West African / Nigerian Scams using Advance Fee Fraud techniques by email
From earlier sections you might have picked up the impression that only seniors are deceived by offers of instant wealth.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
While it is true that seniors are targeted for sweepstakes offers the mechanics of telemarketing and investment fraud are simply enhanced and modified for attacking various targets of opportunity.
This particular scam targets middle class, middle age, business and professional men who would never be as easily deceived by a lottery scam.
Estimates put the losses from these "Nigerian Scams Advance Fee" operations at over $1 million "every single day" in the U.S. alone.
The multi-stage fraud starts when you receive a scam fax, e-mail or letter such as these examples:
Nigerian Advanced Fee Fraud Email Scams
Attention: The President/CEO
Confidential Business Proposal
Having consulted with my colleagues and based on the information gathered from the Nigerian Chambers Of Commerce And Industry, I have the privilege to request your assistance to transfer the sum of $47,500,000.00 (forty seven million, five hundred thousand United States dollars) into your accounts.
The above sum resulted from an over-invoiced contract, executed, commissioned and paid for about five years (5) ago by a foreign contractor.
This action was however intentional and since then the fund has been in a suspense account at The Central Bank Of Nigeria Apex Bank.
We are now ready to transfer the fund overseas and that is where you come in. It is important to inform you that as civil servants, we are forbidden to operate a foreign account; that is why we require your assistance.
The total sum will be shared as follows: 70% for us, 25% for you and 5% for local and international expenses incidental to the transfer.
The transfer is risk free on both sides. I am an accountant with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). If you find this proposal acceptable, we shall require the following documents:
(a) your banker's name, telephone, account and fax numbers.
(b) your private telephone and fax numbers —for confidentiality and easy communication.
(c) your letter-headed paper stamped and signed.
Alternatively we will furnish you with the text of what to type into your letter-headed paper, along with a breakdown explaining, comprehensively what we require of you.
The business will take us thirty (30) working days to accomplish.
Please reply urgently.
Howgul Abul Arhu
FROM: Dr Altaka Yurmani
Central Bank of Nigeria
I have been requested by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company to contact you for assistance in resolving a matter.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Company has recently concluded a large number of contracts for oil exploration in the sub-Sahara region.
The contracts have immediately produced moneys equaling US$40,000,000.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Company is desirous of oil exploration in other parts of the world, however, because of certain government regulations, it is unable to move these funds to another region.
You assistance is requested as a non-Nigerian citizen to assist the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, and also the Central Bank of Nigeria, in moving these funds out of Nigeria.
If the funds can be transferred to your name, in your United States account, then you can forward the funds as directed by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company.
In exchange for your accommodating services, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company would agree to allow you to retain 10%, or US$4 million of this amount.
However, to be a legitimate transferee of these moneys according to Nigerian law, you must presently be a depositor of at least US$100,000 in a Nigerian bank which is regulated by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
If it will be possible for you to assist us, we would be most grateful. We suggest that you meet with us in person in Lagos, and that during your visit I introduce you to the representatives of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, as well as with certain officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Please call me at your earliest convenience at 18-467-4975. Time is of the essence in this matter; very quickly government workers will realize that the Central Bank is maintaining this amount on deposit, and attempt to levy certain depository taxes on it.
Prince Alyusi Islassis
Request For Urgent Business Relationship
We have the pleasure to make this surprising but mutually benefiting business proposal. I am a member of the newly inaugurated committee for the privatization of the refineries of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, in Nigeria.
The members of the committee are interested in the importation of goods into the country with funds presently floating in the Central Bank of Nigeria / Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) foreign payments account.
I got your address through the office of the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The federal military government of Nigeria, intends to lease the three existing petroleum refineries to private individuals and companies.
This is to make the refineries more viable, resourceful and to eliminate undue wastage and fraud.
This privatization is in-line with the recommendations of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a prerequisite for future financial assistance.
