April 4, 2013
All types of advance-fee scams have one point in common – the targeted person is led to believe that he or she has a chance to attain something of very great personal value (financial reward, a romantic relationship, etc.) in return for a small up-front monetary outlay.
Advance fee fraud - also called “419 fraud” after the specific section of Nigerian law describing this type of fraud – has evolved considerably over the years. Originally, fraud artists in Nigeria would send an unsolicited but official-looking business proposal on bank or company letterhead to an unsuspecting U.S. citizen’s postal mailbox. Advance fee fraud scenarios are constantly changing and no longer originate just from Nigeria, but from countries around the globe. More recent scams have ranged from simple greed to the promise of love or a more rewarding professional life.
Money Laundering Scams
In money laundering scams, the targeted person is led to believe that s/he will soon gain access to large sums of money upon payment of a small processing fee. The initial payment of a few hundred dollars, according to the scam artist, is all that stands in the way of a large money transfer being routed directly to the target's personal bank account. The money is usually presented as illegally obtained funds in need of laundering. The overseas embezzler is simply seeking a willing accomplice’s U.S. bank account into which he can transfer the funds, and in exchange he promises to reward the U.S. accomplice handsomely.
Long-Lost Inheritance – Windfall from a Deceased Relative
The Setup: A lawyer contacts you to inform you that one of your long-lost relatives has died overseas - possibly in Nigeria, but not always. The relative was allegedly an oil industry worker who died in a car crash or had a heart attack. The deceased relative, according to the lawyer’s message, has left a large amount of money in a bank account, and the funds need to be repatriated to the next-of-kin in the United States. According to the lawyer, all other closely related family members are also deceased or untraceable – hence the unexpected contact with you.
The Expected Payoff: Since you are apparently the closest next-of-kin, you are entitled to take control of the money – often more than one million U.S. dollars -- that the deceased has left.
The Catch: To obtain the financial windfall, you must first pay a money transfer fee of $200 and the lawyer’s fee of $500 to $1000.
The Bottom Line: This solicitation comes by letter or through e-mail in the form of long, detailed messages. Adding credibility, the scammers customize the solicitation, tailoring the surname of the mythical dead man to match yours. When you insist that you never heard of such a relative, the scammer makes an interesting argument. He has allegedly tried, unsuccessfully, for several years to find a real next-of-kin, and is on the verge of giving up. The lawyer lets it slip that he is not concerned if you are actually related to the deceased person -- he just wants to ship the money and obtain his fee. Interestingly enough, when the scammer mentions that the late Mr. X was working for Y Oil Company, many scam victims comment that they vaguely remember hearing about the said relative and that he was making an impressive salary with an oil company. It is not clear whether the victim in fact had a relative working for an oil company, or whether it is simply the power of suggestion that causes victims to imagine facts that are not true. If the name used for the deceased is in fact that of a family member who was working abroad for an oil company, the victim is all the more convinced that the “lawyer” has access to the company’s official personnel records.
Laundering Crooked Money – The Original 419 Fraudulent Scam
The Setup: A corrupt government worker has embezzled millions of dollars from a company or government entity and needs help laundering the money. In order to avoid the local authorities, he needs to send it to an overseas bank account.
The Payoff: In return for your help, the scammer claims you will receive a cut of the money. The amount varies from scam to scam, but is usually anywhere from 10% to 50% of the ten to twenty-five million U.S. dollars being laundered.
The Financial Catch: To avoid creating a paper trail, the Nigerian official cannot take care of the transactional aspects of the deal. He needs you to make all the necessary arrangements. The practicalities involve a lawyer and some specialized bankers referred to by the Nigerian official, all of whom require payment. You must pay fees totaling several thousand U.S. dollars before the transfer of funds can be completed.
The Bottom Line: This is the oldest and simplest form of the 419 scam. Most of the solicitations for assistance are initiated in a long, descriptive letter, often with numerous grammatical errors. The victim is targeted at random and there is little personalization in the solicitation message. In fact, there is no multi-million dollar account; the scammers keep requesting fees from you until you realize that you have been scammed. Some victims have lost tens of thousands of U.S. dollars of their own or borrowed funds. A new variation on the scheme does away with the lawyer fees, favoring a uniquely post-September 11th approach. In this scenario, the money transfer is allegedly being held up by the Nigerian “Anti-Terrorist Enforcement Agency” pending certification that funds will not be used for terrorist purposes. The fee for the supposed Anti-Terrorist Certificate is $4,000.
If you feel you have been a victim of an Internet scam, please send all reports of Internet fraud directly to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) - a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). IC3 was established to receive internet related criminal complaints and to research, develop, and refer complaints to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement if appropriate.
To check a business’s legitimacy, contact the Nigeria Desk Officer at the International Trade Administration, Room 3317, Dept. of Commerce, Washington, DC 20230. (Tel: 1-800-USA-TRADE or 202-482-5149, fax: 202-482-5198)
Example: Letter used by “Long-Lost Inheritance” Scammer to convince victim of next of kin status.