Scammers close in on the vulnerable

Jill Ambrose is warning others about being vigilant in dealings with Nigerian companies after her error in judgement cost her $300,000.
Jill Ambrose is warning others about being vigilant in dealings with Nigerian companies after her error in judgement cost her $300,000. Nicholas Falconer

JILL Ambrose's tale of being swindled out of more than $300,000 by Nigerian scammers is a perfect adventure novel or action film fit.

It would have high entertainment value, complete with money handovers in abandoned Amsterdam warehouses, international money-laundering rings and one trusting woman who was strung along for four long years.

The problem is Jill Ambrose's story is not some fictional piece of creative writing. It actually happened to her and it could happen to you.

Ms Ambrose, who has been on the Sunshine Coast for 13 years and is now retired from her interior decorating business, received an email in September 2004 asking if she would like to help renovate hospitals in Lagos.

She agreed, received a contract and lined up architects and builders to do the work. At the last minute, she was contacted to say the work would be done by contractors already in Lagos, but it would be done in her name if she paid.

The total job was worth $US11million, which the government would transfer to her – via Barbados – and she would then repay it to Commissioner of Health Dr Leke Pitan while keeping $US1million for her troubles.

“It's not as cut and dried as that because they get you in emotionally...they become your friend, they are so clever,” she said.

“I flew to Amsterdam to pick up my money, but I had to bring $20,000 with me. The fraud squad begged me not to go (at Brisbane Airport), but I went.

“The (scammers) sent a driver and I was taken to this deserted group of warehouses. We went upstairs and there was this huge warehouse that had two desks and three big black fellas, it was scary.

“They had a huge big tin with $11m in cash in it. They pulled out a $100 US note to show me it was legit, and they said the money would go into an account I delegated.

“But then they rang me to say the solution they had to put the money through had congealed and they couldn't clear it and they wanted $300,000 for a new solution. I told them to take a walk.

“I was told six times over four years that the money was on its way and each time there was a hold-up.”

Ms Ambrose candidly admits she was in a vulnerable state when the scammers first approached her, having just lost more than $1m in a business deal with some friends that went wrong.

“I think that was the reason I got caught in,” she said. “And at the moment, so many are vulnerable out there because of the way the climate is. These guys would be having a field day.

“And they have such a big network.”

She is now working closely with police and a victims support group to help highlight the crime.

“My family wouldn't speak to me while I was involved, but I wouldn't trade the experience.

“Ultimately I felt sad because I really had become very fond of the two people I was dealing with.

“I felt my trust had been betrayed. But I don't want to be bitter or angry. I can't change what I've done, I've got to get on with my life.

“I tell victims ‘don't be angry, otherwise you are giving it all back to them'.”

She advised other businesses to remember the old rule “if it sounds too good, it probably is”.

She said the police fraud squad's efforts to catch the perpetrators were hampered by understaffing.

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