The refineries are heavily indebted to many companies and my committee has the mandate (task) of compiling the names of these companies and debt owed them and also recommend for payment, all contracts that have been fully executed.
With our position in the committee, which comprises of my ministry, federal ministry of petroleum resources, Nigerian National Petroleum corporation (NNPC), the federal Ministry of Finance (FMF) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), we have successfully secured for ourselves, the sum of US $73,000,000 (seventy-three million United States Dollars).
This sum was acquired by carefully inflating the amount of indebtedness by this amount (US $73,000,000).
We need a reliable company to be included in the list of companies to be paid. This company will be paid for a contract executed in Kaduna Refinery in 1993.
I was therefore mandated in trust by members of the committee, to seek a foreign partner into whose account we could transfer the sum of US $73,000,000, hence I am writing you this letter.
We have agreed to share the funds thus:
1) 70% for us (the committee members)
2) 20% for you (the account owner)
3) 10% will be used in settling taxation and all local and foreign expenses that will be incurred in the course of this transaction
It is from our 70% that we wish to commence the importation business. We also need assurance from you that you will let us have our share once the inflated amount (US $73,000,000.00) is transferred into your account.
The payment will be done by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through its correspondent bank.
What we need from you, is that you provide a vital account into which the funds will be transferred/lodged.
Note that this transaction is 100% safe and guaranteed since the law under which our committee was set up, has empowered us to disburse all the funds.
We shall commence the transfer of the funds immediately we receive the following information by Tel/Fax::
1) Your company name and full address
2) Your bank's name, telephone and fax number
3) Your account number and name of would be beneficiary
The above information will enable us put up letters of claim and job description to the respective ministries for the issuance of the mandatory fund release approval/recommendations.
This way, your company will be recognized and accepted as the beneficiary of the contract entitlements before the final remittance to your nominated account, by the Central Bank of Nigeria, being paying bank.
Note that we will be responsible for the payment of the federal inland revenue tax on behalf of your company and a contract agreement between your company and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation shall be drawn up and antedated showing that your company has a legitimate contract with the NNPC and must be paid.
We are looking forward to doing this business with you and solicit absolute confidentiality from you in this transaction.
Please acknowledge receipt of this letter, using the above Telefax number for more details regarding this transaction.
Also endeavor to send the requested information.
Get Me Out of Here
Col. Yusef Saraki in Nigeria sends you a fax claiming that his government was just overturned.
He is presently under house arrest and his assets have been frozen by the new regime.
He needs to transfer a total sum of US$60M to an offshore non-resident bank account.
In order for him to do so he needs you to sign a document as "next to kin" and pay $200 a day to ensure his safety until the funds can be wire-transferred to your account.
To avoid any interruption he needs a "small" advancement fee (approximately 30 days worth) until the wire transfer is completed.
He claims that upon completion of the wire transfer to you, he will somehow find a way to escape Nigeria and move to Korea with his family, at which time you will be entitled to 10%, or $6 million, for your troubles.
He insists that as this is a life or death matter the entire transaction must be completed within two weeks.
And heaven forbid he should be killed, leaving you with all the money.
He provides you with a fax copy of the Bilateral Agreement between himself and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation in Johannesburg, South Africa and some other qualifying affidavits.
Blueprint for a Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud Scam
This is a five billion US$ worldwide scam which has run since at least 1989 under successive Governments of Nigeria.
It is also referred to as "Advance Fee Fraud" and "419 Fraud" after the relevant section of the Criminal Code of Nigeria.
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), Nigerian Petroleum Resources Ministry Headquarters, OMPADEC (Oil Minerals Producing Area Development Commission) etc.
- Nigerian royalty or a political insider such as "the son of the President of Nigeria" or a "Nigerian prince or princess"
- a Nigerian businessman or lawyer with an impressive title such as "Chief", "Barrister" or "Dr."
