Nigerian Letter or “419” Fraud
Nigerian letter frauds combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter mailed, or e-mailed, from Nigeria offers the recipient the “opportunity” to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author—a self-proclaimed government official—is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria.
The recipient is encouraged to send information to the author, such as blank letterhead stationery, bank name and account numbers, and other identifying information using a fax number given in the letter or return e-mail address provided in the message.
The scheme relies on convincing a willing victim, who has demonstrated a “propensity for larceny” by responding to the invitation, to send money to the author of the letter in Nigeria in several installments of increasing amounts for a variety of reasons.
Payment of taxes, bribes to government officials, and legal fees are often described in great detail with the promise that all expenses will be reimbursed as soon as the funds are spirited out of Nigeria.
In actuality, the millions of dollars do not exist, and the victim eventually ends up with nothing but loss. Once the victim stops sending money, the perpetrators have been known to use the personal information and checks that they received to impersonate the victim, draining bank accounts and credit card balances.
While such an invitation impresses most law-abiding citizens as a laughable hoax, millions of dollars in losses are caused by these schemes annually. Some victims have been lured to Nigeria, where they have been imprisoned against their will along with losing large sums of money.
The Nigerian government is not sympathetic to victims of these schemes, since the victim actually conspires to remove funds from Nigeria in a manner that is contrary to Nigerian law. The schemes themselves violate section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code, hence the label “419 fraud.”
Tips for Avoiding Nigerian Letter or “419” Fraud:
- If you receive a letter or e-mail from Nigeria asking you to send personal or banking information, do not reply in any manner. Send the letter or message to the U.S. Secret Service, your local FBI office, or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. You can also register a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant.
- If you know someone who is corresponding in one of these schemes, encourage that person to contact the FBI or the U.S. Secret Service as soon as possible.
- Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as Nigerian or foreign government officials asking for your help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts.
- Do not believe the promise of large sums of money for your cooperation.
- Guard your account information carefully.
Nigerian 419 scam
Nigerian scams involve offering you a share in a large sum of money on the condition you help them to transfer it out of their country
How this scam works
The scammer will tell you an elaborate fake story about large amounts of money ‘trapped’ in central banks during civil wars or coups, often in countries currently in the news. Or they may tell you about a large inheritance that is ‘difficult to access’ because of government restrictions or taxes in their country.
The scammer may contact you by email, letter, text message or social networking message. They will offer you a large sum of money to help them transfer their personal fortune out of their country.
These scams are often known as ‘Nigerian 419’ scams because the first wave of them came from Nigeria. The ‘419’ part of the name comes from the section of Nigeria’s Criminal Code which outlaws the practice. These scams now come from anywhere in the world.
Scammers may ask for your bank account details to ‘help them transfer the money’ and use this information to later steal your funds.
Or they may ask you to pay fees, charges or taxes to ‘help release or transfer the money out of the country’ through your bank. These fees may even start out as quite small amounts. If paid, the scammer may make up new fees that require payment before you can receive your reward. They will keep asking for more money as long as you are willing to part with it.
You will never be sent the money that was promised.
- You receive a contact out of the blue asking you to ‘help’ someone from another country transfer money out of their country (e.g. Nigeria, Sierra Leone or Iraq).
- The request includes a long and often sad story about why the money cannot be transferred by the rightful owner.
- You are offered a financial reward for helping them access their ‘trapped’ funds. The amount of money to be transferred, and the payment that the scammer promises to you if you help, is usually very large.
- The writing in the message is in very polite but broken English.
- The scammer will often ask you to send money via a money transfer service.
- Never send money or give credit card details, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust and never by email.
- Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
- Do not agree to transfer money for someone else. Money laundering is a criminal offence.
- Seek independent advice from someone you know and trust if in doubt.
- Verify the identity of the contact by calling the relevant organisation directly – find them through an independent source such as a phone book or online search. Do not use the contact details provided in the message sent to you.
