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Nigerian scam (advance fee fraud)

The Nigerian scam (a.k.a. the Nigerian 4-1-9 scam, after the Nigerian penal code section on fraud), or "advance fee fraud",  involves the plea of a foreigner in desperate need of your help to transfer millions of dollars from his or her homeland into your bank account. For your help, this stranger promises you a percentage of the money. Eventually, you will be required to spend some money in order to get your share. Some of the scammers have even gone to the expense of setting up a phony bank website where you can check your account to see that money has been deposited in your name. People who have gotten involved in this scam have lost of millions of dollars. Though many of the scammers originated in Nigeria, the con is worldwide and can come from any country. E-mail is the preferred form of initial communication and the lack of grammatical correctness and oddball capitalization adds authenticity to the plea.

There are several variations on this scam. One involves claiming that you have won a lottery that you didn't enter. To collect your millions you have to spend a few thousand dollars for a payment to this official here, a bribe there, a fee here, etc.

Below are some examples of appeals I have received.

  1. FROM THE DESK OF MR. EGOMAH FELIX, LAGOS, NIGERIA, an account officer to late Mark Jones an Immigrant, who was a Businessman and Building Contractor in my Country.

    On the 21st of April 2001, this customer was involved in a Car accident along Lagos-Shagamu express road. All occupants of the Vehicle unfortunately lost their lives.

    The deceased has an account valued at USD$15.5 million, I have be in contact with his lawyer prior to locate any of his relatives for over 2 years that seems abortive. Now, I seek your consent, to present you as the Next of kin of the Deceased, you could not be of same name and Nationality with the deceased, this grants you opportunity to be presented.

    35% will be given to you for your involvement/assistance to the successful accomplishment of this transaction,10% will be mapped out for any Internal and External expenses that we will run in the course of this transaction execution and 55% will be invested on my behalf under your management.

  2. I am Professor Frank Obi, a solicitor at law and a partner at Richard Akinjide and Co. I am the attorney to Mr. James McCullough, an expatriate, who used to work with Shell Development Company in Nigeria. On the 21st of April 1999, my Client, his wife and their children were involved in a car accident along Sagbama express road. All occupants of the vehicle lost their lives.
    [Obi claims to have $38.6 million dollars but didn't tell me how much my cut would be should I agree to help him move the money out of his country.]
     
  3. I am an official of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing (FMWH) in Nigeria. The Federal Government of Nigeria recently set up a contract review panel of which I am chairman to investigate all contracts awarded, executed and paid for under the FMWH by the previous military heads of states. During the course of our duties, we have identified the amount of US$21,500,000 (Twenty One Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) floating in the accounts of the NNPC at the Central Bank of Nigeria. This money would have been transferred to a foreign account by the military rulers and their cohorts for their personal use, had their regime not ended in may 1999.We also believe that if we report the existence of this money to the present authorities, they would want the money for their own personal use and they might make up stories to discredit us in the process. Because of the existing domestic laws forbidding civil servants from opening, operating and maintaining foreign accounts, we do not have the expertise to transfer this balance of funds to a foreign account by ourselves without the help of a foreign partner. Besides, the money can only be released by the Central Bank as a contract payment to a foreign company for a contract that has already been executed for the FMWH. I have therefore been delegated as a matter of trust by my colleagues of the panel to look for an overseas partner into whose account we would transfer the funds and whose facilities we would use to legalize the transfer. Hence we are sending you this letter. We have agreed to share the money thus- 25% for the account owner (you) 70% for us (the officials), 5% for miscellaneous. We intend to use most of our share of 70% to purchase real estate properties in your country and also to buy agricultural machinery to be imported to our country. Please note that this transaction is 100% safe and we have a blueprint that will make the transfer completely legal.
     
  4. I am Dr. Philip Williams, a citizen of Kenya, I work in Nigeria as a Medical Doctor with the Lagos State Government Specialist Hospital.

    I had a case of a man who had an accident and was rushed to the Hospital by some good Samaritans. I led a team of doctors to operate on him, but unfortunately we lost him.

    Upon searching his briefcase to enable me issue a certificate of death and referral to the appropriate authority seeing that he was an alien, I discovered that he is a citizen of Germany on a business in Nigeria. Further search revealed documents with which he deposited the sum of US$18Million Dollars with a Diplomatic Courier Company and evidence of the transaction (a picture of the money).
    [Williams only offered me 20% but he says he'll give 10% to an orphanage.]
     

  5. I am Mr Femi Kuye, The manager, Bills and Exchange at the Foreign Remittance Department of a reputable Bank in Africa. I am writing this letter to ask for your support and cooperation to carry out this business opportunity in my department. We discovered an abandoned sum of $12,500,000.00. [30% to the one who helps Kuye.]
     
  6. You may be suprise [sic] to receive this email since you do not know me. I am the son of the late president of Democratic Republic Of Zaire, President Mobutu Sese Seko, (now The Republic Of Congo, under the leadership of the son of Mr. Laurent Kabila). I presume you are aware there is a financial dispute between my family (THE MOBUTUS) and the present civilian Government.

