Nigerian Frauds
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"The Anatomy of a Nigerian 419 Scam"
This is the first time this article has ever been published


© Copyright, 2005 The Freeman Institute. All rights reserved. Nothing on this page may be used without explicit written permission.
Note: Reproduction of any kind, including cutting and pasting, is strictly prohibited. 

Link to this site -- -- Link to this site

Check out the main page of Scam Central

Return To Glory: The Powerful Stirring of the Black Man

Check with FAQ if you don't know what to do about these scams


     Read the scam letters on this site and you will get the general drift of three main types of scams:
1. Contract funds over-invoiced and they want you to be the front person for the exchange of funds 
     to your account. Usually worked by someone posing as a Board Member providing oversight for 
     the petroleum industry or some other business concern.
2. A box or two of cold cash (USD) inherited by a relative, left in a storage company and the daily 
    storage fees are mounting. Plus if the storage company knows what's in the box, the family will 
    never see it again.  Usually worked by a prince, a chief, the wife or son of a well-known military 
    figure, etc..
3. They want you to be the "next of kin" to accept money that has been left in a bank for years. 
    Usually worked by a person posing as a bank manager or bank official.

There are subtle variations, but the three categories listed above are the main scams. There are a total of five categories. Here they are:


1. Contract Repurchase 419, in which the target thinks he is buying the proceeds of a contract legitimately executed in Nigeria by another firm.  2. Oil 419 in which the target thinks he is buying a 
shipment of Nigerian oil at a discounted rate. 
3. Charity Scam 419 in which the target is told that the persecuted Nigerian Christians or Muslims, etc, 
(depending upon the target organization) need to get their money out of the country before it is seized. 
4. Black Currency 419, the second most prevalent version, and is a money laundering scheme where the target pays the Nigerians money to purchase chemicals to clean money. 

5. Will Scam 419 in which the target is told he has been willed money by someone in Nigeria.

    Nigerian 419 is a global problem, affecting nearly every nation on earth. These operations have been running since the mid-1980's and conservative estimates of total money is stolen worldwide through the year 2001 range upwards of $5 billion.     The term 419 comes from the section of the Nigerian criminal code outlawing fraudulent activities. It has become a part of everyday Nigerian Language. As others might say that one has cheated, or stolen, or tricked, or misrepresented, or lied, or conned, etc., a Nigerian will often just use the term "419" to cover all or some of the above activities. 

* The scam artists always begin with an urgent tone and a specific deadline. "We will have the money wired within 7 working days, so we must act quickly" or "I must have this transaction completed by the end of the month before such and such happens. I will do my part and I will be depending upon you to do your part. Remember this is a business transaction..."

* They will use compliments and flattery to lull you into a false sense of security. Some will use a tragic situation to make you feel sorry for them. "I just got out of the hospital for a liver condition". One woman pleaded with me. All she needed was $890 to pay for an kidney operation for her son. An obvious scam. (Where can one get an operation like that for such a bargain?) It's always about the money they can extract from you, in whatever manner they can do it. Playing on your sympathies is just one of the gambits.

* The letters are generally sent by a supposed Prince, a Chief, a Dr., wife of a General, a Barrister, Solicitor, Lawyer or a Bank Official. Or the letter writer is the relative of a supposed prince, a Chief, a Dr...well, you get the picture.

* They will want everything to be kept confidential. Lies and greed are cousins. And these lies breed in the dark. They want to isolate you. Strict secrecy. They don't want you to talk to a lawyer, financial advisor, relative, business partner or spouse. Plus, if the truth be known, you don't want to talk to anyone else either, because deep down you know that something just ain't right and you feel a bit giddy thinking that this just might be real. Greed or need has kicked in and you are blinded, hoping against hope that the business proposal is true. Some victims are so secretive that they give retirement money to the scam artist and their spouse doesn't know what's happened -- until it's too late.

* Everything about the business proposal is said to be "safe and reliable". Or so they state. I wonder who they are talking about when they say that the entire business transaction is "100% Risk Free".