- Do an internet search using the names or exact wording of the letter/email to check for any references to a scam – many scams can be identified this way.
- If you think it’s a scam, don’t respond — scammers will use a personal touch to play on your emotions to get what they want.
- Remember there are no get-rich-quick schemes: if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
Source: Scam Watch Gov
What is a 419 (Advance-fee Fraud) Scam?
An advance-fee fraud, also known as a 419 fraud, is a type of scam in which the victim is convinced to advance money to a stranger. In all such scams, the victim is led to expect that a much larger sum of money will be returned to him or her. The victim, of course, never receives any of this money.
Those who fall for an advance-fee fraud and forward money to the criminal are likely to be targeted for additional payments. That is, the criminal may claim that a second or third advance is necessary before the victim will be entitled to receive the promised money.
An Early Version of the 419 Scam
As far back as 17th century, an early version of this fraud was in use in Europe. Known as the Spanish Prisoner fraud, the scam in that case consisted of a correspondence in which the criminal would claim to be a prisoner who knows where some buried treasure is located. The “prisoner” would ask for money to bribe the prison guards so that he could escape and get to the treasure. In return for such money, the “prisoner” would promise to share the treasure with the target of the scam.
In reality, the “prisoner” was not in jail at all and was simply using the story as a way to get his hands on the target’s money.
The Modern 419 Scam
The modern version of the advance-fee scam usually takes place via email correspondence. Like the older version, it typically involves a promise of treasure. The “treasure” may involve a lottery jackpot, a promise of a share of a large bank account, or some other made-up story to explain why a large sum of cash will be forwarded to the victim.
The criminal will also make up a plausible story to explain why a fee is needed in advance. The email may claim that a few hundred dollars are needed as an “application fee” to the contest that has purportedly already been won. Another common claim is that the wire transfer of such a large sum of money involves fees that must be paid in advance.
Criminals running 419 fraud rings use many tricks designed to lure in even skeptical targets. For example, they will send out mass mailings via the internet, but make each letter appear as though it has been received by only one individual. They may provide working phone and fax numbers to targets who demand them, and furnish documents that appear to have authentic government seals and stamps.
Most people who receive an email offering millions of dollars in return for a comparatively small advance fee will realize that it is nothing more than an attempt to defraud them. However, a tiny percentage of targets will fall for the bait. When millions of solicitations go out, even a small percentage of takers can represent a good profit for the criminal. This explains why the 419 fraud continues to succeed despite the efforts of consumer awareness organizations to educate the public with one simple rule: never send money, your bank account information, or your social security number to a stranger.
This scam is also referred to as a “Nigerian Letter” because large-scale use of the 419 fraud first began in that country. In fact, article 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code deals with obtaining property by false promises, which is exactly what the advance-fee fraud is all about.
Nigerian letters have been emailed to hundreds of millions of individuals to date. The typical Nigerian letter claims that a large sum of money is sitting in a Nigerian bank, but the rightful account holder for some reason cannot access it. The excuse may be that the account holder is a being persecuted for being a relative of a deposed dictator, or some other plausible but unlikely story. The advance fee may be explained as being necessary for a wire transfer out of the country, or needed to bribe a bank official into looking the other way. In reality, of course, the advance fee is simply money that is being stolen from the victim.
The 419 fraud became pervasive during the 1990s, with thousands of people in Nigeria participating in hundreds of different fraud schemes, making fraud one of Nigeria’s most significant source of revenue from abroad. During the first decade of the new millennium, the 419 fraud spread to other African countries including Ghana, Benin, Togo, Senegal, and Burkina Faso.
However, the scam is not limited to African nations. Countries as diverse as Spain, Russia, Malaysia, and the United States are also sites of significant advance-fee fraud operations.
Avoiding Advance-Fee Fraud
The simple rule given above is your best protection. Do not provide funds or personal information to strangers, no matter what kind of story they have to tell.
Thanks FBI, Scam Watch AU, WhatIsMyIPAddress and for reading Nigerian 419 Scams
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