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Nigerian money transfer fraud

The Nigerian money transfer fraud, also known as the Nigeria scam or the 419 fraud after the relevant section of the Nigerian criminal code, is a fraudulent scheme to extract money from investors living in rich countries in Europe or in the US. The confidence tricks originate in Nigeria, have been ongoing since at least 1989, and are carried out through the mail, fax and increasingly through e-mail spam. Originally, the schemers contacted mainly heads of companies and church officials, but now increasingly private citizens are targeted as well.

How the scam operates

The investors are contacted, typically with an offer of the type "a rich person in Nigeria needs to discreetly move money abroad, would it be possible to use your account?" The sums involved are usually in the millions of dollars, and the investor is promised a sizeable percentage. The proposed deal is often presented as a (harmless) white-collar crime, in order to dissuade participants to later contact the authorities. The operation is professionally organized in Nigeria, with offices, working fax numbers, and often contacts at government offices. The investor who attempts to research the background of the offer will usually find that all pieces fit perfectly together. If they then agree to the deal, the other side will first send several documents bearing official government stamps, seals etc., and then introduce delays, such as "in order to transmit the money, we need to bribe a bank official. Could you help us with a loan?" or "In order for you to be allowed to be a party to the transaction, you need to have holdings at a Nigerian bank of $100,000 or more" or similar. More delays and more additional costs are added, always keeping the promise of an imminent large transfer alive. Sometimes psychological pressure is added by claiming that the Nigerian side, in order to pay certain fees, had to sell all belongings and borrow money on their house. Sometimes, victims are invited to Nigeria and get to meet real or fake government officials, or are held for ransom. In some cases they are smuggled into the country without a visa and then threatened into giving up more money as the penalties for being in Nigeria are especially severe. The actual money transfer never happens.

Some investors have hired private investigators in Nigeria or have personally travelled to Nigeria, without ever retrieving their money. One American was murdered in Nigeria while pursuing his lost money. Since 1995, the United States Secret Service has been involved in combatting these schemes.

New variation

A newer version of the scam offers to buy some expensive item by official, certified, bank or cashier's check, and asks the recipient to wire transport costs to some third party as soon as the check clears. The check typically clears after one or two days, but the fact that it is counterfeit is not detected until several days later, when the transport costs are already lost.

Scam baiting

A number of internet groups have invented the hobby of scam baiting. The object is to pretend interest in a scammer's scheme, while convincing the scammer to waste time, perform ridiculous tasks, or otherwise entertain the baiter.

Sample scam letter

A typical email message which attempts to attract victims follows:

Subject: can you?
Date: Thu, 28 Mar 2002 15:03:44 +0100

Dear Sir,


I write to inform you of my desire to acquire estates or landed properties in your country on behalf of the Director of Contracts and Finance Allocations of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in Nigeria.

Considering his very strategic and influential position, he would want the transaction to be as strictly confidential as possible. He further wants his identity to remain undisclosed at least for now, untill the completion of the transaction. Hence our desire to have an overseas agent.

I have therefore been directed to inquire if you would agree to act as our overseas agent in order to actualize this transaction.

The deal, in brief, is that the funds with which we intend to carry out our proposed investments in your country is presently in a coded account at the Nigerian Apex Bank (i.e. the Central Bank of Nigeria) and we need your assistance to transfer the funds to your country in a convenient bank account that will be provided by you before we can put the funds into use in your country. For this, you shall be considered to have executed a contract for the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in Nigeria for which payment should be effected to you by the Ministry, The contract sum of which shall run into US$26.4 Million, of which your share shall be 30% if you agree to be our overseas agent.

As soon as payment is effected, and the amount mentioned above is successfully transferred into your account, we intend to use our own share in acquiring some estates abroad. For this too you shall also serve as our agent.

In the light of this, I would like you to forward to me the following information:

1. Your company name and address if any 2. Your personal fax number 3. Your personal telephone number for easy communication.

You are requested to communicate your acceptance of this proposal through my above stated email address after which we shall discuss in details the modalities for seeing this transaction through.

Your quick response will be highly appreciated. Thank you in anticipation of your cooperation.

Yours faithfully, BIBI LUCKY.

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