- the spouse, relative, aide or confidante of a deposed leader
- an auditor or accountant with strong ties to Nigerian officials
- a religious figure such as a Deacon, Brother, Pastor
Surnames commonly used with a multitude of given names: Names used in Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud letters and emails
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 criminal, 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
- Lottery winnings
- Relative killed in World Trade Center left a fortune
- Bogus job offers with rebate of wage overpayment using third party checks
- Inflated and expense-paid offers to buy and ship your used vehicle to Nigeria
More examples of 419 fraud can be found at 419 Fraud Examples
They essentially need your distant involvement in some illegal, but mostly white-collar, criminal proposal.
They will want to get a vast sum of money out of Nigeria or other 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 be charged under section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code.
You might hear:
"My father left me $40 million in his will, but I have to bribe 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 federal 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."
The goal of the Nigerian scam criminal is to delude you into thinking that you are being drawn into a very lucrative, albeit questionable, arrangement.
You must first be reassured and confident of the potential success of the deal without risk to yourself.
They may allege that the present military government is now paying out previously frozen moneys but that the civil servants involved are attempting to keep the funds for themselves.
They make you think that you are just going to scam the Nigerian Government, the Central Bank of Nigeria, or some greedy civil servants.
Though you are naturally cautious you hopefully want the deal to be genuine.
A Sense of Urgency
There is always a sense of urgency attached to the proposal.
A government audit in the near future will close the window of opportunity or the job of the person able to transfer the funds is in jeopardy.
Singular Good Fortune
Unfortunately, there is a perception that no one is prone to enter into such an obviously suspicious relationship.
However, a large number of victims are enticed into believing they have been singled out from the masses to share in multi-million dollar windfall profits for doing absolutely nothing.
And figuring that if there is no risk to you, in exchange for 10-30% of millions of dollars, it's at least worth the phone call or e-mail to check it out, even though you are extremely skeptical.
So you make the call and actually talk to the writer who begs you to keep this proposal a secret because he is personally taking quite a risk and fears discovery of his involvement.
He emphasizes the confidential nature of the transaction with emphasis that any disclosure risks the completion of the transfer of funds.
He reiterates its top secret nature and implies a tax free status if undiscovered. Knowing that it is likely, if not certainly, illegal you agree to keep quiet about it on your end.
"It is our sincere conviction that you will handle this transaction with absolute confidentiality, maturity and utmost sense of purpose."
Though still wary, you are assured that it will cost you nothing but your sponsorship to proceed further, so you provide your full name and mailing particulars.
Soon documents arrive by courier crowded with legal stamps and officialdom from the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and your newly-appointed Nigerian lawyers the firm of Takurmani & Ruhn.
You are convinced of the authenticity of the proposal by the numerous documents bearing official looking government of Nigeria letterhead, stamps and seals.
Such forms may bear the title of:
- Fund Management Agreement
- Fund Remittance Voucher
- International Remittance Department, Approval Order
- Final Notification of Transfer, Fund Release Order
- Power of Attorney Form
- Project Development and Investment Agreement
- Sworn Affidavit of Truth / Claim, Transfer Authority
- Verdict of the Panel of Judges
- Affidavit of Fund Ownership
- Approval / Transfer of Payment Warrant
- Certificate of Incorporation
- Specimen Claims Application Form
- Drug Free Certificate
- Transfer Confirmation Slip
- Confirmation of Banking Particulars
- Foreign Exchange Control Approval Order
- Certificate of Registration Official Receipt
- Analysis of Fund Transfer of Fund Schedule
- Fund Release Order Form
The manufacture of impressive stamps and letterhead is now supported by a huge infrastructure funded by the huge success of this industry.
Quite often the fraudsters invent bogus Government committees purported to have the payments.
Also, it is not unusual for them to contrive fake publications in the newspapers evidencing purported approvals to transfer the non-existent funds.
The signatories of the letters claim to be acting as middlemen and request that you supply three signed and stamped blank company letterheads and blank invoices together with bank details such as account numbers, addresses, telephone and fax numbers.
They say these will be used to show completion of the multi-million dollar "contract" which will be submitted for approval to the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Upon approval, the funds will be remitted to your account.
