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June, 2002

Nigerian Money Scam

You receive an e-mail, letter, or fax from a high-ranking person in the Nigerian government who offers you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The writer says he needs your help to move a large sum of money out of his country. All you have to do is to allow him to transfer millions of dollars of "over-invoiced contract" funds into your overseas bank account. After the transfer takes place, you'll get a large part of that money. To accept the offer, you must simply send him your bank information, business letterhead, telephone, and fax numbers.

And if you do? You will soon learn that you must pay a series of fees for taxes, bribes, attorney expenses, or transaction costs before the money can be released to you. In the end, you lose your money, never receive the bank deposit you were promised, and stop hearing from the Nigerian "official." According to the National Consumers League, victims lose an average of $6,542.

What You Should Know

Thousands of consumers have fallen prey to these scams. They are also referred to as "Advance Fee Fraud" or "4-1-9" schemes, named after a section of the Nigerian criminal code. While this scheme takes many forms, the U.S. Secret Service says to look for these clues:

  • The writer stresses the confidential nature of the transaction and urges you to respond immediately;
  • You are encouraged to travel to Nigeria or a border country;
  • The writer claims to have strong ties to Nigerian officials;
  • Correspondence is sent by fax or through the mail;
  • There are many official-looking documents that later prove to be forgeries;
  • To accept, you must send blank business letterheads and invoices, along with your bank account number; and
  • You must pay a number of Nigerian fees to "process" the transaction and are told that each fee is the last one required.

Although the most common business "proposal" is the fund-transfer scam, Nigerian money scams also include paying out money from wills, C.O.D. (collect on delivery) of goods or services, real estate purchases, conversion of hard currency, and the sale of crude oil at low prices.

What You Should Do

  • Don't respond to a communication from Nigeria, even to get more information about the offer.
  • Always keep your bank account number and other financial information private.
  • Do not travel to meet the author of the letter. Many who have gone abroad to pursue these offers have been robbed or held for ransom — one American was even killed.
  • Report Nigerian money offers you receive to the fraud section of your local law enforcement agency and, if the offer comes by mail, to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
  • If you have received a letter, but have not lost any money to this scheme, also fax a copy of the letter to the Secret Service at (202) 406-5031.
  • If you have already lost money in one of these schemes, send documentation to the U.S. Secret Service, Financial Crimes Division, 950 H Street, N.W., Washington, DC, 20223, or call (202) 406-5850.

For More Information

United States Secret Service: The U.S. Secret Service receives about 100 telephone calls and 300-500 letters about this scam each day. This "Operation 4-1-9" public awareness advisory describes the Nigerian money offer scam in greater detail and gives agency contact information.
United States Postal Inspection Service: As the primary law enforcement arm of the United States Postal Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigates crimes related to the misuse of the U.S. mail system, including Nigerian money offer scams.
National Fraud Information Center (NFIC): The NFIC, part of the National Consumers League, publishes information about Nigerian money offers and other scams. You'll also find an 800 telephone number and online forms that allow you to ask questions about offers you receive or to report possible scams.
Crimes of Persuasion: This Web site provides examples of Nigerian money offer letters, descriptions of actual cases, and links to other resources on the subject.
419 Coalition Website: This site has useful information about Nigerian money offer schemes, including links to the latest "419" news, U.S. State Department tips, related federal legislation, and books on these scams.