Those concerned with the myriad online scams that seem to pop up with regularity would do well to note the existence of the common letter fraud known as the Nigerian Letter Fraud or the 419 Fraud. Named for section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code and also referred to as Advance Fee Fraud (AFF), 419 combines impersonation fraud with an advance fee scam and can be received via snail mail, fax, or email. The letter generally offers the recipient a percentage of a large sum of money in return for the recipient’s permission to “assist” in the transfer of the sum through their own bank account and lend money to the “cause” of the sender. This may sound like nothing but a scam to most (and it is), but it has fooled countless people into giving up money and personal information.
According to the U.S Department of State, the Nigerian letter may contain the following or similar text:
“Having consulted with my colleagues, and based on information gathered from the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce, I am pleased to propose a confidential business transaction to our mutual benefit. I and my colleagues have in our possession instruments to transfer the sum of $35,500,000.00 into a foreign company’s account in our favor. This amount emanated as a result from an over-invoiced contract, executed, commissioned, and paid for about two years ago by a foreign contractor. We are therefore seeking your assistance in transferring this money to your account as it can only be remitted to a foreign account, and as civil servants, we are forbidden to operate foreign accounts. The total sum will be shared as follows:
30% for the account owner (you)
60% for us
10% to settle any incidental expenses
“We shall commence the transfer of funds immediately, as soon as you send the following documents/information through the above fax number.
1. Four copies of your company’s letter head and invoice papers signed and stamped
2. Your banker’s name, address and fax numbers
3. The account number and name of would be beneficiary.
“Bear in mind that this is absolutely a private and personal deal, nonofficial; and should be treated with all measure of secrecy and confidentiality.”
After all the talk about how risky it is to share personal information with anyone on the internet, you’d think no one would fall for a letter asking them to send their bank and company information, but it is estimated that this scam results in losses of millions of dollars each year. Additionally, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), it has come to pass that once a victim stops sending money, the victim’s personal and bank information are used to drain their bank accounts and credit card. Some victims have even been lured to Nigeria, where they have been imprisoned, and some people have even been killed as a result of their involvement with this scam.
According to the Department of State, little progress has been made in prosecuting perpetrators of the 419 fraud. Some reasons for this include:
1. Only five to 10 percent of AFF victims report the scam, possibly because victims may not want to admit they were defrauded or involved in the situation.
2. Victims may believe they can recoup their losses by continuing to play out the fraud.
3. Victims may believe if they report the fraud they will be prosecuted under U.S. law as a co-conspirator. At least one U.S. court has upheld civil forfeiture of the proceeds attributed to AFF.
4. Sections 5 and 6 of the Nigerian Presidential Decree of April 1995, make receipt and/or possession of a fraudulent letter by a victim an offense. This may deter victims from returning to Nigeria to aid in the prosecution of these criminals.
In order to avoid being hooked into what has become a notorious international scam, the FBI recommends taking specific steps:
1. If you receive a letter from Nigeria asking you to send personal or banking information, do not reply in any manner. Send the letter to the U.S. Secret Service or the FBI.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Do not believe the promise of large sums of money for your cooperation.
5. Guard your account information carefully.
Unfortunately for the victim, once they send money or products to Nigeria, it’s nearly impossible to reverse the damage done or catch the perpetrator. If you receive anything, through fax, email, or the U.S. mail, that resembles the Nigerian letter scam, make no reply to the sender and contact the appropriate law enforcement agencies as soon as possible.
For more information and for a detailed description of the workings of this scam, visit http://www.state.gov/www/regions/africa/naffpub.pdf.