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Nigeria E-Mail Scam  aka  419 Scam  aka  Advance Fee Fraud

    This article covers, the following:
  1. Introduction: Is this e-mail real?  
  2. History: Learn how and where this type of e-mail scam originated  
  3. Sample: One such variety of the e-mail scam for comparison purposes  
  4. Aliases: Some names and countries used in the e-mail scam  
  5. Warnings: Top 10 things to help identify this type of e-mail scam
  6. More Information: News, alerts and additional information regarding the above

Is this E-Mail Real?

     Is this e-mail real?  In a word, NO!  It is an age old Con perpetrated mostly by foreign crime syndicates who have honed and crafted it to make it sound and appear very believable. The offer of imaginary millions is very tempting to most. Dreams of new homes, cars, boats, exotic vacations, and the making of a better life often swirl in people's heads. However, most people use common sense and remember what their parents taught them, "If it sounds to good to be true, it usually is."   For those not so lucky, the consequences of this Con can be devastating, both financially and emotionally.

     A "Con" is short for a "Confidence Game" and consists of a scam or swindle perpetuated by fraud or deceit, and involves at least one victim (the Mark) and at least one con man (the Grifter). The highly regarded Black's Law Dictionary defines a "Con" as "The intentional misrepresentation of an existing fact or condition, or the use of some other deceptive scheme or device, to obtain money, goods or other things of value."  In most instances, the Grifter will propose a deal to the Mark that sounds too good to be true (the Bait) in order to set the stage for the Con. The more enticing and tempting the Bait, the better and easier the Con. When a Grifter becomes truely talented at parting a Mark with their money or property, they are refered to as a "Con Artist."

     How does it work?  This particular type of e-mail fraud is perpetuated by the recieipient of the e-mail (the Mark) contacting the sender (the Grifter) and expressing an interest in the money being offered (the Bait). After the Mark sends the Grifter their bank information, and if the Grifter is unsuccessful in emptying the Mark's bank account by virtue of a fraudulent bank transfer, the Mark is then contacted by the Grifter and told that a problem has developed and that the Mark will need to cover the costs of tranferring the offered millions. Most commonly the up front fees or costs are allegedly needed to pay taxes, administrative or legal fees, or bribes. These advance fees or costs can be anywhere from a few hundred, to a few thousand, to tens of thousands of dollars. A small sum compared to the millions being dangled in front of them (the Con). Some Marks are even offered a visit to Nigeria (or other foreign country) to meet with the Dignitary aka the Grifter. This trip, should the Mark be so inclined to accept it, can have no good results and could quite possibly create a very dangerous situation. Since 1995, it has been reported that 16 foreigners, including two from the United States, have been murdered after traveling to Nigeria in pursuit of these mythical millions. Over the same said time period, the U.S. Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, has also been made to repatriate the return of no less than 18 other Americans who had been kidnapped and held against their will in Nigeria. On July 2, 1996, a Swedish businessman, having been lured to Nigeria as a result of this scam, was kidnapped directly from his hotel room. The kidnappers, believed to be Nigerian criminals, demanded $500,000 for his safe return.

     Mr. Duncan McKelvie, from the West African Organized Crime Section (WAOCS) of the U.K.'s National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), said in a recent interview:rqdn

"You would think that no one would fall for such an obvious scam, but this sort of sting is a definite threat to both company viability and individual security. We [estimate] at least one per cent of people follow up the initial letter and lose money as a result. Victims are often too ashamed to come forward. Some are known to have been suicidal when they realize they have been duped into parting with thousands."

     Since May 2000, according to the FBI's Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC), two American citizens have come forward to admit that they were, in fact, dupped as a result of this particular Con. In one instance the Mark was taken for $30,000 and in the other the Mark lost $1,000. However, many instances go unreported because the Mark is too embarassed to come forward and it is estimated that Americans lose millions of dollars each year to this scam. In April 2002, newswires reported a Florida couple losing just under $400,000. In stark contrast, citizens of the U.K., having been targeted for a much longer period of time, lose an estimated $90 million annually as a result of the Nigerian scam with an average loss of $56,000 and an alarming 1% response rate for the Grifters. Not surprisingly, this scam has, in fact, become a billion dollar business for crime syndicates in Nigeria, and now, by virtue of its sheer revenue, represents Nigeria's fourth largest industry. As a result of worldwide pressure from foreign governments and the growing number of complaints from victims of the scam, the Nigerian government created a special task force called the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in an effort to crack down on would-be Grifters. The EFCC, in its short existence, has so far successfully managed to tracked down and arrest thousands of individuals with hundreds having already been sentenced to prison, including some crime syndicate kingpins.

