Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/3/2014 (775 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Agnes Chambers-Glenn looks over her shoulder a lot these days. The 81-year-old author and retired educator fears her latest independently published book has kicked up a hornet's nest of trouble.
Called Double Deceit: A True Story of a Nigerian Scam, it chronicles the ordeal of a close friend, a retired medical doctor, who lost more than $35,000 to African fraudsters, and how, with police help, they lured one of the suspects to Winnipeg where he was arrested and successfully prosecuted.
Chambers-Glenn published the book late last summer, six years after the events occurred and four years after the victim, Dr. Hassan Mashaal, died.
Mashaal had asked her to write the book and publish it. He insisted his real name be used so other people would avoid falling victim to these sorts of crimes, and those who do would feel less ashamed about being victimized and contact police.
With March being Fraud Prevention Month in Canada, Chambers-Glenn's book serves as a sensational reminder even very well-educated, intelligent individuals can fall prey to fraud.
Although the Nigerian email scam is often viewed as somewhat laughable, in part because what it proposes is so preposterous, in Chambers-Glenn's opinion, the gangs perpetrating these crimes shouldn't be taken lightly.
To this day, the author says she fears for her safety, worried about reprisal from the likes of the Yahoo! Boys, a notorious Nigerian email criminal organization that named itself after the popular webmail and search-engine company.
"They're pretty dangerous characters. They tried to destroy Dr. Mashaal," Chambers-Glenn told the Free Press in a recent phone interview from an undisclosed Ontario location. "They tried to get him out one night. We figured if he had gone, we would have found him in the Assiniboine River the next morning."
The author goes by a nom de plume and altered the names of others mentioned in the book, including the Winnipeg Police Service detective who orchestrated the sting in 2007 at Mashaal's condo in Osborne Village.
"I'd prefer not to mention her real name, and I called her a 'he' throughout the whole book because I was worried they would go after her," says Chambers-Glenn, who has a PhD in education and has developed curriculum for Red River College.
"She (the detective) was a wonderful lady. She even came to the (book) launching and sent me a couple of emails to keep in touch."
Staff Sgt. Gerri Forscutt is the real name of the arresting officer in the case.
Unconcerned about being identified, she recently spoke with the Free Press about the 2007 police sting.
"It's one of those cases that stick out in your career," the 24-year WPS veteran says.
"I'm proud of this investigation because it was so unique. It involved a lot of tenacity. Nobody believed that we could get it done."
When Chambers-Glenn and Mashaal came to the police to report the fraud in the summer of 2007, it indeed seemed improbable police could pursue the case. Most of these crimes involve only electronic money transfers and emails, and victims usually have little contact with the criminals.
But in this instance, the fraudsters had spent considerable time befriending Mashaal. Originally, he had received the typical fraudulent email -- someone claiming to need money to free up an even larger sum of cash. In return for his help, Mashaal would receive a large reward: $1.5 million.
"He received this message from 'Linda Morgan,' who needed help badly and she had a lawyer who could help him (Mashaal) get all this money out of the country," Chambers-Glenn says.
Of course, "Linda Morgan" never existed, and after receiving a large sum of money from Mashaal, the criminals continued to hound him for more.
"He felt sorry for her (Linda Morgan). She needed help. She was in a car accident and lost her parents and her two sisters. It's the typical story."
Chambers-Glenn says Mashaal also jumped at the opportunity because he thought he could use the $1.5 million to help prevent and cure malaria.
"He was a very famous malariologist, and he thought if he had that kind of money, he knew he would do something really wonderful."
Mashaal, once considered one of the world's top experts on the tropical illness, spent much of his long career working for the World Health Organization, a vocation Chambers-Glenn figures might have contributed to a certain level of naiveté about the world.
"He had lived such a protected life because he worked all his life for the World Health Organization as a medical officer," she says. "He was so well taken care of by the organization that he really wasn't worldly, even though he travelled the world."
It wasn't until Mashaal mentioned to Chambers-Glenn he had "wonderful news" that he had any notion he had been victimized.
"He said, 'It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance,'" she says. "I said, 'It's not true, you know. It's a scam,' and at first, he was kind of annoyed with me."
But Mashaal eventually realized his mistake and handed over hundreds of pages of notes to Chambers-Glenn, urging her to write a book. They also went to the police with the ample evidence, and most importantly, Mashaal was still in contact with one of the criminals, a man named "James Martins."
Forscutt says the fact Mashaal remained in contact with the criminals was essential to pursuing the case.
"You just can't prosecute them very easily, because they generally don't have a courier person here in Canada," she says.
But in this case there was.
After looking up the IP address for the email Martins used to communicate with Mashaal, police discovered the suspect lived in Toronto.
So a trap was set. Mashaal persuaded "Martins" to come Winnipeg to collect another $7,800. "Martins" came, meeting Mashaal at his condo, with Forscutt sitting at the dining room table taking notes, posing as Mashaal's niece.
Within five minutes of arriving at Mashaal's place, Martins, whose real name is Toluwalade Alonge Owolabi, was arrested. He was eventually convicted of fraud over $5,000, only the second case in Canada successfully prosecuted and the first west of Toronto, Forscutt says. Sentenced to 30 months in prison, Owolabi was eventually deported to Nigeria.
But the damage was already done. Mashaal never recovered his $35,750.
Yet he steadfastly insisted Chambers-Glenn should publish the book, so much so that when he died at age 87, he left her $7,000 to cover costs.
Chambers-Glenn turned down the sum.
"I said, 'No, thank you. You have lost enough.' I went ahead and published it, not knowing that I would spend $9,000."
She says she hopes the book's timeless topic will help sell more copies so she can make some of her investment back.
Book sales aside, writing Double Deceit was an eye-opener for the author, who says she was once much more trusting of people than she is today.
"Seniors are believers, and I had considered myself far more of a believer of things than young people today, who question everything, but I'll tell you what: I question everything now, too."