Rather than risk giving access to your real accounts you wisely set up a new account and visualize keeping all the money for yourself.
After all, once you have total control over the transferred money, what claim can they legally make on it?
Although some businessmen foolishly give access to their true bank accounts, sending back such information normally just indicates to the scammers that they have hooked another victim.
It is usually only low-level, independent 419 fraudsters who, lacking the infrastructure or finesse, will strike early and plunder it.
Besides, most participants take the initial precaution of opening a minimum balance account.
One other purpose is to secure legitimate identification and account information in furtherance of their extensive and highly successful check fraud schemes.
This involves having nomadic scammers open business accounts across the country using fake or stolen identification then cashing bogus checks, which they deposit, and move on before being discovered or apprehended.
The paperwork may also be used to forge letters of recommendation to other victim companies in the future and to seek out travel visas from the American Embassy in Lagos for individuals wishing to escape the impoverished country.
The most likely thing to happen at some point, regarding this account, is an attempt, usually successful, to have you deposit a check of foreign origin as an inducement to have you provide a share of certain expenses.
For example, they may give you a check for $85,000 and ask you to send them just $4000.
Reassured that their check has cleared after a week in your account, you send the requested amount to later discover it takes three weeks to determine it is a bogus deposit for which your bank holds you, not them, responsible.
To offset any concerns about revealing financial information some letters have the following disclaimer.
"NB: Bank Account Details not necessary as preferred mode of payment is by draft or cheque."
Recently Nigerian rings have been opening investment accounts within various brokerage houses and depositing large sums of money with stolen and counterfeit corporate checks.
In a number of cases, the brokerage firm has borne the loss, often totaling millions of dollars.
Some Requirements Arise
Upon receipt of the requested documents, you are then politely asked to transfer money to pay for newly-discovered transfer taxes and contract fees demanded by the Central Bank of Nigeria and fees for the attorneys acting on your behalf, if you choose not to come there in person.
Your initial contact person is most apologetic, but not surprised by the greed of the attorneys and the government and bank officials, things not within his control.
The lawyers want 2% of the money or $195,000, in advance, for their services.
You say "No way!" and the good "Doctor" offers to negotiate. He calls back and is jubilant that he has talked them down to $100,000.
Still you balk, but he reminds you that it is a pittance compared to your future bounty. You must still mull it over.
He calls again and though quite poor himself he offers to sell his house to provide $25,000 if you can somehow manage the rest.
You accede and wire off the funds, already planning your luxury yacht purchase.
Soon some problem concerning the "inside man" will arise or an official will demand that an up-front bribe be paid before the money can be transferred.
"The President of the Bank will not release the money unless you pay him a bribe."
Either initially or eventually you must provide further fees and payments, usually by wire transfer, for various taxes and expenses to consummate the transaction such as:
- export or insurance fees to help move the money safely to foreign bank accounts
- attorney fees, transaction fees or bribes
- demurrage, storage or release fees by a Security Company
- gifts, tender fees, cable and communications fees
- a variety or processing, licensing or registration fees
- advance fees, transfer taxes, performance bonds
- a request to extend credit or grant COD privileges
- $15,000 for an anti-terrorist certificate
- mandamus fee
- fees and deed stamps
- stamp duty on capital
- Drug Free Certificate fees
- Currency Fluctuating Marginal Difference of $100,000
- Economic Recovery Levy for the National Economic Recovery Fund
- fees for signing, VAT, audits..
By now you have become the primary supporter of the scheme and will willingly contribute a progressively larger amount of money whenever the deal is threatened by demands for a proportionate sharing of payments for various 'taxes' and 'fees' supposedly to facilitate the processing and remittance of the alleged funds.
You are faced with the prospect of either losing these initial payments or paying even more fees, hoping for the big payoff.
In this way, increasingly larger sums of money may be swindled from a victim.
