A little while ago now I shared with you this picture from my Nigerian friend Ikenna. I promised to tell you the story behind the picture – and at that stage I was hoping he would provide me with the long awaited John 3:16 photo. But it was not to be. Our conversations have become cold and distant of late – he barely even replies to my emails and when he does they are monosyllabic requests for money. I don’t pay these guys in advance, or indeed upon production of the goods.
For the record:
1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Ikenna first contacted me in April. His first email is included in full below – you might be interested to know that I don’t have an official church website, but I had, in previous correspondence with a couple of other scammer accounts suggested that I worked for a church that was looking for mission partners overseas. These scammers often try to pull theological heartstrings – and I figured they were more ripe for supplying me with a Bible verse themed photo. Here’s what my friend Kenny had to say:
“I am a regular visitor to your church official website and i must acknowledge that your church, from what i read from your website is worth joining and i also wish you can come down here to open a branch of your church because since i got to know your church i have been looking everywhere for a branch of your church but i could not see it, at least this will give me and some other people the opportunity to worship with you from here.
Since i read about your church in a foreign magazine my friend gave to me, i have always wished to become a member and that is why i am writing you. The zeal to become a member of your church is due to the fact that i am convinced that the establishment of your church is a true vision from God and as such, i wish to also be a part of that vision to enable me improve and grow in my spiritual life.
I will like you to let me know what i am supposed to do to become am member of your church and also i will like you to send me some of your church bulletin or order of your church service to enable me follow up in all your church activities from here. may the good lord bless and keep you safe in HIS hands, i will keep praying for the church and also pray that you will find me worthy to accept my request, Amen.”
Well. This seemed like a pretty good opening. So I replied – sowing the seeds of my little scheme to land the photo, I got straight to the point:
“I am thrilled to hear that you have discovered my church. Where do you live? We are currently looking for mission partners in foreign countries who we will generously support as part of our annual Global Bible Knowathon.
If you would like to be a part of this upcoming prayer and fundraising event please send me a photo of yourself holding a sign with your favourite verse of scripture. This photo will be featured in our mission slideshow and will help us to raise funds for gospel ministry in your country.”
He responded quickly. The thing about friend Kenny is that he was so eager to please:
“I was so happy to hear your reply to my mail to you, i must tell you that i really wish to a part of your church. I live in Nigeria and i’m also a Nigerian. As regards the prayer even, i will like to be part of it. I will send you the photograph as soon as possible so that necessary things procedure can be followed.
Thank you and may the lord bless you, Amen.”
I kept on reeling him in, sensing that I might finally have cracked the scambaiting code:
“I am very excited to hear that you will be a mission partner. Please send me the photo as soon as possible so that we can start supporting you in prayer and petition, and through our weekly mission offering.”
But then I didn’t hear from him for two weeks – so I sent him a reminder:
“Is it at all possible that we might get a photo of you holding a sign with a Bible Reference written on it in time for our church service next Sunday?”
His excuse was that he had been sick, and in hospital.
“Sorry i have not written you to send the picture as promised,i have been very sick and been in the hospital but i promise you this i must get this picture before the sunday you talked about.
Thank you for your concern for me, God will bless you.”
This was the first in a string of emails that he sent me without waiting for my reply. The next one included the photo:
“How are you and your entire members of the church doing? I hope the good lord is taking good care of you all. Here is the picture and the bible quotation ( Revelation Chapter 21 vs 1 to 5), it is my favorite and it makes my heart glad and it also make me remember that God knows about my situation at all time. I run a small shop where i sell used clothes and other household things and that is where i took this picture.
I hope the picture gets a positive considerations. May the good lord be with you all in your exhibition.”
And when I didn’t acknowledge receipt immediately I got this one:
“How are you doing? Hope good.
I sent you my pictures yesterday, i hope you got, if you did, please let me know ok?
May the lord be with you, Amen.”
And then, somewhat impatiently, this one:
“I have not heard from you since i sent you my pictures, what is happening?”
Here is my reply – I didn’t want this fish to get away, so I hit him up for a second photo – this time with John 3:16 involved:
“Sorry I haven’t written back yet. Things have been so very hectic here.
The pictures look great. They will be very useful in our mission services. Please can you send me the details for the transfer of moneys raised.
Also, with those details, could you send me another photo with John 3:16 as the Bible reference – “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.
Could you underline the words “loved the world” – we believe this shows the importance of mission work.
Once again – thank you so much for your partnership in this matter. May you be blessed richly and abundantly through our friendship.
I apologise again for not replying to you.”
He responded, promising to deliver the goods:
“It’s so good to hear from you today, i must tell you that i was beginning to get worried over your silence since i sent the pictures. How did the service go? Did your church accept the pictures and the quotations? You asked me to give you details for you to send me money, how did the money come about? Please let me know in your mail but for the records, My full names are Ikenna Ukaigwe M. my address is [WITHHELD].
The pictures you asked me to send again, what will it be used for, please tell me, but i will send them ok? Please let me hear from you soon, i will be waiting, may the good lord bless and keep you and the members of your church, Amen.”