History of the Nigeria E-Mail Scam

     This particular type of Con is referred to as an "Advance Fee Fraud,"  "Four-One-Nine" or "419 Fraud" after the revised and expanded Section 419 of the Criminal Code of Nigeria which relates to fraud and internet activity. Most commonly, however, it is simply refered to as a "419 scam" and comes in many different forms, the Nigeria scam being just one of them.

     The U.S. State Department states that the Nigerian E-Mail Scam first surfaced in the mid-1980's, around the time when world oil prices collapsed. Oil exports represent 20% of Nigeria's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 95% of its foreign exchange earnings, and about 65% of its budgetary revenues. This sudden loss of income and jobs throughout the region caused many university-educated, English-speaking professionals to turn to a life of crime. One ingenius Con Artist endeavored to put this Con on paper and send letters out to certain businesses and professionals in the hopes of getting a response. Obviously, it worked. The U.K. postal service soon became overwhelmed with letters carrying this scam to its residents and businesses, which it attempted to legally withdraw before reaching a prospective Mark (78,000 having been withdrawn in the London area alone). The scammers later began sending their letters in larger envelopes and even boxes to circumvent the watchful eyes of postal inspectors. With the advent of the facsimile machine, the scam immediately began to flood fax machines worldwide. Enter the Internet. With the millions of people having and using e-mail on a daily basis, the scam naturally transformed itself to e-mail which now makes up its bulk. Lists of e-mail addresses are bought, sold and traded everyday. Your banking institution, your magazine subscription, your Internet provider or hosting company, and any other company that has politely asked you for an e-mail address - all may be selling or renting your e-mail address unless you have specifically asked them not to. Still many require this request to be in writing (opt out), mostly because they know few will take the actual time to write and mail such a request. Even though many states have adopted strict anti-spam laws this, however, doesn't seem to deter the spammers and scammers. It certainly wouldn't deter someone in Nigeria who is immune from our laws. Sending this Con via e-mail is far cheaper than sending via the post office or by fax, which makes it ideal for a Grifter.

     While the use of Nigeria is relatively new (circa 1980) as compared to the overall life of the Advance Fee Fraud scam, it is said to be a replacement of that certain lucrative turn of the century Con known as the "Spanish Prisoner." The Spanish Prisoner Con (circa 1920) is based, in part, upon actual historical events. In medieval times (circa 1100-1400), royal family members and important members of society were often captured in battle or kidnapped outright. While not kept in dark, damp, dungeons as we all have been lead to believe, prisioners were actually treated like kings and often had the run of the castle. Honor and pride keeping them prisioner instead. The prisioner would remain in captivity until such time as their kingdom or family paid the demanded ransom. Sometimes this tooks several years to accomplish. In the Spanish Prisoner Con, the Mark, usually a wealthy businessmen, would be contacted by a Grifter who would explain that he has been contacted by, or informed of, a wealthy Spanish family who has had their dear relative imprisioned in a foreign land. Not wanting to create an international incident, this wealthy Spanish family has a standing offer of millions of dollars to anyone who can help secure the release of their dear relative. The Grifter explains that he has negotiated a bribe with a certain high ranking prison official who, upon receiving payment, would allow the imprisoned relative to freely escape. Unfortunately, the Grifter has no money to pay the bribe and cannot cash in on the reward himself without financial assistance from a partner. That's right! The Mark has been selected, among millions of people, to be the Grifter's new partner. The Mark is promised a share of the reward if he comes up with the bribe money. The Mark pays the bribe money to the Grifter but the Grifter is unable to secure the freedom of the prisoner due to an over-greedy prision official, who now wants more money. The Grifter will continue to milk the Mark for money with excuses of greed, failed prison rescue attempts, fees for travel documents for the prisoner, etc. Once the Mark is taken in by the scam, the next payment always seems one step away from the millions of dollars that await which is what keeps the Mark from walking away. Change Spain to Nigeria, and the prisioner for over-paid millions on a government contract, and you have the Nigeria E-Mail Scam.

