The Sideshow

Australian woman turns tables on Nigerian scammers

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

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A sign warns Nigerian computer users against engaging in Internet scams. (AP/Sunday Alamba)

Nigerian email scams have become nearly as commonplace as the Internet itself. But one Australian woman wound up in jail after turning the tables--to the tune of $30,000--on a group of con artists.

The Courier-Mail reports that Sarah Jane Cochrane-Ramsey, 23, was employed as an "agent" in March 2010 by the Nigerians, but didn't know they were scam artists. Her "job" was to provide access to an Australian bank account opened in her name where the Nigerians could then transfer money they had received from a phony car sales website. Cochrane-Ramsey was told she could keep eight percent of the transfers.

But, then she decided to steal from the thieves themselves. According to the Courier-Mail, she received two payments, totaling $33,350, but spent most of it on herself.

If you're not familiar with the so-called Nigerian Scam, also known as the (419) scam, or Advanced Fee Fraud, here's a brief explainer: the fraud works by convincing an individual to give money and/or bank account access to a third-party in exchange for future financial rewards.

Most commonly, the scam artist will claim to be a wealthy Nigerian individual looking to move his vast financial resources to another country. He then promises the fraud victim a hefty payment in exchange for a temporary loan or bank account access in order to facilitate the move. Of course, the fraud victim never receives the promised payout and instead usually ends up losing thousands of dollars in the process. According to Scam Busters, the Advance Fee Fraud scams often target small businesses and charities. And while the scam has been around for years, the U.S. Financial Crimes Division of the Secret Service still receives a reported 100 calls a day from people claiming to be victims of a (419) crime.

But, back to the Cochrane-Ramsey case. The real victims who thought they were buying cars online reported the scam to the police, who traced the account back to Cochrane-Ramsey. She was ordered to appear in Brisbane District Court and plead guilty to one count of aggravated fraud.

For now, the court judge is allowing Cochrane-Ramsey time to come up with the money to pay off the fraud victims while she awaits sentencing in March.

Interestingly, Cochrane-Ramsey is not the first person to turn the tables on Nigerian scammers. In 2008, the radio program This American Life ran a story on some anonymous pranksters who sent a Nigerian scam artist on a wild goose chase that spanned 1,400-miles into war-torn Chad for a promised cash payout at a local Western Union branch.

And they convinced him to do this while carrying an anti-Muslim/pro-George W. Bush note, which stated his intention to rob the Western Union. Their entire plan was spelled out on this website, dedicated to turning the tables on Internet con artists (Warning: contains Not Safe for Work language).

You can listen to the episode of This American Life here.

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