Each fee that is paid is described as the very last required but invariably "oversights", "errors", "complications" or "temporary difficulties" are discovered, necessitating additional payments and delays which allow the process to be stretched out over many months until you either run out of money or gullibility.
The collection of these 'advance fees' is the real objective of the scam.
Once people get hooked they become more and more resistant to accepting that it’s a scam because they become vested in the deal.
Through denial, some people will never come to the realization that they’ve been a victim to a fraud, continuing to believe that one more payment and their windfall is going to happen.
Come See For Yourself
You may be invited to visit Nigeria and meet with your fellow conspirators before finalizing the transfer of funds or the payment of your major advance fee if you balk at sending it without more proof of legitimate illegitimacy.
During the visit you are introduced to the Nigerian "government officials" who can "approve" the transfer.
You are likely asked to put down a small deposit to show "good faith" and help to defray some of the expenses of your gracious hosts, which include bribes to the proper authorities.
The meeting may occur in real or fake government offices with dozens of supporting staff adding to the officialdom.
You even get a tour through government buildings by high- ranking officials and are shown piles of cash in the vault of the Central Bank.
The character actors and extras rival those in "The Sting".
There have been cases where victims have had meetings with genuine Nigerian Government officials in their offices to discuss a 419 "deal" during office hours.
There are also cases of victims verifying the phone number of the relevant Parastatal from the Lagos directory assistance, calling that number (CBN, for example), asking for their scammer by name, and getting put through during office hours.
On January 5th, 2001 the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Mr. M. R. Rasheed was charged in a US Federal District Court with lying under oath and providing false testimony regarding his direct involvement in setting up secret offshore accounts and trusts.
Expatriate Nigerians operate from cells in the Netherlands, Spain, United States, Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan and other African countries with the assistance of confederates within Western Africa.
They may claim to be a clearing house bank for the Central Bank of Nigeria, adding an even greater international scope and credibility to the operation.
This factor also draws in victims who are apprehensive of traveling to Africa but will make a short-haul flight to a predominantly white and stable country but where he is still out of familiar surroundings and more likely to overlook unorthodox business methods.
The term "Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud" is, therefore, only partially accurate and the problem is truly one of international dimensions, with both victims and offenders being located across the globe.
In one operation a Dr. John Edward, claimed to be with the Universal Commercial Bank PLC, a non-existent bank in Nigeria, with correspondent office address at Intermark Trust, 161, Bay Street, Toronto, Canada.
He was accompanied by two Nigerian "lawyers"; Aminu Isiaka who claimed to be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and George Chidera, of 79 Ebute Metta East, Victoria Island, and No 12 Yisa Oroki Crescent, Ikoyi, respectively.
The addresses are, as in most 419 cases, non-existent. Both showed an identity card proclaiming membership in the Association of Lawyers of Nigeria.
In return for a $23,000 clearance charge, one victim was handed a certificate of the Probe and Verification Panel of Foreign Debt Recovery and Payment, with an official seal of the Nigerian Government.
He was also asked to sign a paper that he had received the funds and that he would not take any legal action against the Nigerian government.
After that, the next, and usually final "black money" stage, of classic 419 moves began to unfold.
After the documents were signed, Dr. John Edward and George Chidera came back with a security officer and an aluminum case full of US$ bank notes bundled in plastic and covered in a white or black powdery substance.
It was explained that all notes marked with numbers are to be cleansed by a chemical emulsion. In 419 parlance, this is known as the Wash-Wash stage.
He was told that the procedure was introduced by South Africa during the apartheid regime to avoid the international boycott on weapon deals by physically transporting big cash amounts.
He could as easily have been told that the defaced currency were abandoned by US forces in Somalia and blackened as a security measure during shipping.
The trickster then demonstrates the process, by taking out five bank notes from the container and pouring the chemical liquid in the sink. He cleans the notes until the stamps disappeared.
Then you are told that unfortunately the National Bank of Nigeria has forgotten to supply the security company with the adequate quantity of chemicals to cleanse the entire $25 million.
