Reporter: Liam Bartlett
Producer: Mick O'Donnell
You might think they're a bit of a joke, all those pesky e-mails, faxes and letters offering you a fortune.
Well, they're not. Those get rich quick schemes - the Nigerian scams - are big business. A vicious international racket, run by serious gangsters.
And now, for the first time we have some idea how many ordinary, hard-working Australians are being conned and how much they're losing. Millions of dollars every month.
But, after a three-month-long investigation here and in Nigeria, there's sweet revenge.
We tracked down the racketeers. And in a series of dramatic raids and sting operations, nailed the Mr Bigs.
Lagos Africa's biggest city. We are on a raid with Nigeria's untouchables the crack new anti-fraud police. The target an Internet café full of scammers. These guys don't muck around. And the fraudsters don't know what's hit them. For years, they had been firing off scam e-mails and letters like this. Conning a fortune from unsuspecting victims all around the world, many in Australia. The scams and the frauds are pulling in millions of dollars from around the globe.
From Queensland alone, $500,000 is coming here every month. Throw in all the other states and territories, and you start to get a picture of what an amazing amount of Australian money is hitting these streets. They have played you like a bit of a fish, didn't they?
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: Yep, sure did.
LIAM BARTLETT: Do you reckon they thought you were an easy touch?
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: Yes, yes. They played me for a fool.
LIAM BARTLETT: Queensland businessman Graham Schoenfisch is one of the many Australians who have been conned by the Nigerian fraud syndicates.
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: We've been hurt, badly hurt. We've been stung. The amount of people doctors, lawyers, and they are even more educated than us, and if they can fool them, well we were no chance of eluding their trick and their cunning and their conning.
LIAM BARTLETT: Amazingly, Graham and his wife, Dot, had been handing over money to the Nigerian conmen for 16 years. Five hundred thousand to dozens of different crime syndicates with absolutely nothing to show for it they're flat broke. How does a bloke who was smart enough to run two successful businesses manage to be dumb enough to fall for these scams?
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: Well, that's the exact word it is I was dumb. I couldn't see the foolishness of it.
LIAM BARTLETT: Foolish and a little greedy. This is how it works victims are drawn into grandiose financial schemes through e-mails and faxes like these. They're promised a share of the action usually millions but there's always a catch. First, the victim has to send a fee in order to have the money released. Then there's another fee and another it never stops.
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: I said 'Oh, beauty this is going to bring in some biccies and we won't need to struggle so much'.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR BRIAN HAY: Did you ever ask why me?
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: Not really. I know I'm a fool now to say it, but I should have asked the question.
LIAM BARTLETT: Queensland's top fraud cop, Detective Inspector Brian Hay, has heard it all before. Inspector Hay heads Australia's first major investigation into the Nigerian scams. It's frightening, isn't it?
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR BRIAN HAY: It is. We've interviewed 133 people and, collectively, those people have lost somewhere in the order of just over $80 million. Australia could be losing tens of millions of dollars every month, potentially.
LIAM BARTLETT: And this is where the money goes. Today, we are on the trail of those millions. Some of the sharks are going down. This is really the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are literally hundreds of these cybercafés littered around Lagos. It's crucial to remove the computers. They hold thousands even millions of victims' e-mails, addresses and phone numbers. But they have to move fast. Outside, the crowd is angry. They're on the side of the crooks. Like many around here, they depend on the scams for a living. It's getting nasty, but a couple of warning shots clear the mob. Well, it's a demonstration of what can happen when that sort of action by the EFCC is not popular among the locals. Many of that big crowd had friends inside the cybercafé and the others, well, they think it is pretty much fair game to scam Westerners. The rocks were thrown, there were shots fired. Fortunately, we're out of there. A world away from the streets of Lagos, more and more Australians are sending cash. Were you almost addicted to trying to get your money back?
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: I was, was. It became to me like if I didn't put it in, I wouldn't get anything I would lose everything.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR BRIAN HAY: Now, I understand that you eventually received a cheque for $31.5 million.
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: I thought 'Holy smoke', I thought. 'I'm made now, just look at this', I thought. Did I say to you, show it to you? It was Chase Manhattan Bank, which is in New York.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR BRIAN HAY: You know this is a fraudulent document?
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: Well, I know now it is.
LIAM BARTLETT: Incredibly, even after they're warned, most victims like Graham Schoenfisch keep sending money. And once the Nigerians have their hooks in them, they won't let up.
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: After that, I just said 'Right that's it, no more'.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR BRIAN HAY: But there was more?
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: There was more because they, they threatened my family. My wife didn't know this before but it's coming out now they threatened my family and I could not stand by and see my family harmed in any way, so I reluctantly did what they asked. I was blackmailed, I was conned and I was a victim of extortion. I'm sorry, can I stop for a while?
LIAM BARTLETT: Graham and Dot have now lost everything. This family home, their two prosperous businesses and this property, where they hoped to build their retirement dream.