I had hopes. This was a bite, not a nibble. So I pulled out all the stops. I asked for personal details:
“I must apologise for the delay.
The money has not been collected yet – it will be collected in a service in two weeks time. Our mission service.
The pictures were acceptable – especially the one with you smiling. You look very happy in that photo, brother.
Brother, the pictures will be used in our mission book to be given to people for praying for other Christians around God’s wonderful creation. We will use your picture on the inside page, the John 3:16 picture will be on the cover of the book.
I will also need you to answer the following questions for a profile inside the book:
What church you are a part of in your home country.
How you became a Christian.
What you do for work.
What you do for fun.
Things that we, in Sydney, can pray for for you, in Nigeria
I look forward to learning more about you brother.”
Then disaster struck. Ikenna got “sick” again:
“I now understand what you mean by sending you the next picture with john 3.16. I want to believe that your church accepted my previous pictures as you said, i sent that picture because i want you and your church to know my best part of the bible but this one is just for the fact that you wish to use my photo for a purpose. I will still send it but i must also apologize for not sending it till now, i have been very sick, but i’m better now.
Expect the pictures and the information’s in my next mail may be tomorrow but brother Bruce i want to believe that my pictures will not be used in anything that will not be to the glory of God.
Thank you and may the good lord bless and keep you all, Amen”
I tried to reassure him:
“We will certainly be using the photos you sent me as indicated, the John 3:16 one is what we’re asking everybody involved from around the world to provide. We want their favourite verse and a John 3:16 one. Sorry I didn’t make this clearer from the beginning.”
And here’s where he pulled the bait-and-switch – asking me to give him money…
“I thank you so much for reassuring me of the use of my picture. But i am having some financial problems in sending you the pictures, my cameras got spoiled last week when my friend took it for a foto shoot, as a result i have prepared the placard with John 3:16 written on it but i have to go out and take this pictures and also scan it before i can send it to you, and this will cost me some money. Can you please help me out in any way.”
I would love to help. Truly. I would. But like any minister I am caught up in the whims of my elders and committees.
“I asked our elders, we can not help you until we have held the mission service, and we can not hold the mission service (to raise funds for you) without the John 3:16 photo.
It is my prayer that you will get this sorted out and that the Lord will provide you with all your labours deserve, and a working camera.”
“I am really sorry for trying to bug the church, i really understand the way things works but i just felt like making a personal appeal on you to help but i didn’t know you will take it to the church, any way, i will see what i can do to make this work but i want you to be sure that i made you a personal appeal and i never intended the church to go against their normal procedures.”
I didn’t want to create any such expectations:
“Sorry Ikenna, I misunderstood. I look forward to receiving the photos. “
It turns out the clothes selling business isn’t great in Nigeria:
“i’m so sorry for not being able to send you the pictures, i am still battling with myself to see that i raise some money to do that, my camera is not yet fixed and things are very tough for me here but hopefully i will send it before this week runs off. i hope it’s not late yet.”
I decided this one had probably run its course – so I put forward a mega-request.
“No, it’s not too late. We run missions collections regularly. As soon as we receive the John 3:16 photo we will be ready to proceed. Oh, and we need your answers to the questions that I sent you for the profile we hand out on the day.
Here they are:
1. Full Name.
2. Date of Birth
3. Where do you live?
4. What is the name of your church?
5. Tell us a little bit about your family.
6. What is your job?
7. What do you enjoy doing with your time?
8. How do you serve your church?
9. What can we pray about for you?
10. What will you do with the money we send you?
And some for our children and youth (they like funny answers)
1. If you could have a special power, what would it be and why?
2. What is your favourite animal?
3. What is the silliest thing you have ever done?
4. How do you know that God loves you?
5. What do people eat for breakfast in your country?
6. What animal would win in a fight – a lion or a rhinoceros?
7. What is your favourite colour?
8. If you see somebody drop $100 on the street do you keep it or give it back?
9. Where is your favourite place to go?
10. If you were God for a day what would you do?
Thanks for your patience Ikenna. We look forward to receiving your photograph. Our last mission collection raised $2,700. People are really enjoying giving generously to our brothers and sisters around the world.”
Kenny stepped up his game too:
“I am still battling with the camera to take and scan the photograph, you may not understand how bad things are for me here but i pray that God will open your eyes to see.
May the name of the lord praise, i believe God can change things for me here.
And I sent what would prove to be my last piece of correspondence to Kenny:
“You managed to get the first photo very easily for me, I think you’ll be able to use your initiative to get me this second photo.
I look forward to receiving it so that we as your brothers can do our bit to bring about change in your world.”
If you google Ikenna’s name you’ll find him on Facebook and a couple of other social networks with just a profile picture and no developed legend. He doesn’t really seem like a very competent scammer. Anybody who has read anything about going undercover knows you need a good legend.
This wasn’t my funniest scambait to date – Dr Paul is going to take some beating. But it was my most fruitful.