     Nigeria spent most of the 1980's and 1990's under military rule with corruption and crime running rampant, everywhere from the capital to the inner city streets. With 60% of its citizens living below the poverty level and its 28% unemployment rate, it's little wonder why Nigerians resorted to crime - and resort they did. Conservative estimates are that an astounding 30-40% of all heroine that is trafficked throughout the world is either moved directly, or its movement is stricly controlled, by Nigerian crime syndicates. With democracy in Nigeria restored and a formal Constitution adopted in 1999, the crime syndicates have been forced to return to the darkend cracks of the country. Almost all of them participate in some sort of 419 or Nigeria E-Mail Scam, as there is no travel involved, no product to move and the rewards can be substantial.

     While a majority of these scams seemingly come from exiled Nigerian government digitaries or Nigerian corporate board members who need your assistance in transferring millions of dollars, the Grifters have developed newer techniques to get your money. One new form of this scam includes the Grifter representing they are an foreign attorney/barrister and the Mark has become heir to someone with the same sir name and no other heirs can be found abroad and, thus, the Mark stands to inherit the entire estate (always in the millions of dollars). This inheiretence scam specifically refers the Mark to by name in the e-mail or letter, which makes it sound more legitimate. Other forms of this scam include bogus winning lottery tickets, real estate ventures, stock futures, precious metals or jewels, and crude oil investments. The list is endless.

One Variety of the Nigeria E-Mail Scam for Comparison Purposes

Reports confirm over 500 different variations of this e-mail.

FROM THE DESK OF MR [ Name Varies ]

Dear Friend,

    I am a director in the foreign affairs department of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). I got your e-mail during a personal research on the Internet and wish to use this opportunity to notify you of the existence of a certain amount we wish to transfer overseas for the purpose of investments and importation of goods from your country.

    In May 2001, a contract of sixty-six million United States dollars ($66,000,000) was awarded to a foreign company by my ministry. The contract was supply, erection and system optimization of supper polyore 200,000-bpsd, system optimization of 280,000-monax axial plants and the computerization of conveyor belt for our Kaduna refinery. With only the consent of the head of the contract evaluation department, I over invoiced the contract value by thirty four million United States dollars ($34,000,000).

    The contract has been completed long ago and the foreign company has fully paid off. But in the office files and paper work, the company is still owed USD $34M representing the over invoiced amount. Because this amount is derived from the award and execution of a foreign contract, there is no way the money can be paid locally. That is why I contacted you, so that we can do the project together for our mutual benefit. We have concluded every necessary arrangement to transfer this amount to a foreign account as the final phase payment for the said contract. What we need is your bank account into which we can deposit the money and after we shall come over there to share the money with you.

    We sincerely need an honest person to work with and have agreed to share the money in the following percentages, 70% will be for us who will effect the transfer and 30% will be for you whose account is used to secure the funds. There is no risk involvement because applications will be made to the concerned Federal ministries and parastatal with official approvals given by the Federal government before the Central Bank of Nigeria will be officially empowered to wire the funds to your account by telegraphic transfer.

    If you are interested, contact me by e-mail at <e-mail address varies> indicating your full name or company name and address. Your direct telephone and fax numbers. The name and address of the bank you would like us to deposit the money with, the telephone and fax numbers of the bank, your account number, etc. Everything has been arranged and I will send more information about the business transaction to you as soon as I hear from you. For obvious reasons, please keep this proposal top secret and highly confidential.

Kind regards,

[ Name Varies ]