* Guilt and shame are the main tools used by scam artists. Scam artists set the tone by calling the business proposal a "partnership". They will try to use this "guilt tool" when sharing how much they have done on their end to make the business transaction work. He sold his car. He mortgaged his home. He took a large loan from a dear friend. Of course, none of this verifiable. But these stories are designed to tug at your heart strings and designed to make you feel guilty hoping that this will be the way he can get you to do your part in the partnership -- give him some of your hard earned money. Tell him that you need to call your travel agent to book a "guilt trip".

* Scam artists would love for you to travel to their home turf. Once you're there the "bait and switch" happens. Extenuating circumstances and delays cause them to demand the payment of more money from you before the millions of dollars can be released into your account ("The government didn't informs us of the need for a particular document, which costs an additional $3000"). You pay and then wait and wait, until you run out of money or patience. They figure that since you have already paid a lot of money to get to Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Atlanta, Dallas, London, Amsterdam, Spain, or Toronto -- you will probably call back home and convince "Uncle Bob" to wire you a few thousand dollars to take care of the final document. And, of course, you'll promise "Uncle Bob" that you'll give him double or triple his money once you are fabulously wealthy!

* They will sprinkle religious content in their emails and phone calls -- "I know that we will need $2000 to pay for a particular document, but my pastor told me that he will take care of that fee." -- "I am confident that God has brought us together." -- "As a Christian, I want to make sure that..." -- "May God bless you and your family" -- "May Allah be with you" -- "You can receive these funds as long as you will remain honest to me till the end for this important business trusting in you and believing in God that you will never let me down either now or in future." -- Click here to read quite a few "religious" scams.

* They will probably make the first 2-3 minute telephone call to establish contact, but then will want you to initiate the rest of the calls. Generally these scam artists have a pay-per-minute cell phone that is used for these scams. Once you get them on the line they will use their verbal skills for as long as you let them -- with gusts up to 120 mph. It has been reported by some victims that they have racked up quite a telephone bill before realizing that they have been engaged in a fraudulent business proposal. 

* If the scam artists get you to travel to West Africa, you will be fortunate to leave alive. There are a few horror stories of businessmen being picked up at the airport and then found dead a few miles away. (In the summer of 1995, an American businessman was found murdered not far from the airport in Lagos. Numerous missing-person reports have been filed over the past decades.)

* You receive a 419 scam letter from a woman (Mariam Abacha, Dorie Kabila, etc.). Guess what -- it is really a man. Probably 99.9% of all scam artists are men. But if you do decide to go over to meet them, they will have a well-dressed woman meet you at a restaurant posing as the woman in the emails. Whenever you read an email from a woman, picture a man at a pay-by-the-hour Internet Cafe somewhere in West Africa typing with a grin on his face.

* If you travel to the scam artists in West Africa or South Africa there are also ways for you to be kidnapped, one way or another. They can arrange for a bribed government official to take your passport. It is not beyond the police to participate in this illegal activity. You aren't going back home until you pay a "gratuity" or "processing fee" to get your passport returned. Plus, staying in these countries without a passport is dangerous, to say the least.

* Remember that the average monthly wage for someone in West Africa is between $25-$30 a month. Keep this in mind as they work you down from needing $10,000 to $5000. When you continue to resist, you will be amazed as to how they suddenly find some of the money, but they still need $2000. You still resist. A few days later they have "trusted" you so much that they sold the family vehicle for $1250, but they still need $750. You still resist. They somehow have obtained $500, but still need $250. The point of all this is that if they can get any amount of money, they have succeeded. By the way, everything is relative -- $250 takes care of their monthly bills for about 10 months. And that's the name of the game: Lure you in to give them some money. Any amount will do. In our research, we have seen "multi million dollar deals" stopped because of the lack of $200 to complete the final arrangement.

* They'd love to have you send your money by Western Union to the attention of another name (identity), which may or may not be his/her real name. Try mentioning that you will wire to a legitimate bank and you will hear a story about how no one at the bank can know that he/she is receiving money from overseas, because then the government will suspect them of having the undeclared money they are trying to give to you. "And you wouldn't want that to happen to mess up our business arrangement, would you?" They make this story sound very convincing! 

