Saturday, April 28, 2012

Nutella and Nigerian Princes

If you're standing, you'll probably want to sit down for this shocking revelation: Nutella, the chocolate-hazelnut spread, is not health food.  If you're feeling ignorant and foolish after learning this nugget of information, don't feel too bad--it's not your fault.  Ferrero, the Italian company who makes Nutella, has produced some highly convincing advertising over the past few years that would have you believe that Nutella cures obesity and the common cold:

This one's my favorite.  With words like "whole wheat" and "multi-grain," could there possibly be a healthier way to start the day than Nutella?!   No, it doesn't matter that you're spreading chocolate sauce on other foods like waffles or toast that could contain whole wheat or multi-grains.  And it's a food that kids will "want to eat!"  I certainly can't argue with that--if you can slather an old tennis shoe with enough chocolate sauce, kids would undoubtedly love eating that, too.  "Breakfast never tasted so good!"  That's a strong indicator that you're not dealing with a healthy breakfast.  Health food and good taste go together like like oil and water.

The ad is so unconvincing that it's downright funny.  But if only I were smarter, I would have viewed this as a potential money-grab instead of a piece of comedy; while I was laughing, I should have been calling a lawyer like a mother in California decided to do.  The San Diego woman filed a lawsuit in February 2011, complaining that Fererro's highly convincing ads led her to believe that Nutella was a healthy breakfast option for her young daughter.  When she finally discovered that the health profile of her chocolate spread looked more like a Snicker's bar than a garden salad, she lawyered up.  It makes me wonder if this California mom is friends with Stella Liebeck, the crazy McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit woman.

Technically, it was a 2010 Nutella commercial that got Fererro in hot water, but the message was remarkably similar to the one in the ad above: Nutella is part of a healthy breakfast that includes other healthy foods that have nothing to do with Nutella.  Sure, Nutella can be part of a healthy's just not the healthy part.

"It takes a lot of energy to be a kid!"  Do kids need to sugar-up to sit on the couch and eat junk food? Sadly, common sense lots its battle against the overly litigious and, this month, Ferrero settled that 2011 lawsuit and agreed to pay out $3.5 million, including $2.5 million to be paid as part of a class action settlement. If you bought Nutella at any time between the beginning of 2008 and February, 2012, then you, too, can jump on the shameful money train and cash in on the stupidity of the general population--no receipt or proof of purchase required!


When you read about someone falling for the classic Nigerian prince email scam, it's always good for a laugh.  Aside from the blatantly stupid, the most frequent victims are naive senior citizens who don't realize that it is, in fact, possible to tell lies via electronic means of communication.  The second they hear about a distressed Nigerian in dire need of an American bank account to safely store his fortune, they hand over their bank account number and throw in their social security and credit card numbers just to make sure the prince has enough to survive until he can escape his war-torn country.

The semi-intelligent and marginally-informed are generally immune to financial losses of this variety...generally.  But this month, a local Minneapolis law firm filed a downright Nutella-esque lawsuit against Wells Fargo after falling for a new twist on the classic Nigerian prince scam.  This specific scam targets lawfirms and lawyers and, believe it or not, the scammers have successfully pulled of this scheme nearly eighty times and raked in a total of $31 million over the past few years.

The African con artist contacts a lawfirm, seeking help collecting a debt...but unbeknownst to the laywers, the debtor is in on the scam.  When the lawfirm pursues the unpaid debt, the debtor sends a check, and the lawfirm deducts their fees and transfers the remaining balance of the debt to the original customer. By the time the lawyers realize the debtor issued a phony check, it's too late.

In this case, the Edina lawfirm Milavetz, Gallop & Millavetz lost nearly $400,000 in one of these scams, which included the fabricated story of a middle aged Korean woman pursuing settlement money that was owed to her. Authorities believe one of the famous Nigerian scam artists, Emmanual Ekhator, was behind the fraud.

But instead of taking the loss and hiding their embarrassing mistake, the lawyers put their professional skills to use and sued Wells Fargo, blaming the bank for missing warning signs that the transaction was fraudulent and claiming that Wells Fargo should have been on the lookout for this increasingly common scam.  The biggest warning sign?  The check that Wells Fargo received from the fictitious debtor included spelling errors in Wells Fargo's address.  It makes perfect sense--this wouldn't be a proper Nigerian prince scam story without spelling errors...just think how much damage they could inflict if they learned proper English...

This one promises to drag out in the court system for a long while, as Wells Fargo promises to vigorously fight the lawsuit.  If I've learned anything from these absurd lawsuits, it's that I should always have a keen eye out for money making opportunities.  I've been letting common sense cloud my judgment and block my vision when it comes to potential paydays.

I haven't received one of those Nigerian prince emails in many years, so I'm going to post an ad on Craigslist, offering my bank account to anyone who needs a safe place to store large sums of money. I haven't hammered out all the details of my plan just yet, but if I lose money on this, it'll surely be someone else's fault, and I have faith that the court system will find a way to compensate me handsomely.  And to add another level of security to my financial future, I'll be eating Nutella while I'm posting my ad. I have a feeling I'll somehow be able to cash in on that, too...

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