SCAM ALERT : South African Architects Under Attack!

Informed, Patient & Clever Nigerian Scam Artists Target Gullible South African Architects

A number of high profile architectural practices in South Africa have recently found themselves victims of a simple but effective scam perpertrated by criminals based in Nigeria posing as Saudi Arabian investors. If you have recently been approached by someone you trust claiming to represent Middle Eastern investors in need of architectural services for the mother of all projects in Qatar, or thereabouts, you may want to read this story...

The scheme is brilliantly simple; a large group of property development investors offers to appoint your practice to provide all professional services for the construction of a number of hotels in Qatar or similar location. You are told that they have seen the practice's work on the website and they think it is exceptional and totally appropriate for their needs.

They then initiate the apointment process by requesting a proposed schedule of fees which they accept after some bargaining over discounts. When the fees are agreed the architect draws up the client/architect agreement and sends it off to them. They approve it and manifest much excitement about starting work on the project: they ask for meeting in Qatar to sign the agreement.

At this point the architect books his flights to Qatar, looks for hotel bookings and raises funding for the trip. A week before the departure date the architects are notified of a small detail which has to be taken care of before they land in Qatar; registration with the local architectural council and associations is mandatory.

They then offer to expedite matters by taking care of the details - including numerous translations into Arabic - and guarantee that they will secure all the necessary permits, memberships and registrations for the practice to conduct business legally. The cost of all these documents, translations and certifications is based on the number of branch offices which the company operates as well as an amount per individual architect requiring certification. It runs into tens of thousands of dollars...

The entire process is never rushed and is conducted very professionally at all times - the only "give away" is the fact that they do not receive phone calls - all communications are by email, but few targets spot this detail - at first.

Once the first payment is made they initiate a milking process, requesting more money for more registrations until the architect comes to his senses or runs out of money.

There are two aspects to this scam which render it very effective; the way the proposal is introduced to the practice and the way in which a large amount of money is broken down into small "easy to digest" amounts paid over time.

The "scam by proxy" approach to introducing the project to the practice is also effective. They will actually take the time and care to scam someone into scamming the practice and continue to manipulate this individual throughout the entire process !  This is how: they identify individual target architects on social networks, internet chatter, company websites and fake employment sites, then they engage them by email, win their trust and ask to be refered to a large firm of architects interested in working on large scale projects in the Middle East. They offer to pay a finder's fee if they appoint the recommended architects. In this way the practice is approached by an individual they know - or even trust - and drawn into the scam ... by proxy.

Once the proxy is introduced into the picture the project takes on a face and a reality which is constantly fuelled by the proxy's (desperate) enthusiasm. The amazing thing about this scam is just how effective it has proven to be.   So the next time someone walks into yor office with a story about having investor connections in Saudi Arabia and Qatar ... think twice.