* The documents they put together are often stunningly real!  They have the national seals and logos, the colors and the official-looking signatures. The fake passports are very real-looking. On one hand, they're craftsmanship is admirable. What a waste. If scam artists were to put their energy into something legal, they could be a credit to the national business community and ultimately Africa's economy. The action of scam artists castes a bad light on all legitimate businesses. How many millions (billions?) of dollars have not been invested in Africa simply because of the 419 frauds and scams? But sometimes the documents look like they were created by a pre-teenager. These particular documents are designed by small-time players trying to get into the scamming game.

* Bribed government officials are often involved. Sometimes they will even use the offices of actual government buildings. Imagine the money that has to be paid for this kind of elite treatment!

* Some teams of scam artists have actual offices in some main cities in North America like Toronto, Atlanta or Dallas. They will also try to lure you to some of the international financial headquarters like London, Amsterdam or Spain. They will have "team members" in these specific cities who will act as an "intermediary" or "clearing house" to finalize the transaction deal with you when you arrive. And they always have some delay or need some final document before the funds can be released. They play the "good cop" / "bad cop" routine to perfection. Your initial contact plays dumb, stating that he has no understanding of or control over what the person at the "financial center" needs from you. You get the distinct sense, however, that after dealing with you, they all get on a conference call, laughing about how stupid you are and then discussing their next move.

* As said in the previous point, everyone with whom you talk and/or meet is working together as a team to scam you. They play off each other while pretending to not know each other. The main contact turns you over to a person at a finance center in Amsterdam, let's say. That person in Amsterdam declares that he needs a particular document. It is as predictable as the law of gravity. You then go back to your main contact and he turns you over to someone else who is willing to get someone he knows in the government who will do him and you a special favor -- for a very special fee. Guess who will be required to pay that "special fee"?

* The scam artist will ultimately ask you for your bank account number. Some account numbers are used for future scams. We know of one person who over time received well over $300,000 in actual bogus checks. I mean, these checks were real! You could see the watermarks as they were held up to the light. One check was even from a federal bankruptcy account.      Here's the scam: They will send you a "good faith" $35,000 check, asking you to wire about $30,000 from that check to an overseas account to ostensibly pay for the document fees. You are told to keep $5,000 of the $35,000 check to cover all your phone and fax bills. You are "smart" -- before you cash the $35,000 check, you make a few phone calls and are told that it is a real account and there is enough money to cover everything. You are amazed and your confidence in your West African contact is bolstered. You cash it, waiting 48 hours for the the dust to settle. And then you wire $30,000 to the account in Nigeria. Next thing you know that FBI is knocking on your door. The check you cashed was a real check with real money from a real account -- except the money wasn't legally his to give. Guess who has $30,000 in his account? Your scamming Nigerian contact. Guess who's left holding the legal bag? You. Wanna go to jail? Just send and spend the money from the cashed check given to you by your scam artist friend. That will put you in deep doo doo.

* A variation to the above scam is that they will tell you to go check with your bank. "The money has been sent. It's waiting for you." When you call the bank someone will say that they have received a fax which states that the, let's say, $18 Millions is to be sent to the account. You are put off by the lack of money in your account. You then email or call the scam artist and he will play dumb telling you to call his "brokerage firm" to check on the progress being made. You call the "brokerage firm" and that guy will tell you that he knows nothing except that the money was sent with a hold on it until you send him a 1% fee for his service. One percent of $18 Million is $180,000. He wants you to send that amount before he will release the money. If you send him the money, you have just been fleeced. There is no money waiting to be sent to your account. This is a scam! Period.

* There are a variety or processing fees or gratuities (bribes) which must be paid along the way. The skids must be greased. We have heard from reliable sources that this could amount to well over $200,000 before all is said and done.

* Most scam artists will use,,, or some other similar untraceable email address. But they send out so many scams that they have a hard time keeping up with everybody. That's why many times you will see the name with a number behind it -- (e.g. 

* Some of the big time operators will even pay the airfare for you to come over to Nigeria or some other African country. Here's a hint: Do Not Accept! One way or another, that "free trip" will cost you dearly, perhaps your life.

