Crime Watch

NIGERIAN SCAM ARTISTS TARGET JEWELERS

Massive scam operations in Nigeria – some of which have reached the U.S. jewelry industry – have prompted U.S. authorities to press the African country’s government to intervene.

Thus far, however, the effort has brought little result, says Sean Stein, vice counsel of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria. In a letter to a New Jersey jeweler contacted by a Nigerian scam artist, Stein says U.S. businesses have lost several hundred million dollars. “But support from the Nigerian government [in curbing the scams] has been extremely limited,” he says. “We are not aware of a single Nigerian who has been arrested, tried or convicted.”

The scams usually involve an individual who claims to need help in moving large sums of money or jewelry out of Nigeria. The person asks his intended victim, usually a small business, to open a bank account in both of their names so he can transmit money out of the country. In return, he offers a portion of the proceeds and help in selling the business’s products in Nigeria. Invariably, the scam artist loots the bank account as soon as the victim puts money in it.

In the New Jersey incident, Dick Robinson of Robinson’s Gem Shop

in Haddonfield says his suspicions kept him from taking the bait when Abubakar Mustafa contacted him several times by telephone and fax in February. Mustafa, who identified himself as a former government minister, said he had obtained US$14 million from “foreign diplomats,” but that he couldn’t take that much to a bank without arousing suspicion. He asked Robinson to come to Nigeria to set up a joint bank account so the money could be taken out of the country under the guise of an import-export business. Mustafa said he got Robinson’s name from the commerce section of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.

“I tried to discourage him, but he kept contacting me,” says Robinson. The initial proposal was tempting because Mustafa had not asked for money, says Robinson. But by the time Mustafa had prepared papers of incorporation, Robinson had grown suspicious and written to the embassy. Stein replied that Mustafa’s introductory fax to Robinson was “typical of thousands of scams sent by Nigerian criminals to businesses and individuals throughout the world.”

JEWELERS MUTUAL PLANS TO REDUCE SOME RATES

Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co., Neenah, Wis., plans to reduce the rates of its jewelers block policies in 18 states, affecting 25% of its policyholders.

The announcement followed a review that showed consistently lower claims in these 18 states. While JMI will file rate-reduction requests with all 18 state insurance departments, some will be larger than others, ranging from 11.7% in Alabama down to 5% in most of the other states. The others are Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

This is JMI’s first multiple-state rate cut since 1986.

The company also reported a 16% increase in written premiums in 1994, 1,000 new accounts and a 16% gain in the policyholders’ surplus, raising the total to almost $35 million. Losses decreased by 13% from the previous year. “We applaud our policyholders for their exceptional loss-prevention efforts,” says President Ronald Harder.

In addition, the JMI board has voted to offer six loss-prevention videotapes free to all policyholders (with a $5-per-tape charge to cover shipping and handling). “We want our policyholders to have easy access to loss-prevention information and encourage them to use these tapes for on-going training of their employees,” says Harder.

JMI will continue to sell the videotapes to non-policyholders for $50 each or rent them for a $50 deposit, $45 of which is refunded when the tape is returned in good condition.

JMI also plans to refilm and update its first loss prevention film, on robbery, this year.

Founded in 1913, JMI is the only insurance company specializing in protecting jewelry retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers. It is licensed and does business in all 50 states and, with a Canadian partner, insures Canadian jewelers as well. It also offers personal jewelry insurance to customers of jewelry policyholders.

MARUIZIO GUCCI MURDERED IN MILAN

Maurizio Gucci, 45, former co-owner of the Gucci luxury goods empire founded by his grandfather, was murdered on March 27 in Milan, Italy.

Police said a “well-dressed” gunman used a pistol with a silencer to shoot Gucci twice in the back and twice in the face at close range outside his office. At press time, the police offered no specific motives and had made no arrests.

Gucci, the third generation of his family in the business, had been involved in court battles with other family members for control of the company. But in 1993, he sold his 50% share of the company to Investcorp., a Bahrain-based international corporation. Investcorp. had already bought the other 50% from other family members in the late 1980s.