Some Used Aliases in the Nigeria E-Mail Scam

Alleged Country of Origin Sender / Alias Occupation Amount Sample of E-Mail

Nigeria Dr. Ud. Pius Bank Manager $45 million Specimin

Kenya Dr. Ahmed Abdalla Board Member $43.8 million Specimin

Senegal Dr. Idrissa Diop Project Director $11.2 million Specimin

Nigeria Prince Mike Okoya Chief Accountant $27 million Specimin

Nigeria Pius Anyim Ex-Senator $30 million Specimin

Zambia Peterson Bulinga Board Rep. $15 million Specimin

Zimbabwe Jerry Bozimor Agr. Engineer $12.2 million Specimin

Nigeria Dr. Martins Ego Chairman $31 million Specimin

Sierra Leone Maraa Massaquoe Political Refugee $30.5 million Specimin

South Africa Lexi A. Kosoko Bank Manager $20.5 million Specimin

Nigeria Steve Martins Engineer $35.5 million Specimin

Liberia Pius Mbata Ex-Pres. Aide $7.5 million Specimin

Congo/Zaire Sanku Sese-Seko Former Prince $10 million Specimin

Nigeria Dr. Tunde Reni Chairman $25 million Specimin

Nigeria Donald Adeola Special Committee $16.5 million Specimin

South Africa Kumalo Diliza Engineer $14.3 million Specimin

Cameroon Lawrence Molo Barrister $15 million Specimin

Togo Dr. Benson Zoba Credit Manager $14.5 million Specimin

Nigeria Dr. Aminu Atiku Chief Accountant $20.5 million Specimin

Congo/Zaire Momoh Mobutu Former Prince $15 million Specimin
There are over 500 other variations of this scam, only 20 are listed here.

Top 10 Things to Help Identify this Type of E-Mail Scam

    Top 10 warning signs of a § 419 or Nigerian E-Mail Scam:

  1. A promise to share or transfer millions of dollars to you for your help or participation. (Out of 5 billion people in the world you were singled out as this fortunate person, lucky you).

  2. The e-mail or correspondence is marked "urgent," "top secret" or "highly confidential" and demands you act immediately. (Time is commonly of the essence).

  3. The sender claims to be an exiled Dignitary, Cabinet Member, General, CEO, CFO, lawyer, doctor or the heir of some other important person or top official to gain your confidence. (The Grifter usually uses a Hotmail, Yahoo, Netscape, Caramail or other such free and anonymous e-mail service to send you the message - not very Regal at all).

  4. Claims to have obtained your e-mail address "during a personal research on the Internet" or from an unidentified "friend who was once on diplomatic mission." (Yeah, we all know one of these individuals).

  5. The proposal contains a seemingly unlikely situation, i.e. overpaid millions on a contract, royal money or assets frozen by a foreign government, an inheritence, or money, gold or diamonds that need to immediately be transfered or be lost forever.

  6. Claims to have smuggled the funds, jewels or precious metals out of their native country in a "diplomatic package" or "consignment" unbeknownst to their unstable or corrupt government.

  7. Seeks an "honest foreign partner" to help with them with their crisis situation. (As if none exist or can be found in their own country).

  8. States they are working with an unidentfied "Security Company" or the "Central Bank of Nigeria" (who is a much a victim of the scam as the Mark, having received countless numbers of complaints).

  9. Requests personal information from you, i.e. your full name, bank account information and routing numbers, home or business telephone and facsimile numbers, or a copy of your letterhead.

  10. The solicitation or contact requires you to advance money "up front" to secure your participation in the transaction. (Hence, its nickname of "Advanced Fee Fraud").

    Let common sense be your guide!  If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!

News, Alerts and Information Regarding this E-Mail Scam

    For more news, alerts and information on this e-mail scam, please visit these webpages:

  • Press Statement on Advance Fee Fraud Scam
      Released in cooperation with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and published in the Washington Post in December 1995. From the Nigerian Embassy, Washington, D.C.
  • Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC)
      File a complaint regarding internet activity online. Co-sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C).
  • £150 Million Annual Loss Across Great Britain Feared  [ United Kingdom ]
      National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) warns of a surge in advanced fee fraud letters and e-mails.
  • Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)  [ Nigeria ]
      If you have been a victim of the Nigerian E-Mail Scam, you can file a complaint with the Nigerian Government by visiting this website.
  • Nigerian Scammers in the Line of Fire  [Nigeria]
      Interview with Nuhu Ribadu, head of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), who is trying to end the so-called "419 e-mail scams."
  • Frauds and Scams - Nigerian Letter  [ Canada ]
      From the Phonebusters National Call Center (PNCC), a joint partnership involving the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
  • South African Police Service (SAPS)  [ South Africa ]
      A police advisory on the 419 Nigeria letter scam. From the Commercial Crime Investigations section of the South African Police Service.
  • United States Secret Service 4-1-9 Scam Advisory
      A public awareness advisory regarding 4-1-9 (Advance Fee Fraud) scams. In response to this growing epidemic, the Secret Service established "Operation 4-1-9" to target Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud (AFF) on an international basis.
  • Four-One-Nine (419) Scam
      Key findings regarding the Nigerian Letter Scams. From the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC).
  • U. S. State Department Report on Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud Click to download the free Acrobat Reader
      An indepth 31 page report outlining the Nigeria E-Mail Scam, how it works, its variations and the U.S. Government's response. (1.07 MB download).

See also, these cross-references:

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