from Oluwaseyi and whether he managed to extort any money before his scheme unraveled.
Some online scammers in Nigeria, also called “yahoo boys,” have said it’s their idleness that drives them to defraud people. But Malam Haruna Mustapha, a young Nigerian man who spoke to VOA’s Hausa Service, blamed the problem on greed and the desire to get rich quick.
“Refusal to accept where God places you is what makes them look at what others have. They want to be like them overnight without finding how those ones started, what they went through and how they endured before they get to where they are today,” Mustapha said.
The tactics online scammers employ may seem far-fetched, even comical, but they can cause significant damage both to their victims and to society as a whole.
“Scamming or stealing through the internet does a great harm to the national economy, especially as such acts discourage investors from coming to Nigeria,” Dauda Muhammed Kontagora, an economist who spoke to VOA’s Hausa Service, said.
The judge in the case, Justice Oyindamola Ogala, remanded Oluwaseyi to prison until September 10, when he will consider an application for bail.
The U.S. Department of Justice declined VOA’s request for an interview while Oluwaseyi’s legal situation continues to evolve. “We are not going to comment on a pending criminal matter in a foreign country,” a DOJ spokesperson told VOA.
Oluwaseyi has denied all charges against him.
This story originated in VOA’s Hausa Service with Babangida Jibrin reporting from Lagos and Salihu Garba translating from Washington. Salem Solomon wrote the story and Masood Farivar contributed from Washington.