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Though it didn't help him recover any of his money, Adler's case broke new ground; the Nigerian government was found to be party to the scam. "That was the one big noteworthy thing about our case," McCarthy explains. "Up until then, there had never been a judicial finding that members of the Nigerian government were involved in these fraud schemes. Part of our district court judge's factual findings is that we proved that. The evidence that came in at trial was very compelling. We had phone records, and, in fact, there was a bank official from London who did due diligence on part of the monies that were sent over to Nigeria -- because our client had to actually get a loan from a Mexican bank, which has a branch in London, to make some of the payments on the contract. So this bank official contacted the Nigerian commercial attaché in London. They gave him the phone number for the Central Bank of Nigeria. Of course, later we verified through discovery that the number he called was the official number for the Central Bank of Nigeria. So he called and said, 'This is who I am, and I'm trying to verify the particulars of this contract.' He was then transferred to one of the deputy governors there -- who we later confirmed to be the correct deputy governor -- who said, 'Oh yes, I'm familiar with the contract, I have it right here in front of me, all you need to do is make the payment and the contract proceeds will be released.' So we had extremely compelling evidence that the Nigerian government was telling everybody that it was a legitimate contract and the money is needed to be paid."

McCarthy says it's this imprimatur from the Nigerian government that makes these scams attractive. "They are presenting themselves as being associated with the Nigerian government. And if you're an American -- and this is worldwide, the United Kingdom has also been a heavy recipient of these things -- you tend to think if it's involving the Nigerian government, it's probably okay. You tend to think that members of a government wouldn't be involved in a scam to defraud."

He also warns that these scam letters are still around. "I see them every once in a while. A client or a friend will send one in," he says. For information on how to recognize 419 scams -- 419 is the Nigerian penal code for these fraud schemes -- and for sample proposal letters, he recommends the 419 Coalition website at http://home.rica. net/alphae/419coal/.

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