It would be up to you as the beneficiary to come up with another $280,000, for another five liters of the cleansing chemical.
More info on Nigerian Blackened Money
Whether you accept their initial invitation or travel to Nigeria in an attempt to recover your money you are told that a visa will not be necessary to enter the country.
They may then bribe airport officials to pass you through Immigration and Customs.
Because it is a serious offense in Nigeria to enter without a valid visa, your illegal entry may be used as leverage to coerce you into releasing additional funds to them.
If your desire to pursue it wanes you are then pressured or threatened to provide one or more large sums of money to save the venture.
Unsuspecting victims are intimidated, stripped of their money and sometimes even killed.
Under an awareness program, federal authorities have even gone to airports and convinced victims with thousands of dollars in their possession not to embark on flights that would have eventually placed them in harm's way.
Surprisingly, such warnings occasionally go unheeded, so convinced are the victims that the deal is genuine.
U.S. Secret Service agents have been assigned on a temporary basis to the American Embassy in Lagos to locate and rescue victims.
In one month alone, in the summer of 1995, agents extricated seven U.S. victims from Nigeria, though one American was murdered while pursuing his lost money and numerous other foreign nationals have been reported as missing.
Held for Ransom
More and more often, reports are appearing of individuals being held for ransom after first being lured overseas with the promise of culminating these exceptional business transactions.
In July, 2001 the Sunday Times reported on the exploits of a former deputy mayor who traveled from Northampton to South Africa and was then kidnapped by the fraudsters.
Luckily he was rescued in an international police operation, but not before being stripped naked and having a gun held to his forehead and told he would be shot if he did not pay a £20,000 ransom.
After flying to South Africa to meet his new "business partners" he was met at the airport by a man and a woman who drove him off in a car to a rented house to meet a "Mr. Ford".
There he was confronted by two men armed with a pistol and informed they were holding him prisoner.
Only by alerting his wife of his predicament, in his Polish tongue, during a call he was allowed, was he able to garner police assistance in the form of two detectives who flew to Johannesburg to link up with the South African police.
There telephone traces led the police to a rented house in the East Rand area of the city where the victim had been held in a locked room for nearly 48 hours enduring threats of having his ear cut off and being kneecapped.
As officers began to surround the house, the kidnappers panicked and drove off, eventually leaving him abandoned by the side of the road.
Three Nigerian men were later arrested as they were about to collect the ransom money at a bank.
Police had previously rescued a 42 year old Romanian businessman, Danut Mircea Tetrescu, who was kidnapped ( Nov 9/99 ) and held in Soweto for a $500,000 ransom after flying from Bucharest in response to one of the letters.
At that time police arrested seven suspected gang members, five South Africans and two Nigerians who were being to see if they were the same people who had kidnapped, and probably killed, Kjetil Moe, a 65 year old Norwegian millionaire, in September of 1999.
Mr. Tetrescu and Mr. Moe were among at least nine businessmen known to have fallen victim to this new version of the 4-1-9 scam which weds Nigerian guile to South African strong-arm tactics.
A Japanese businessman, Kensuke Matsumoto, who managed to escape his captors without serious injury, ran into a hotel restaurant in Durban for refuge and to summon the police.
He had been forced to call his son in Japan earlier with the message, "I have been confined. They will not release me until the money is paid. Please send $50,000."
Death By Deception
One of the nine, Jean Pierre Li Shing Tat, a Canadian resident of Mauritius, was found bound and shot twice through the head next to the motorway south of Johannesburg in June of 1999.
He flew to South Africa in response to a "419" letter later found at his home.
After a few days his family received a demand for $200,000 but the deal went wrong and he was murdered. Four others had survived after paying a ransom, and a fifth had been freed by police.
While direct violence leads to several deaths each year from this crime, there are also several victims, often unreported, who end up taking their own lives after being roped in to the point of financial or reputational ruin.
