Michigan law firm Olsman Mueller & James is considering legal action against its bank after it was fiddled out of more than $2.1m (£1.3m) by South African 'scam letter' fraudsters
Ann Marie Poet, a bookkeeper for the small Berkley-based firm, was promised a $4.5m (£2.9m) fee if she helped a so-called official from the Ministry of Mining in Pretoria to transfer $18m (£11.6m) to a US bank account. Poet, 59, who has now been indicted on 13 counts of wire fraud by a grand federal jury in Detroit, is thought to have embezzled the $2.1m over an eight-month period this year. According to reports, the scam Poet fell for originated in Nigeria in the 1980s and is thought to be responsible for more than $100m (£64.2m) of annual losses in the US alone. Victims are usually contacted by email or fax and are promised huge sums of money if they open a bank account in the US. But the scammers make their money by claiming that certain administrative fees and taxes must be paid before the commission can be released, although, of course, it never is. In this case, the administrative fees amounted to $2.1m, which Poet is claimed to have moved in a number of lump sums straight from the coffers of the unsuspecting law firm into a series of bank accounts in South Africa and Taiwan. The scam was only uncovered at the start of September when the firm was informed that a $36,000 (£23,000) settlement cheque to a client had bounced. The firm's president Jules Olsman is reported to be considering legal action against Bank One which, he claims, allowed Poet to make the wire transfers even though she was not authorised to do so. Although Olsman doubts that the firm's insurance policy will cover the loss, he has vowed that "not one client will be out one penny". FBI officials have said there is little hope that the firm will recover the money and doubt that the fraudsters will ever be caught. The FBI agent investigating the case said it was "unbelievable" that Poet had fallen for the well-documented con-trick, officially known as the '419 fraud'. Figures revealed at the International Conference on Advance Fee Frauds earlier this month show that approximately 1 per cent of people contacted by the fraudsters are successfully duped.