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How to Tell If You've Received a Nigerian Email Scam

You receive an email or letter like the one below:

Dear Friend,

It is with hope that I write to seek your help in the context below.

I am Hajia Mariam Abacha, wife of Nigeriaís former head of state; Late General Sani Abacha, whose sudden death occurred on the 8th of June 1998. Since my husband died, I have been thrown into a state of utter confusion, frustration and hopelessness by the present civilian administration. The security agents in the country have subjected me to physical and psychological torture. My son (Mohammed Abacha) is still under detention arraigned before the federal high court of Nigeria for an offence he did not commit. As a widow that is so traumatized, I am hopeless with my present faith. You must have heard over the media reports on the recovery of various sums of money deposited by my late husband with various security firms. Some companies willingly gave up their secret and disclosed our money confidently lodged there, or many, outright blackmail. Infact the total sum discovered by the government so far is in the tune of $700 Million USD and they are not relenting to make me poor for life. I came in contact with your name and address through my personal research and would want to have faith and confidence in you as I view you to be a responsible personality. 

I have no doubt about your capacity and goodwill to assist me in receiving into your custody( for safety) the sum of $40.3 Million USD willed and deposited safely in my favour by my late husband. This money is currently kept in Safe Deposit Box (SDB) at a security firm within Europe. As it is legally required, the administration of my late husbandís property is under the authority of the familyís Lawyer (Attorney)Barrister Abdulrahman Bubatrafa(SAN).
The investigative teams set up by my government have submitted their report after freezing almost all our account. Fortunately, our family lawyer had secretly protected the personal will of my husband from the notice of the investigators and have strictly advised that the $40.3m USD be urgently moved to an overseas account of any trust worthy but ANNONYMOUS foreign family friend without delay, for security reasons. All our traveling papers have been seized by the government thereby preventing us from traveling and all the local and international outfit of our business empire seized. This sum of money is our only hope to stay alive.

I have therefore agreed to compensate your goodself with 30% of the total deposit when you finally recieve
the deposit box from the security firm and its contents safely lodged in your account. They have equally guaranteed 100% risk-free and smooth transfer. If you are interested in assisting me,please reach me immediately or send to me your confidential telephone and fax number(s) so that I can reach you as soon as possible. For obvious security reasons, it is imperative that you keep all our communication very secret. Do not mention my family,s name or disclose the transaction  to anybody. If you are not interested in assisting me, still get in touch so that I can make alternative arrangement as time is of the essence. Please do not expose me to my government.


Hajia Mariam Abacha

OR a letter like this:

Wednesday, December 31, 2003
l am a financial consultant based in eastlondon Nigeria. l have a client (a
widow)she has $30,000,000USD with a private equity investment trust company for safekeeping. And she is willing to offer you 20% of the total fund if you can assist her transfer this fund to your country or any bank of your wish. She wishes to invest in a stable economy. Her interest is in companies with potentials for rapid growth in long terms. My client is interested in placing part of her fund in your company, if your country`s bi-laws allows foreign investment.
You can contact me for more details via my e-mail address or fax with your reference.
Yours faithfully,
E-MAIL: mikechibuzor@excite.com 
N:B The fund is free from drug and laundering related offences and this transaction need utmost confidentiality

Well, surprise, surprise... it's a scam.

For many more examples at the message board:  Nigerian Scam Examples. or The Big Scam

How do you know it's a scam?

Do you really need to ask this?  Isn't it obvious?  Well, people never fail to amaze me with the combination of greed and stupidity they demonstrate... so here's the explanation:

Official Notification

You first receive a letter, fax or e-mail from an insider or alleged "official" representing a present or former foreign government or agency. The letter, while appearing transparently bogus and even ridiculous to most, is unfortunately growing in its effectiveness and reach.

Initially targeting businessmen, the scam has now expanded to include the average citizen due to the low cost of email transmission in relation to potential gains.  Church officials are also being specifically targeted with uniquely worded offers of charitable bequests.  The common thread is that the initial letter sets the stage and is the opening round of a scheme within a scheme.

The following characteristics may be found in these letters.

