Are 419 Victims Guilty Of Fraud If They Recruit Others?

from the legal-questions dept

One of our readers, Stack, sent in a link to this story about an Australian couple arrested for their participation in recruiting others into a Nigerian 419 scam. Stack suggested in his submission that it was a case of a 419 victim who, having "learned" the scam then turned around and started scamming others. But, from the description I'm not so sure that's the case. Instead, it sounds like the couple was really convinced that the scam was real, and merely convinced others to join in the scam, as well, in order to collect the "necessary" money to free the (non-existent) millions in Nigeria (or whereever this particular scammer claimed the money was).

This raises some interesting questions. If my read is correct, then the couple in question certainly didn't profit from the scam at all, and didn't even know they were being scammed. As we've seen in the past, victims of 419 scams are often so convinced by the scam that even when the whole thing is explained to them, they still believe the scammers are willing to give them money -- something that's been found to be true in historical scams like the infamous Drake's Fortune.

However, if that's the case, the couple in question didn't know it was a scam, and wasn't directly profiting from getting others involved (though, they ignorantly thought they were). So... are they victims or are they scammers? Or both?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jan 15th, 2009 @ 12:17am

    It's unclear from the article when they started to "recruit" others, or if they personally profited from it. If they started after they had themselves realised it was a scam and tried pocketing the proceeds, then they are guilty. Since they're only being charged with 2 counts of fraud while there's 12 "victims", this is actually quite possible.

    If, on the other hand, they did so while unaware that it could be a scam or they did not pocket any on the proceeds, then they are simply guilty of being spectacular idiots.

    One is a crime that should be punished, the other is not. It's also not mentioned what happened to the original scammers. It's not unlikely that the authorities are simply going after this couple because it's easier than trying to prosecute people in another country.

     

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    Tamara, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 12:54am

    They should definitely be charged. What these scams offer in the first place make it pretty clear to anyone with a brain bigger than a pea that you will be involved in an illegal activity. These people accept the deal - even though they're the ones who are being ripped off. That's not what they've been charged with, but they(and all "victims") should be arrested whenever they report they were conned. If you're willing to be involved in money laundering or embezzlement then you deserve everything you get.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 2:53am

    Just because one played the clueless game and won doesn't mean they are all clueless. You are generalizing too much. Anyone knowing about that case could use it to their advantage since it worked in the past.

     

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    Ima Fish, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 8:36am

    "However, if that's the case, the couple in question didn't know it was a scam, and wasn't directly profiting from getting others involved"

    Did the Australian couple know they were being scammed? No. Did they believe they were a part of a scam? Sure they did. The Australian couple had no legal right to the money the Nigerian Prince or bureaucrat was pretending to sneak out of the country.

    And the fact that the Australian couple did not profit is meaningless. There are plenty of crimes that are committed where there is no profit. Profit is not the sole criteria for a crime. While the Australian couple was trying to get people involved in what they truly believed was a scam, they were being scammed by someone else. That does not change the fact that they were trying to get people involved in what they truly believed was a scam. The fact that they failed at their scam does not exonerate them.

     

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    Travis, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 9:52am

    Conspiracy...

    In all likelihood they could be charged with Conspiracy to commit Fraud. Though, that's the highest they'll get charged. Then again I doubt they'll be charged with anything. Authorities have to find evidence showing the couple KNEW that is was a scam. If they knew it was then they can be charged with Conspiracy to Commit Fraud. Though if they knew it BEFORE recruiting others then it'll be a charge for every person they enticed to "help". Though, my feeling is if they really didn't know then they shouldn't be arrested for their ignorance. Otherwise our prisons would be MUCH MORE over populated then they are now.

     

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    Ima Fish, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 10:15am

    Re: Conspiracy...

    "Authorities have to find evidence showing the couple KNEW that is was a scam."

