Nigerian “419 Scams”
An Advance fees scam occurs when the victim pays money to someone in anticipation of receiving something of greater value—such as a loan, contract, investment, or gift—and then receives little or nothing in return.
The advance fees scam, also commonly known as “Nigerian” scams, have been around in various forms for decades. In fact, they predate the Internet and email. The scams are also called “419 scams” after the appropriate part of the Nigerian criminal code.
Nigerian scammers still use surface mail and faxes as well as email and social media.
General Variety of Advance Fee Scams
The variety of advance fee scams is limited only by the imagination of the con artists who offer them. They may involve the sale of products or services, the offering of investments, lottery winnings, “found money,” or many other “opportunities.”
Clever con artists will offer to find financing arrangements for their clients who pay a “finder’s fee” in advance. They require their clients to sign contracts in which they agree to pay the fee when they are introduced to the financing source.
Victims often learn that they are ineligible for financing only after they have paid the “finder” according to the contract.
Such agreements may be legal unless it can be shown that the “finder” never had the intention or the ability to provide financing for the victims.
How the Scam Works
The scam works like this. You receive an unsolicited message that masquerades as some manner of business proposition, request for assistance, notice of a potential inheritance or opportunity to help a charity.
As described in general above, there is a seemingly endless array of cover stories that the scammers use in order to draw potential victims into the con.
In spite of this diversity, virtually all of the scam messages share a common theme. The messages all claim that your help is needed to access a large sum of money, usually many millions of dollars.
The scammers use a variety of stories to explain why they need your help to access the funds.
Examples of Advance Fee Scam Stories
They may claim that the climate or legal issues preclude them from accessing funds in a foreign bank account and request your help to gain such access.
They may claim that your last name is the same as that of the deceased person who owned an account and suggest that you act as the Next of Kin of this person in order to gain access to the account’s funds.
They may claim that a rich businessman, who has a terminal illness, needs your help to distribute his wealth to charity.
They may claim that a soldier stationed overseas has discovered a cache of hidden cash left by a fleeing dictator and needs your help to get the money out of the country.
An alternative type of advance fee scam uses messages claiming that recipients have won a large sum of money in an international lottery. Victims are asked to send advance fees and personal information – supposedly, to allow the processing of prize funds for sending to the winner. In reality, there is no prize.
Typically, advance fee scammers will send many thousands of identical scam messages to email recipients all around the world. It only takes a few recipients to fall for the claims in the messages to make the operation pay off for the criminals.
The messages offer to let you keep a significant percentage of the funds in exchange for your assistance. This percentage is the bait that the scammers use to entice potential victims deeper into the scam.
Once a recipient has taken the bait and initiated a dialogue with the scammers, he or she will soon receive requests for “fees” that the scammer claims are necessary for processing costs, tax and legal fees, or bribes to local officials.
The scammers will warn the victim that these advance fees must be paid before the funds can be claimed and secured.
In reality, the supposed funds do not exist. The major purpose of these scam messages is to trick recipients into parting with their money in the form of the advance fees.
Fraudulent requests for fees will usually continue until the victim realises he or she is being conned and stops sending money. In some cases, the scammers gain enough information to access the victim’s bank account directly or steal the victim’s identity.
What to Do With an Advance Fee Scam Message
If you receive one of these scam emails, it is important that you do not respond to it in any way. The scammers are likely to act upon any response from those they see as potential victims.
Although it can be educational and even entertaining to “bait” advance fee scammers, such endeavours should only be attempted under controlled conditions.
These scammers are unscrupulous and unpredictable criminals. There have been violent attacks, abductions and even murders associated with advance fee Nigerian scams and the criminals that run them should not be trifled with.
The best thing to do with these scam messages is to simply delete them.
What To Do If You Have Submitted Information
If you have supplied banking and credit card details, personal information, and/or copies of identity documents such as your driver’s licence and passport to the scammers, then you could become a victim of identity theft. You must report everything to your nearest Law Enforcement Agency.
What To Do If You Have Already Given Money
Unfortunately, there is probably very little you can do to recover any money you have already sent. The first step is to cease all communication with the scammers and do not, under any circumstances, send them any more money or information.
It is not uncommon for advance fee scam victims to fall into an escalation of commitment trap and continue to send money to the scammers even after they have been told they are being conned.
This is because victims can become desperate and are unwilling to let go of the vain hope that the scheme that they are involved in is legitimate after all and that they will eventually get their promised windfall.
If you have sent money to scammers, you should inform your local law enforcement agency as soon as possible.
Also, take steps to protect your identity by accessing information about identity theft published by the Federal Trade Commission (US), ScamWatch, (Australia) or ActionFraud (UK).
Tips for Avoiding Advanced Fee Scams
- If the offer of an “opportunity” appears too good to be true, then it probably is. Follow common business practice. For example, legitimate business is rarely conducted in cash on a street corner.
- Know who you are dealing with. If you have not heard of a person or company that you intend to do business with, learn more about them. Depending on the amount of money that you plan on spending, you may want to visit the business location, consult with your bank, an attorney or the police.
- Make sure you fully understand any business agreement that you enter into. If the terms are complex, have them reviewed by a competent attorney.
- Be wary of businesses that operate out of post office boxes or mail drops and do not have a street address.
- Be suspicious when dealing with persons who do not have a direct telephone line and who are never in when you call, but always return your call later.
- Be wary of business deals that require you to sign nondisclosure or non-circumvention agreements that are designed to prevent you from independently verifying the bona fides of the people with whom you intend to do business. Con artists often use non-circumvention agreements to threaten their victims with civil suit if they report their losses to law enforcement.
- Although many still originate from Nigeria – hence the generic term “Nigerian scam” – it is certainly not only Nigerian based criminals that send them. In spite of the longevity of this type of scam and the large amount of publicity that it has received, many people around the world are still being conned out of substantial sums of money.
That is a serious problem, so be careful.
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