SLIDELL, Louisiana — Ladies and gentlemen, here is your Nigerian prince.
Police in Louisiana have zeroed in on a 67-year-old local man who they say played a key middle-man role helping dupe hundreds of people out of $250,000 through the notorious Nigerian prince email scam.
Michael Neu, of Slidell, allegedly served as a go-between between the victims and the foreign-based hoaxters, receiving payments into his accounts and then wiring the money overseas and keeping a cut of the cash.
The scam consists of sending dubious emails from a “Nigerian Price” who claims you are the beneficiary of a will and stand to inherit a large sum of money. They ask their marks to send personal financial information and make a security deposit to “prove” they are the beneficiary. While most people delete such emails, police say enough people fall for it to make it lucrative.
Slidell Police say they caught wind of Neu in May 2016, when contacted by authorities in Dodge City, Kansas where one of the victims lived.
Following a long-running investigation, with the aid of the Secret Service, they determined Neu had gotten roped into the scam through a “romance scheme.” He met a woman on Facebook named Maria Mendez, who investigators believe likely doesn’t exist, and she convinced him to help process payments for a cut of the action.
Mendez would then send out would thousands of emails to unsuspecting recipients each day, consisting of “Nigerian Prince” scams, fraudulent IRS scams, reshipping scams and advance pay scams. When someone would fall victim to one of the scam’s, Mendez would direct them to wire or mail money to Neu.
He would then transfer the money to “Maria Mendez” in Nigeria via Western Union or MoneyGram. He said he was conducting around three to four such transactions each week.
Investigators say scammers use people like Neu as a middle man in an attempt to conceal their true identities, and to launder money. At first they believed Neu was a dupe himself but under questioned they discovered he was a willing participant who said he “needed the money.”
They say Neu had over 10 bank accounts, most of which had been frozen or closed because bank officials suspected fraudulent transactions. Western Union also banned Neu from using their wire transfer services, forcing him to use other companies, cops said.
In all, detectives estimate Neu made over $250,000 worth of fraudulent transactions, but believe the figure could be substantially higher.