Whether Doug Ambrose, director of finance for WaveCom Electronics in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan knew he had been duped by the Nigerians prior to taking his life in July 2001 is open to speculation.
What he did know was that his unauthorized transfer of $105,562 from the company pension fund account had been discovered and he was about to be confronted.
Bank officials failed to notice earlier transfers ranging from $3,600 to nearly $30,000 as they fell below the threshold of observation.
The total amount lost to the scammers has yet to be determined though it is known that he had wired money for the escalating "expenses and fees required" to Nigeria, Beirut, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.
Known as a great guy with a spotless record, Ambrose, 44, must have felt there was no way out of his dilemma even though he was far from the first, or last, professional to be taken in.
One key requirement of victims is that they must have access to relatively large amounts of money themselves, either directly or through fiscal responsibility.
Certain that the "borrowed money" will come back in multiples, lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers and other financial trustees represent a large portion of advance fee fraud victims.
Once hooked beyond the ability to repay their clients' or employer's money they must advance ever further into debt in the deluded hope that the promises of redemption given them shall eventually come true.
Hope Bleeds Away
Along with his body, police found a note written by Jerry Stratton, a 47 year old plumbing contractor from Live Oak, Florida, which said: "If anything happens to me, look for three people. They are Nigerians. They are responsible.", after his relatives telephoned the manager of a British hotel in October (2000).
Police inquiries showed no signs of foul play and the coroner recorded a verdict of suicide despite his family's belief that he might have been murdered.
The pathologist said the cause of death was four deep incised wounds to the left forearm, and one to the right wrist causing heavy bleeding, though the deceased had taken five times the recommended amount of an insomnia drug called Nytol.
The inquest was told he had been persuaded by the Nigerian criminals that he could expect vast profits from the $10m (£7m) deal and flew to Britain in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the deal.
The National Criminal Intelligence Service said victims from around the world are routinely lured to temporary offices in Mayfair, central London.
Stratton had unsuccessfully tried to raise an additional $65,000 (£46,000) from family and friends to keep the deal going.
Relatives became worried when he told them he "had nothing to come home for".
The con men who disappeared with his money left behind worthless contracts and "promissory notes" for $50,000 (£35,000).
In all likelihood, there are many people who do not report their losses to authorities due to either fear of implicating themselves in a fraud being committed on the government of Nigeria or because of the embarrassment from being deceived.
They are often reluctant to cooperate with police because they believe that they could be prosecuted, either in their own country or in Nigeria and may also fear reprisals being directed against them by the organized criminals involved.
Other problems which plague investigations of this nature are bank confidentiality and the fact that courts are less likely to empathize with victims if greed was the motivation for falling for the scam in the first place.
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.
Last year, Nigerian Letter Scams constituted the third biggest consumer fraud on the Internet, trailing auctions and the sale of merchandise, according to the National Consumer League.
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.
They indicate that they get 13,000 complaints a month from people who have received the dubious solicitations, about 80% of which now come by e-mail.
In the past three years, the U.S. victims who have come forward state they have been swindled out of $100 million, according to the Secret Service, but as most fraud victims are too embarrassed to come forward this figure likely represents a tiny fraction of the actual losses.
Nigerian Recovery Scams
Reports received by INTERPOL indicate that the criminals are becoming so brazen and confident that they are contacting earlier victims of the fraud.
Then, posing as government officials investigating the fraud in a so-called attempt to get the victims' money back, request payment of an up-front fee.
These operations target individuals, businesses, charities, learning institutions and government departments.
They obtain the names of prospective victims from a variety of sources including trade journals, professional directories, newspapers, and commercial libraries.
They do not target a single company, but rather send out mailings en masse.
Because it is businessmen and organizations which are targeted, the monetary losses per incident easily reach into the thousands and are currently estimated at over $1 million per day in the U.S. alone.
In the UK the average victim is conned out of more than £50,000.
A spokesman for the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) estimated that £150m is lost to the UK economy every year through this kind of scam.
He added that the bigger picture is that this money is often used to fund more serious, organised crime.
