What is an advance fee scam (or Nigerian scam)?

The Nigerian scam or 419 scam or African scam is the name for a set of advance fee scams widely practiced in West Africa.

History

So-called Nigerian scams actually appeared as early as the 16th century in Spain with the “Spanish prisoner” scam. It consisted of sending a letter to a wealthy person explaining that a young Spanish noblewoman was being held prisoner. The recipient of the letter was promised that by paying the ransom, the lady would be freed and come to marry him.

This type of scam gained popularity in the 19th century following the disorders born of the Revolution. Vidocq then made famous what became known as the “Jerusalem letters” in his book “Les Voleurs”.

Nigerian scams proper begin in the 1980s with letters in which it is a question of getting large sums of money out of Nigeria with the help of the victim. They develop particularly from the end of the 90s thanks to the massive use of emails, faster and less expensive than letters. They then took on the name “419 scam” due to the Nigerian law article targeting this type of crime.

In the 2000s, Nigerian scams are practiced in much of West Africa, but also in Asia, Eastern Europe, and to a lesser extent in other countries around the world.

Implementation

A typical Nigerian scam has 3 steps: sending a message, interacting with the victim, getting the money back. Some lottery, sentimental, classified ad, or employment scams are sometimes considered Nigerian scams but we will not cover them here.

The messages

The messages in this scam are always unsolicited; there are many, many variations. But they usually have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • a very large amount of money is at stake (more than 100,000 euros)
  • for various reasons, the victim must step in to help with the transfer
  • a high commission is promised to the victim for his or her assistance
  • they are long enough to detail the story the victim will believe
  • it’s about businessmen or statesmen who are particularly wealthy
  • there is a notion of urgency
  • the transaction has a confidential nature

The pretexts given may be:

  • funds to be transferred abroad
  • a locked estate requiring outside intervention
  • problems with currency conversion
  • the need to pay small fees that are momentarily impossible for the sender to pay
  • the need for a middleman to pay money discreetly to a third party
  • more or less zany reasons, such as an African astronaut stuck in space! 🙂

The exchanges with the victim

The purpose of these exchanges is initially to reassure the victim by giving him or her elements that are supposed to prove the reality of the problem: official letters, identity documents, copies of bank documents, even checks. These documents are either stolen or forged.

When the target of the scam seems “ripe”, it becomes a matter of unexpected fees to be paid and/or documents to be provided.

The recovery of money

Money can be collected by scammers in 2 ways:

  • the payment of fictitious “fees” by the victim
  • the theft of money from the victim’s account via bank data recovery

In the first case, payments are usually requested in an anonymous and irreversible form: Western Union, MoneyGram, PCS codes.

Next part of the scam

Once the victim has paid, scammers often continue to try to get additional money. This can be through new fees (which are always supposed to be the last) or by offering to get the victim’s lost money back via an interpol scam.

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