* Here is a strategy our acquaintances have tried with great success. Give the scam artists your DHL number (It'll cost you about $40. Money well spent if you are interested in playing this little game.) and have them send you the actual document or certificate, along with three business cards from their lawyer and the bank official. Plus three copies of the bank brochure. These items all must be sent to you the very next day. You want to communicate a sense of urgency to minimize the amount of time it takes for them to create quality-looking fake documents. Why three copies of each? It means that they can't make just one fake business card. They have to make three of each. One of our acquaintances received some items that looked like a child put them together, cut with a pair of scissors. (Want to see a scan of five of the actual business cards which were sent via DHL?) It is funny and pitiful at the same time. The other documents which were sent (Certificate of Deposit and Contractual Agreement) were returned, simply because that's what was promised. But the scam artists claimed that the documents were never returned, trying to heap a ton of "guilt" in the direction of the sender.

* If you get sucked into a 419 scam, just remember that the scam artists are playing upon the blindness of your own gullibility, greediness or neediness. Once you have discovered that you have been scammed you will probably become very angry. You will fire off an email, or a telephone call -- with threatening words. You might even threaten to go to the FBI with your information. The scam artist will then calmly say, "Go ahead and threaten to bring the strong arm of the law upon me. I will then tell them how you were ready to engage in an illegal activity, dealing with illegal funds. I will roast you so badly that you won't know what hit you." That threat alone is sufficient to stop most folks from following through on their threats. The scam artist goes free, with your money, ready to scam another greedy sucker.

* Circus promoter, P. T. Barnum stated that a sucker is born every minute. 419 scam artists prove this to be true every day! Don't be another statistic.


Not much. We don't want to sound fatalistic, but the reality is that the scam artists hide behind untraceable email addresses, sending their scam letters from pay-by-the-hour Internet Cafes. The governments of Africa are generally in a survival mode, with little interest in dealing with some Internet scam artist in a local village. There are always bigger fish to fry. 

Plus we have actually talked with West African government and business officials about their perception of these 419 scams. They have expressed amazement that anyone could be fooled by the  empty promises contained in emails from a stranger in Africa. In their eyes, the culpability goes both ways. "Who could be such a fool to give money to someone they have never met?" This is a valid question for all of us to ponder...

What we have done at The Freeman Institute is to provide a free service to warn individuals who may be flirting with the idea of great wealth coming their way. Our motto is: Run, don't walk, away from these scams and then do what you can to warn people about this pervasive problem. Feel free to provide a link to -- so that more people can see the truth about these 419 scams.


© Copyright, 2003 The Freeman Institute. All rights reserved. Nothing on this page may be used without explicit written permission.  Note: Reproduction of any kind, including cutting and pasting, is strictly prohibited. 



You may have received an example of the "Nigerian Fraud/419 scam" which is a common e-mail problem, especially in the US. Click on some of the sites below to get the bigger picture. -- A very funny site... 

In the US, this matter should be also reported to the FBI Internet Fraud Complaint Center , and to the Secret Service. There is also a need (since the USPS also investigates e-mail complaints, to report it to the United States Postal Inspection Service . It should also be reported to the sender's ISP abuse department, normally expressed as abuse@ [insert ISP sig here].

Warnings about traveling to Nigeria -- 

If you lost money as a result of this scheme, don't be embarrassed, and please report it to the Secret Service -- which has set up a special 419 task force. Send your documentation to the United States Secret Service, Financial Crimes Division, 1800 G Street NW, Room 942, Washington, D.C. 20223 or call
(202) 435-5850. Secret Service --  ( investigates currency issues such as forgery, credit card fraud, and other financial fraud) Financial Crimes Enforcement -- -- Money laundering and related activity, including offshore activity.

If you have received a letter, but not lost any money, send a fax of the letter to the Secret Service at (202) 435-5031.

Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigative Division --

Securities & Exchange Commission -- -- Investigates securities fraud and related issues.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) -- -- Jurisdiction over most consumer-oriented scams.

Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) --  -- Agency of the U.S. Department of Justice 

To understand a 419 scheme in either French or Portuguese, see

For hard numbers, the Australian Institute of Criminology article and the US Dept. of State pub. 10465 will prepare you better than this site will. Really good backgrounders. From these you will get an idea of the scope of this scam. There are already inter-governmental relationships established over this issue.


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