  • Historically mailed out, they have progressed on to faxes, then e-mails.
  • Many are addressed to "president" or "CEO," rather than a specific name.
  • They are marked "urgent" and "confidential."
  • They may contain spelling mistakes and grammatical errors which give you a sense of intellectual superiority, sympathy, or assurance of origin.
  • If mailed to you it will have foreign, exotic stamps.
  • Written almost always in all capital letters reminiscent of older teletypes even though currently e-mailed.
  • The dollar amounts to be transferred, invariably in the tens of millions of dollars, is also written out in text form.  ie $32,460,000 USD ( Thirty-two million, four hundred and sixty thousand United States Dollars )
  • They say you have been recommended for, or they have verified, your honesty and business acumen.

The Exalted Sender

The sender may claim to be one of the following:

  • a senior civil servant from a department in one of their Ministries i.e. the Audit Bureau Department of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. (NNPC), the International Remittance Department, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Federal Tenders Board, Ministry of Aviation, Ministry of Finance, Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), etc.
  • Nigerian royalty or a political insider such as "the son of the President of Nigeria" or a "Nigerian prince"
  • the spouse, relative, aide or confidante of a deposed leader or widow;
  • a Nigerian businessman or lawyer with an impressive title such as "Chief" or "Dr."
  • an auditor or accountant with strong ties to Nigerian officials

Interestingly, 419 kingpins have perfected the act of inventing odd names that cut across tribes and sometimes religion. Thus, it is not impossible to see names like Mike Ajasin Ikoku as an individual, while others could have as many as seven to ten "operational" names made up from variations of actual bank and ministry personnel.

The names of prominent South African politicians, including former President Nelson Mandela and Finance Minister Trevor Manual, have recently been dragged into a Nigerian 419 letter scam uncovered in Johannesburg.

One Nigerian, who claimed to be the late Oliver Tambo's younger brother, used the names of Mandela, Manual and Jeff Radebe, minister of public enterprises, to con wealthy international businessmen out of their money.

In his letter, "Emmanuel M. Tambo" claims to be a senior legal official at "SA Gold and Diamond Mine and Processing in Krugersdorp" and that he is the "junior" brother of former ANC president, Oliver Tambo.

According to him, freedom fighters such as Mandela, Manuel and Radebe, were honoured for their contribution to the struggle with cabinet posts.

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

New variations of the scheme are being developed all the time but the most common forms of these fraudulent business proposals fall into these main categories:

  • Transfer of funds from "over-invoiced" or "over-estimated" contracts relating to resources, medical equipment, Turn Around Maintenance ( TAM ) or infrastructure
  • Assistance escaping the country with accumulated wealth ( bribe money / graft )
  • Efforts to defraud government on "forgotten" or "former regime" accounts
  • Contract fraud (C.O.D. of goods or services)
  • Conversion of hard currency or money laundering
  • Sale of crude oil or other commodities at below-market prices
  • Transfer of accounts of now defunct companies
  • Require money for chemicals to "clean" large amounts of marked currency
  • Purchase of real estate
  • Deposed Leaders and their families ( widows, sons ) and associates ( aides, lawyers)
  • Over-invoiced contracts and government employees ( NNPC, Central Bank of Nigeria )
  • Forgotten accounts, wills and inheritances, death-bed claims of wealth.
  • Trade deals
  • Assistance getting stolen assets ( cash, diamonds ) out of the country
  • Gifts or bequests to charitable or religious organizations
  • Scholarships
  • Lottery winnings

They essentially need your distant involvement in some illegal, but mostly white-collar, criminal  proposal.  They will want to get the money out of Nigeria or other West African country by using you as a conduit "who will benefit greatly from your assistance and cooperation".

It must be noted that while many such scams imply the victims participation in an illegal act  there are various forms of so-called "legal" 419 such as the Will Scam, the Real Estate Scam, Scholarship Scam and others for which there is no basis for the victim to be considered a potential criminal and have their claims dismissed or even charged under the 419 act in Nigeria. 

You might hear:

"My father left me $40 million in his will, but I have to bribe government officials to get it out."

"The Nigerian National Petroleum Company has discovered oil, and as government employees we want to acquire the land, but we need a front man to purchase it for us."

"We just sold a bunch of crude oil in Nigeria, but we have to bribe the banker to get it out."

"The Nigerian government overpaid on some contract, and we need a front man to get it out of the country before they discover its error."

"Your charity has been named as a beneficiary in the will of a wealthy Nigerian. You just need to send the necessary "proofs of identity"."

