Penske Truck Leasing Sues Fleet Nat. Bank---$1.6M Nigerian Scam—

by Kit Menkin

Leasing News has quite a collection of “Nigerian” letters and e-mails, perhaps over 500. Readers send them in as they know we collect them. They first started by mail from Africa, then they discovered the internet. Several of our readers have told us confidentially they have fallen for the scam. One well-known equipment leasing individual, a prominent member of the National Association of Equipment Leasing Brokers, told us he lost the $25,000 he used to set up the bank account.

If you think he was fooled, what about the Berkeley, California law firm that lost $2.1 million following a similar request.

This is how it works. It generally is some "inside" problem, a husband has died or someone has money from a corrupt government. Often they are “very Christian” and “honest,” others appeal to your sympathy to their plight or problem: death in family, money about to be claimed by the government as there are no relatives. They need your help. They can wire the money, but they need a bank, most often a certain bank.

The most common thread is offering a "finder's fee." Often it is a percentage, sometimes it is a specific dollar amount.

Now here is the how the scam works. Since you are opening this account, they tell you need to start with a specific dollar amount, often it is $10,000, and depends on what they think you can afford, as they explain the account needs to look legitimate. They will tell you why you should not put in a few hundred dollars, saying when they transfer this amount of money, it will raise attention. You need to let it sit in the bank for a specific time so it registers as a balance.

The bank account has both your signatures, for them to deposit and you to receive, but guess what, they can also withdraw.

Those who have fallen victim to the fraud are encouraged to contact the Specialist Crime OCU Fraud Squad by e-mail at

There are now variations to the theme, and the e-mails keep coming daily, as if they have gone to a telemarketing school.

The Penske Truck Leasing episode is a little different, a variation, and they are suing Fleet National Bank and University Credit Union for $1,681,582, basically for cashing the “Nigerian check.”

As we piece the story together, it appears Enrique Fernandez-Barros.
a University of Miami professor received an e-mail from a supposed well-connected Nigerian businessman who was out $1.68 million from a U.S. truck-leasing company. He promised Fernandez-Barros $200,000 in fees for this and other work.

Professor Fernandez-Barros, who has three doctoral degrees, was flattered with the request. He believed they contacted him because of his education. He had not question about the authenticity, especially when he received the Penske Truck Leasing $1.6 million check made out to him personally. That he got if from someone in the United States, and sent to his home, did not bring up any warning lights. He followed the Nigerian businessman instructions and deposited it in his credit-union account, that he controlled, and where they knew him, although he never had ever had anywhere near that amount in his account before. After letting it “fund,” he then wired the money to Nigeria, as per the instructions, taking his fee.

According to the suit (a copy of it is at the bottom of the story,) the Pennsylvania-based leasing company mailed a $1.68 million check to truck manufacturer Freightliner's Atlanta bank in December 2003 to pay for a new fleet of tractor-trailers. The check, however, never made it into Freightliner's account.

No one is talking about how the professor got the check, but the suit notes that the actual check cashed does include the same check number, date and signature as the original one, but also several noticeable differences.

Penske Truck Leasing, owned by auto-racing team owner Roger Penske, doesn't want to sue Professor Fernandez-Barros. He evidently doesn't have the money or insurance to pay, but as the law suit states, they believe those involved in the process should pay Penske back, as they processed a “bogus” check, and took no “standards” or “routine” precautions in the transaction.

The professor allegedly told news reporters he had never met the well-connected Nigerian businessman, who arranged for the Penske check via FedEx to his West Miami-Dade County home.

Reportedly the businessman told him that Penske Corp., the holding company for the truck-leasing division, owed him the money from a stock sale. The law professor said he thought the check was authentic.

He told news reports that he followed through on the instructions: He wire-transferred all of the proceeds -- totaling $1,681,582.50 -- to the Nigerian government, the Nigerian businessman and two of the businessman's associates in Maryland. He said he was told that most of the money was supposed to reimburse the Nigerian government for a community public-works project.

According to the law suit brought against them, University Credit Union'' suspected that there might have been a problem with the authenticity and/or validity of the altered check'' and held it for seven days while the credit union contacted Penske's bank to verify its legitimacy. Fleet told the credit union that the ''altered check was legitimate,'' the suit says.

The credit union held the check for four more days to reconfirm its authenticity with Fleet. The bank gave its assurances a second time, according to the suit.

The credit union then cleared the $1.68 million check when Penske's Fleet bank account provided the funds to cover the check.

''At no point did anyone at Fleet or at UCU contact anyone at Penske to inquire if the check was legitimate or if Fernandez was the correct named payee [on the altered check],'' the suit alleges.

Here are collection on recent Nigerian e-mail, and as you can see, they are different with different gimmicks, but similar in kind, with the purpose of “cashing a check.”

Copy of Law Suit:

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