The Nigerian '419' Scam

Spam emails offering riches for nothing can cost you plenty

Confidential Business Proposal
Beware "confidential business proposals" that arrive unsolicited in your inbox. Just One Film/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Decades-old international con game known as the Nigerian scam, 419 or advance fee fraud bilks victims out of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Description: Scam
Circulating since: 1980s
Status: Fraudulent

Example:
Email contributed by a reader, July 20, 2000:

DEAR SIR,

URGENT AND CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS PROPOSAL

I AM MARIAM ABACHA, WIDOW OF THE LATE NIGERIAN HEAD OF STATE, GEN. SANI ABACHA. AFTER HE DEATH OF MY HUSBAND WHO DIED MYSTERIOUSLY AS A RESULT OF CARDIAC ARREST, I WAS INFORMED BY OUR LAWYER, BELLO GAMBARI THAT, MY HUSBAND WHO AT THAT TIME WAS THE PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA, CALLED HIM AND CONDUCTED HIM ROUND HIS APARTMENT AND SHOWED HIM FOUR METAL BOXES CONTAINING MONEY ALL IN FOREIGN EXCHANGE AND HE EQUALLY MADE HIM BELIEVE THAT THOSE BOXES ARE FOR ONWARD TRANSFER TO HIS OVERSEAS COUNTERPART FOR PERSONAL INVESTMENT.

ALONG THE LINE, MY HUSBAND DIED AND SINCE THEN THE NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN AFTER US, MOLESTING, POLICING AND FREEZING OUR BANK ACCOUNTS AND EVEN MY ELDEST SON RIGHT NOW IS IN DETENTION. MY FAMILY ACCOUNT IN SWITZERLAND WORTH US$22,000,000.00 AND 120,000,000.00 DUTCH MARK HAS BEEN CONFISCATED BY THE GOVERNMENT. THE GOVERNMENT IS INTERROGATING HIM (MY SON MOHAMMED) ABOUT OUR ASSET AND SOME VITAL DOCUMENTS. IT WAS IN THE COURSE OF THESE, AFTER THE BURIAL RITE AND CUSTOMS, THAT OUR LAWYER SAW YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS FROM THE PUBLICATION OF THE NIGERIAN BUSINESS PROMOTION AGENCY. THIS IS WHY I AM USING THIS OPPORTUNITY TO SOLICIT FOR YOUR CO-OPERATION AND ASSISTANCE TO HELP ME AS A VERY SINCERE RESPONSIBLE PERSON. I HAVE ALL THE TRUST IN YOU AND I KNOW THAT YOU WILL NOT SIT ON THIS MONEY.

I HAVE SUCCEEDED IN CARRYING THE FOUR METAL BOXES OUT OF THE COUNTRY, WITH THE AID OF SOME TOP GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL, WHO STILL SHOW SYMPATHY TO MY FAMILY, TO A NEIGHBOURING COUNTRY (ACCRA-GHANA) TO BE PRECISE. I PRAY YOU WOULD HELP US IN GETTING THIS MONEY TRANSFERRED OVER TO YOUR COUNTRY. EACH OF THESE METAL BOXES CONTAINS US$5,000,000.00 (FIVE MILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS ONLY) AND TOGETHER THESE FOUR BOXES CONTAIN US20,000,000.00(TWENTY MILLION UNITED STATESDOLLARS ONLY). THIS IS ACTUALLY WHAT WE HAVE MOVED TO GHANA.

THEREFORE, I NEED AN URGENT HELP FROM YOU AS A MAN OF GOD TO HELP GET THIS MONEY IN ACCRA GHANA TO YOUR COUNTRY. THIS MONEY, AFTER GETTING TO YOUR COUNTRY, WOULD BE SHARED ACCORDING TO THE PERCENTAGE AGREED BY BOTH OF US.PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS MATTER IS STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL AS THE GOVERNMENT WHICH MY LATE HUSBAND WAS PART OF IS STILL UNDER SURVAILLANCE TO PROBE US.

YOU CAN CONTACT ME THROUGH MY FAMILY LAWYER AS INDICATED ABOVE AND ALSO TO LIAISE WITH HIM TOWARDS THE EFFECTIVE COMPLETION OF THIS TRANSACTION ON TEL/FAX N0:xxx-x-xxxxxxx AS HE HAS THE MANDATE OF THE FAMILY TO HANDLE THIS TRANSACTION.

THANKS AND BEST REGARD

MRS. MARIAM ABACHA


Analysis: Something for nothing, eh? Just send them your bank account number and they'll gladly share millions of dollars with you? Sure, sure.

The text quoted above is an example of advance fee fraud (AFF) or, as it has become known internationally, the "419" scam, the number being the section of the Nigerian criminal code having to do with financial fraud schemes. You can find it listed at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission home page and on the FBI's website, both of which offers reliable information about the scam, in addition to addresses and phone numbers where people can report this or any other such scam offers they receive.

The Nigerian letter

The Nigerian business letter has been around in snail mail, fax and email form for more than 20 years, and it's been reported that up to 100 million dollars annually are swindled from folks who are taken in by it. The letter itself comes in numerous variations, under various supposed Nigerian officials' names and sometimes even purporting to have been sent from the Congo or other countries near Nigeria.

Often the letter is all in caps, and generally will include awful grammar and misspelled words.

If a person engages in communication with these folks and seems willing to conduct the transactions of which they speak (and some people they have actually flown to Nigeria and ultimately held hostage and otherwise harmed) at the last moment will begin the innocent-sounding requests for payment of an unforeseen fee, usually a couple thousand dollars but sometimes quite a bit more.

Once that is paid and the victim is now 'invested' in the matter, the requests or, by this point, demands for further payments continue, to ruinous effect. It's very serious "business."

So be careful, everybody. And don't trust unverifiable information in your inboxes!

Resources:

Advance Fee Fraud
U.S. Treasury Dept.

International Crime Complaint Center
Federal Bureau of Investigation

Last updated 11/30/15