"We respectfully invite your kind attention to the transfer of $25 million U.S. into your personal/company offshore account."

Nigerian lottery scams from the Netherlands are on the rise. Several lotteries recently began to put up bogus websites, some of them with pictures of bustling computer rooms or impressive office fronts, claiming to be working for Lee Towers Holdings, after a well-known Dutch Frank Sinatra impersonator, or Johannes Cruyff, the soccer star."

For example, Fortune Trust Finance & Securities opens a whole new world of opportunities providing you with that financial security you can count on," reads a brand new web site. Take a closer look and you understand why. Profiles of "our dedicated Executive Directors" make you laugh: the low res-pictures are noticeably copied from other websites. And the web site's visual effects are totally inappropriate for a trustworthy financial institution.

Fortune Trust Finance & Securities is one of many non-existent companies linked to congratulatory emails, advising victims of their good fortune in winning a million dollar lottery prize. A reply to the email yields a request for thousands of dollars or higher to cover payment of handling, transfer and insurance costs. You guessed it: they take the money and run.

The lottery scams are orchestrated by Nigerians operating from boiler rooms in Amsterdam suburbs. They don't target Dutch victims, but foreigners who do not know that companies such as Fortune Trust Finance & Securities could never be housed at Burdenstreet or Alfonstraat in Amsterdam, addresses mentioned in numerous emails. The phone numbers, however, are real; some will even connect to a satellite phone.

The Dutch fraud squad last year estimated that at least seven Nigerian syndicates - a group of at least a hundred people - are engaged with 419 frauds from Amsterdam; making it one the most important scam hubs of the European continent. Recently five Nigerian men were sentenced for e-mail crimes, including lottery fraud.

Others will let you believe they are accredited by the Dutch Council for Accreditation, prompting this organisation to issue warnings. Germany-based Waruno Mahdi is keeping an eye on several Dutch and UK scam lottery companies at his website. Even The London Metropolitan Police has issued warnings.

Who to contact to report the crime

The Nigerian Federal Police have set up a special unit to investigate the scheme but due to the reluctance of victims to travel to Nigeria, prosecutions are difficult to institute. The scheme has continued unabated and cases emanating from Japan are now being reported.

In a bid to outsmart Nigerian police surveillance, some of the perpetrators are now operating in the nearby Republic of Benin, Ghana, and Burkina-Faso where foreign nationals now fly into in compliance with the directives of their Nigerian invitees.  Accordingly, Interpol has now extended its surveillance to these countries, while alerting their counterparts about the activities of the fraudsters.

The Secret Service, under its mandate to protect U.S. currency and financial institutions, has since 1995 been working with the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Nigerian and other foreign authorities to try to counter the operations, which range from the crude to quite sophisticated.

If you have been victimized by one of these schemes, please forward appropriate written documentation to the:

United States Secret Service, 
Financial Crimes Division, 
419 Task Force
950 H Street, NW,  
Washington, DC 20001-4518

or telephone (202) 406-5850 fax: (202) 406-8203, (202) 406-6390

You can report this crime online to the U.S. Treasury Department  Secret Service ( Nigerian Frauds )  e-mail

Materials sent in should still be labeled No Financial Loss - For Your Database if that is the case and Loss - and whether or not there is a US Connection - if there was a loss.  If you are from outside the US, you should also note the country you are from.

If you receive such a letter in the mail, do not respond. Send it to:

Inspection Service Operations Support Group
Two Gateway Center, 9th Floor
Newark, NJ 07175-0001

Anyone in the UK receiving such a letter or e-mail is advised not to reply and forward the correspondence to the 

National Criminal Intelligence Service, 
PO Box 8000, 
London SE11 5EN 

or by e-mail to 419@spring39.demon.co.uk 

Specialist Crime OCU Fraud Squad
Wellington House, 67-73 Buckingham Gate, 
London, SW1E 6BE
+44 (0) 20 7230 1220


South African Police

Contact: Captain SC Schambriel
Commercial Crime, Head Office
Telephone number (012) 339 1203
Facsimile number (012) 339 1202.

To date, it remains accurate to say that in the vast majority of cases, since the authorities will not recover it for you, once you lose money to the 419ers you will never see it again. 

Links to other sites dealing with Nigeria scams.

All images and text © Copyright J Slemmer 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009
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