    [
    No, never heard of you or your government's dispute, but for the offered 20% of $30,000,000 I might pretend to know these things. This fellow claimed to be "presently in the refugee camp here in the Netherlands under the united nations refugee camp in Netherlands and I can be reached on phone number +31-613364615." Give him a call. He's probably still there.]
     
  7. From MICHEAL SANKOH JUNIOR.

    URGENT ASSISTANCE NEEDED WITH ABSOLUTE TRUST IN GOD AND DUE RESPECT TO YOU, I WRITE YOU THIS LETTER WHICH I BELIEVE YOU WOULD BE OF GREAT ASSISTANCE TO ME AND WOULD KEEP THE INFORMATION CONFIDENTIAL AND PRIVATE. I AM MICHEAL SANKOH JUNIOR, A SON TO FODAY SANKOH, THE REBEL LEADER IN SIERRA LEONE WARRING FACTIONS, I AM ABSOLUTELY AGAINST THE UNENDING POLITICAL CRISES IN MY COUNTRY THAT HAS RESULTED TO MISSIVE DESTRUCTION OF HUMAN LIVES AND PROPERTY WHICH IS CURRENTLY IN THE WORLD NEWS. ON THIS LAST ASSAULT BY THE FORCES. I ESCAPED TO THE NETHERLAND THROUGH THE HELP OF UNITED NATIONS SOLDIERS WHO ARE THERE ON A PEACE MISSION. ON ARRIVAL IN AMSTERDAM, I WENT DIRECTLY TO THE ASSYLUM [sic] CAMP, TO SEEK FOR POLITICAL ASSYLUM [sic], I WAS ACCEPTED, BEFORE THE WAR MY FATHER DEPOSITED THE TOTAL SUM $15.5 MILLION USD IN A REPUTABLE SECURITY COMPANY IN AMSTERDAM, AS FAMILY VALUABLES. [Junior only offered 15%.]
     

  8. I AM MRS. SESE-SEKO WIDOW OF LATE PRESIDENT MOBUTU SESE-SEKO OF ZAIRE? [$18,000,000 in this one but the only promise is that her son will "put me in the business."]
     
  9. My name is MR. FRANK WINPOE from Liberia, a Country in West Africa. My Uncle is MR JOHN Y. WINPOE, former DEPUTY MINISTER OF NATIONAL SECURITY in LIBERIA. My uncle was falsely accused of plotting to remove the then PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA (CHARLES TAYLOR) from office. Without trial, Charles Taylor killed him. [The offer was a "negotiable percentage" of $28 million.]
     
  10. I am AVAN UNOKO the son of Mr UDO UNOKO, a farmer who was murdered in the land dispute in my country [South Africa]. [Farmers make a lot of money in South Africa, I guess, because this guy had stashed away $14 million and for helping him move the money I could have had 15%.]

Many of the letters contain thanks and blessings from some god.

Do real people fall for these pleas? Yes, they do. I have before me an article in The Sacramento Bee (March 12, 2005) about a Nigerian named Roland Adams who was sentenced to 97 months in prison for his part in one of these scams. The article claims that he helped defraud some 20 "victims around the world out of more than $1 million." He set up BankofAfrica.com, a phony bank website and gave victims a special password so they could see how much money had been "designated" to be transferred into their accounts as soon as they paid the fees to cover the transaction. According to the article, some of the victims lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

One victim, Margie Ziereis of Wisconsin, said she had hoped to collect $50 million for allowing Adams to deposit $150 million into her bank account. She wired him $8,000 to pay for a "transaction fee." Of course, no money was ever deposited into her account.

Anyone who has been victimized by a variant of this scam in the U.S. is advised to contact your local Secret Service field office.

further reading

books and articles

Levine, Robert. The Power of Persuasion - How We're Bought and Sold  (John Wiley & Sons 2003).

Stein, Gordon. Encyclopedia of Hoaxes (Prometheus, 1993).

Stein, Gordon and Marie MacNee. Hoaxes!: Dupes, Dodges & Other Dastardly Deceptions (Visible Ink Press 1995).

Steiner, Robert A. Don't Get Taken: Bunco & Bunkum Exposed -  How to Protect Yourself (Wide-A-Wake Books, 1989).

websites

Baiting Nigerian scammers for fun (not so much for profit) ("Who are scam baiters, and why do they bother trying to give scammers the runaround?")

Example of Nigerian Scam letter

Dean Cameron's Nigerian spam scam scam

419 Eater (a spam scam scam site)

United States Secret Service

Federal Trade Commission

Better Business Bureau

Nigeria - The 419 Coalition Website

Quatloos!

Crimes of Persuasion

Snopes.com

News

Nigeria's anti graft police shuts 800 scam websites "There have been 18 arrests of high profile syndicates operating cyber-crime organizations."

Last updated 25-Jan-2014

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