"We know the criminals are involved in heroin trafficking, immigration crime, vehicle theft and credit card crime," he said.
And, in a further twist, there have been reports of a spoof e-mail being distributed which claims a probe investigation has been set up by the Government to crack down on the scam.
It reads: "Operation Zero have been commissioned to investigate, treat and conclude in an accelerated hearing on genuinely reported cases of advance fee (419) fraud under the criminal code."
In reality, no such probe has been set up. Instead, it is thought to be rival gangs of conmen who will charge victims to "investigate" their case. Victims will be fleeced a second time.
Lured by the simplistic and often error-laden correspondence balanced against the potential for millions, normally astute businessmen who come from very money-oriented societies vainly believe they have the business acumen to deal profitably with what they see as a Third World country, never imagining the complexity and professionalism of the operation they are up against.
In a new twist they are now targeting charities with the benevolent desire to help them out through the transmittal of either hidden riches or a charitable bequest made through the will of a like-minded Christian.
If you build it..
A recent scam originating from Oman offers South Dakota contractors an opportunity to bid on a $7,000,000 building in Pierre, S.D. Interested companies are required to send $1,000 in advance to obtain bid documents.
Ultimately, the contractor gets no bid documents and loses his $1,000 because no building was ever planned.
Fill Me In
One furniture retailer received a call from someone who claimed to be working with the Bank of Nigeria.
He said he was the Director of the International Remittance Department which has a large facility in Nigeria that is in need of furniture.
It would be a $21,000,000 deal and he wanted to know if she was interested in bidding on the job.
To comply with requirements she wired him $12,000 for a "refundable" bond.
After sending another $9,000 for other administrative fees they asked her to come to Nigeria and give them more money as a deposit.
By then she had sent them $21,000 and racked up over a $1,000 in phone bills towards a non-existent opportunity.
Hoping to retire on a Nigerian windfall, the lawyer son of a provincial Chief Justice has been sentenced to three years in prison instead, after he made several trips to Africa and poured more than $1 million of stolen and borrowed money into the fraud.
After he and a client responded to the standard letter and paid $10,000 requested by the Nigerians to cover "legal fees" they were promptly informed that "their" Nigerian lawyer had committed fraud and the money was lost.
Undeterred, he traveled to Ghana and gave them another $7,500.
Then he was taken to a hotel and, in the presence of armed guards, shown a trunk containing what he was told was $12 million in hundred-dollar bills, stained with dye.
Claiming to have a process which could remove the dye, they requested money for the rare and expensive chemicals needed.
He then proceeded to transfer $225,702 from his clients' accounts to a London bank to cover the cleaning fluid needed to remove the dye from the bills.
Later, while in Africa, the bottle of fluid mysteriously exploded and he was pressed to come up with money for another.
The Nigerians' demands multiplied as he tried to establish international bank accounts to accept the anticipated windfall.
He assured his domestic bank, despite their warnings, that he had conducted research into Nigerian business scams and that "this" deal was legitimate.
While stalling for time, as pressure mounted from his clients for access to their money, he was still developing a plan to have the windfall money transferred by armoured van and private jet from Ghana via Latvia.
Eventually, realizing he was duped, he sought police help in recovering the funds.
They, in turn, determined his embezzlement in the affair and promptly arrested him.
In addition to being ordered to pay back the stolen funds he has also lost any entitlement to his family inheritance and has begun bankruptcy proceedings.
Links to other fraud sites dealing with Nigeria scams.
The U.S. State Department has produced an excellent document on Nigerian Fraud in PDF format which includes photographs of actual documentation.
The Australian Institute of Criminology also has an in-depth document on Nigerian Fraud Techniques in PDF format.
The 419 Coalition - One of the earliest privately run awareness sites.
Those Lads from Lagos section of the Scamorama site.
FreemanInstitute - Anatomy of 419 fraud.
Nigerian 419 / Advance Fee Scam E-mail Letters - collection of examples