The notorious Nigerian scam has claimed many an unsuspecting victim over the past several years. With its alluring claims of instant riches, far too many people have ignored the often-issued warnings about something being too good to be true. Although many consider the victims to be gullible and unfamiliar with financial matters, that may not always be the case.
Thomas Katona, the former treasurer of Alcona County, Michigan, has been accused in an embezzlement scheme in which he may have sent thousands of dollars in county funds to con artists overseas after falling for the Nigerian scam. According to the Detroit Free Press, he was charged with nine felonies, following an investigation of numerous unauthorized transfers of county funds he allegedly made to overseas bank accounts. Those accounts were allegedly controlled by operators of the fraud.
An audit turned up a shortfall of over $1,200,000, but officials aren’t sure how much of that was invested in the scheme. Earlier in the year, Katona had sent over $70,000 of his own money to the same accounts.
The sparsely-populated county in northern lower Michigan has a total budget of only about $4 million.
Katona, 56, had held the position of Treasurer for 13 years. He was relieved of his duties in November, after the alleged fraud was uncovered. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing January 31.
Alcona County officials learned of the unauthorized transfers when Katona was in London, anticipating a meeting with one of his contacts. Bank records were faxed to county offices. Local bank officials had suspected he was dealing with Nigerian scam con artists, and had previously warned him.
“Every part of this makes you wonder,” said a spokesman for the Michigan Attorney General. “What was he thinking?” Although officials are attempting to track the money and con artists, they admit that it’s unlikely they’ll be successful.
“This is a tremendous blow to a small community where we trust our politicians,” said the editor of a local newspaper.
The scam appears in an e-mail to unsuspecting victims from a “wealthy foreigner” who needs assistance in moving millions of dollars into an American account. A substantial sum is offered to anyone who helps. The victim is asked to send a “small fee” which can amount to thousands of dollars. With the prospect of millions, the amount withdrawn from the victims’ savings accounts seems meager to them. Unfortunately, the victim never sees his or her money again.
There are other variations of the scam, all involving different wealthy people, scenarios, and locations. But their goals are the same: to separate victims from their money.