Sixty-year-old Ann Marie Poet, a grandmother and part-time bookmaker, must have thought she'd hit the big time. A fax allegedly from the "The Ministry of Mining" in South Africa said her help was urgently needed to transfer money to America. In exchange, Poet would receive a commission of $4.5 million.
Poet was told of various fees that had to be paid up front, before the big payoff. Fees such as $175,000 for "Ecological Damages," $72,000 for "Currency Fluctuation Marginal Difference" costs and almost $28,000 for a "Drug, Terrorists and Money Laundering Clearance Certificate": fees that were far beyond her ability to pay.
Each fee led to another charge, and, as CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski reports, Poet paid every one from the accounts of the small Michigan law firm where she worked.
So she "borrowed" the money from her employer - $2.3 million -- and wiped the company out.
"She took all of our money, all of our money," says Jules Olsman, president of Olsman Mueller & James. "It's been horrible.
"I mean there are days you sit there and just think about it, and it's unbelievable."
The scam is constantly being updated. Another one claims to be from a Special Forces commando in Afghanistan. The commando says he needs help moving terrorist money out of the company. The stories may change, but a big cash reward is always promised.
"This scam is driven by greed, and if not for the greed, this scam would not exist," said Tim Caddigan of the U.S. Secret Service.
He says people are taken for about $100 million a year.
"It comes from all walks of life: educated, uneducated, doctors, lawyers, accountants," says Caddigan. "People should know better."
Victims rarely recover their "fee" money. And as for the promise of a commission payment?
They don't get that either. Instead what they get is "Black Money" - a box filed with construction paper. For an additional fee of several thousand dollars, one gets to buy a solution that "cleans" the money - an opportunity to get scammed one more time.
Back in Michigan, Olsman's firm is still trying to get out of this mess.
That's what happened to Poets. She now faces prison time for stealing from her employer. And she is still hoping her "commission" is on the way.
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