DOT SCHOENFISCH: You know, you're so close to owning your own home and it's just gone, you know. And you're thinking 'Oh dear, after all that work'. But now, they're fighting back. With the help of 60 Minutes, Graham wants to set up a sting to scam the scammers. Before we head of overseas, Graham arranges meetings with the scammers over in Nigeria. And here in Nigeria, we have teamed up with the boss of the fraud police, Assistant Commissioner Ibrahim Lamorde. They say he's one of the few honest cops in the country.
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER IBRAHIM LAMORDE: We have put in a lot of effort to stop this scamming going on in Nigeria.
LIAM BARTLETT: Have the scammers tried to bribe you?
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER IBRAHIM LAMORDE: Of course, yes. It's a daily occurrence.
LIAM BARTLETT: That night, his team joins us in a Lagos hotel room, watching as the sting unfolds. In a room next door, producer Mick O'Donnell poses as Graham Schoenfisch and the first con artist soon arrives. He claims he's a senior government official.
MICK O'DONNELL: So what's your position?
NIGERIAN MAN: Director of Currency Operations.
MICK O'DONNELL: It's a very significant job, the Director of Currency Operations? You're a very senior man?
LIAM BARTLETT: And wants US$20,000. And what will I have to do to have my funds released?
NIGERIAN MAN: For your funds to be released to you, you pay $20,000 for the documentation.
LIAM BARTLETT: Now, we move in. Good evening.
NIGERIAN MAN: Good evening, my brother.
LIAM BARTLETT: 60 Minutes, Australia. Are you the Director of Currency Operations?
NIGERIAN MAN: No, no, no, no.
LIAM BARTLETT: You're not? Why did you lie to this man? Let me introduce you to this man this man is from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and that is why he is going to arrest you. Confronted by the police, he rolls over. He agrees to call his boss and lure him into the trap. And, minutes later, here he is, claiming an even grander position in the Nigerian government.
SECOND NIGERIAN MAN: My position is Accountant-General of Federation.
MICK O'DONNELL: Accountant-General of the whole of Federation of Nigeria? He told me that I will have to pay $20,000.
LIAM BARTLETT: Hello, hello. And who are you impersonating tonight, sir. You're the Accountant-General, no less, of the whole of Nigeria, are you?
SECOND NIGERIAN MAN: No.
LIAM BARTLETT: Looks like we have moved up the food chain. This man is a hardened crim, just out of jail for murder. At last he owns up and then, bizarrely, he wants to apologise to Graham Schoenfisch back home in Australia.
SECOND NIGERIAN MAN: Hello, Mr Graham? This is Mr Moses.
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: Yeah, I know you, mate, I know your name, yes, you bloomin' fraudster.
SECOND NIGERIAN MAN: I'm very sorry, I don't ... I'm very sorry for this, I don't, I don't ...
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: You've sent me to bankruptcy, you gutter thief.
LIAM BARTLETT: Two arrests it has been a good night's work. But it's far from over. Graham has been preyed on by many different crime gangs. Tonight, we're able to lure even more into the net. This guy is with the syndicate who are so brazen, they're pretending to be fraud squad detectives themselves.
MICK O'DONNELL: Are you a member of the EFCC?
THIRD NIGERIAN MAN: Definitely, definitely.
LIAM BARTLETT: Hello, my friend. 60 Minutes and you're busted. You've just told our producer that you're working with the EFCC.
THIRD NIGERIAN MAN: I know I said that, I know I said that, I know I said that.
LIAM BARTLETT: Sir, Let me introduce you to a real member of the EFCC. This fellow was pretending to be one of your lot. Once again, the scammer rolls over and dobs in the boss who is waiting in his car downstairs. There is a scuffle, but he is quickly arrested and brought up for interrogation. Next morning, they're behind bars and paraded before Assistant Commissioner Lamorde. These two men told us that they were working for your organisation, for the EFCC. Does that happen very often?
ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER IBRAHIM LAMORDE: They are just fraudsters.
LIAM BARTLETT: In our week here, we saw dozens more arrests. But for every one of these crooks who are nabbed, there are scores more still out on the street, preying on the gullible. It must be frustrating to say to people, 'Look, you've been conned', and they still send money.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR BRIAN HAY: It is very frustrating, but we won't give up. We can't give up. We've got to stop these people sending money, we have got to help them look after themselves, for the interests of themselves and their families.
LIAM BARTLETT: But it's going to be a battle. Such is the addictive lure of the Nigerian scams that even for Graham Schoenfisch, even after all he's been through, there's still a niggling hope. Do you still believe that you are entitled to a share of that $31 million?
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: I still believe it. I want my money back that I put into it, anyway.
LIAM BARTLETT: But, Graham, the police are telling us that every single person you've spoken to over the past 16 years is a fake.
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: Well, I didn't know that.
LIAM BARTLETT: Are you still sending any?
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: I'm sending nothing, because I've got nothing to send.
LIAM BARTLETT: Can you put your hand on your heart and say that's it?
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: Yep. Finished.
LIAM BARTLETT: No more?
GRAHAM SCHOENFISCH: Yep.