    That would be easy to prove. All the prosecutor would have to do is show the emails. Some Nigerian Prince, bureaucrat, etc. writes the Australian couple and requests help sneaking money out of his country. That's a scam and the Australian couple obviously believed it was a real scam when they recruited others to help. The fact that it was a different scam than the one perpetrated against the Australian couple is not any sort of an exoneration. Criminals back-stab their fellow co-criminals all the time.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 1:24pm

    Re:

    they(and all "victims") should be arrested whenever they report they were conned.

    If we start putting people in prison just for being idiots then you're likely to get a life term.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 1:28pm

    Re:

    Profit is not the sole criteria for a crime.

    We're talking about a specific crime, the crime of fraud. Not crime in general. Seeking profit is usually part of the requirement for the crime of fraud.

     

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    Slackr, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 3:51pm

    "Two Queenslanders have been charged over recruiting people to a Nigerian scam which netted the fraudsters more than $4.3 million." That is the first paragraph of the link in your post.

    My read on this would be that in this case there is evidence that the 2 charged did profit from the scam to the tune of 4.3 million.

    It is unlikely that if all 12 were victims of mass stupidity (honestly how long does it take to google some of these things and discover they're scams!?!) and all were losers in the equation, that the original 2 have to take a further loss or be punished through the legal system. Clearly they profited from the recruitment somehow.

    Also as mentioned above, if they intentionally sought to defraud - even if they weren't successful - they have still committed an offense (the conspiracy part). Perhaps those law enforcers actually managed to stop a crime BEFORE more victims were created by this couple.

     

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    Tamara, Jan 15th, 2009 @ 11:17pm

    Re: Re:

    Why should I? Read what all of these emails say. They always ask you to help them embezzle money. Embezzlement is a crime. If you're willing to assist someone embezzle then you should go to jail. They can't use the excuse "I didn't know embezzlement was a crime.", ignorance is no excuse otherwise you'd hear "I didn't know murder was a crime."

    These people are pieces of scum. They deserve to go to jail. It should be celebrated whenever these criminals who sign up to help out a criminal activity, get ripped off themselves.

     

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    gene_cavanaugh, Jan 16th, 2009 @ 4:19pm

    419 Scam in Australia

    Certainly if someone is innocent of any wrongdoing, in the US, and I presume under common law principles, in England and Australia, they are not guilty of wrong-doing; but there are many exceptions. If they had reason to know it was a scam, even if they didn't believe it was, and recruited other victims, there is a question about wanton recklessness. Wantonness can equate with intent; ask a driver who drives down a suburban street drunk and at high speed - (s)he may be able to prove no intent, but on the face of it the act is wantonly reckless, and can be prosecuted as intentional.

     

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    Yeye, Apr 1st, 2009 @ 12:33pm

    They did not know

    They did not know anything about it. My mum was scammed through this method in Nigeria(In early 90's - its been around for long.She was raising money all around to do whatever they say and she thereby "recruited" more people to bring the money to the sum that was needed.
    One thing i will point out to you all is that,they always use diabolic means to talk to you(DO AS I SAY). It will never be natural. I lived in Nigeria most of my youth days.In a nut shell,dont be greedy.

     

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    Tim Eden, Aug 27th, 2009 @ 9:35am

    Re: Conspiracy...

    I have been harrassed in every possible way it sounds unbelievable. My family does not believe or my wife of one year. They constantly burglaries, vandalize, call me names, throw objects out of their cars for me to run over. I have police reports over an inch thick,and have accumulated many license plate numbers and state and type of car and the apperance of the driver. I have bought high secuity door locks, no affect. I have bought an ADT wireless home security alarm system, finally after weeks of calling them and telling them that they were taking to much money [one year] out of my bank account for their monthly payment I told them I was going to take them to court, I had to and won hands down and the ADT people did not get one fraud as a result. I could not explain still why this came to past, they deserve it but the judge said inappropreate. I need serious help and first anyone to believe me its really happening. Hope to here from you. Tim J Eden 307-649-2396

     

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    bclary6, Dec 28th, 2009 @ 7:31pm

    Re:

    Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

     

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