Nigerian Letter or “419” Fraud Explained


What is a Nigerian Letter or “419” Fraud

Nigerian Letter or 419 fraud refers to a particular type of scam that involves scammers contacting potential victims with an opportunity to earn millions of dollars if they help illegally transfer funds from Nigeria.

These scams are known as 419 scams, referring to the 419 section of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with fraud. There is a large variety of these kinds of scams but scammers claiming to be from Nigeria is a particularly common theme. You likely have heard of the “Nigerian prince scam”, which is essentially identical to the 419 fraud.

The way these scams work is scammers send emails claiming that they have access to tens of millions of dollars but need help transferring that money out of Nigeria. For someone willing to help, they promise a percentage of the money, which usually means a couple of million dollars. In the very beginning, to test how gullible a potential target is scammers ask for their bank information. Though they don’t usually use it themselves, rather they sell it in bulks on various darknet forums.

Once the scammer has established at least minimal trust with the victim, they will start asking for money to help transfer the millions of dollars from Nigeria. They make up all kinds of reasons why a victim would need to transfer money to them. For example, they may ask recipients to send money in order to bribe a bank official, a lawyer, etc. Or they may claim that it’s necessary to have an account in a Nigerian bank with a large sum of money in it. After the initial transfer, the scammers will continue asking for money for various reasons, supposedly related to transferring the promised millions from Nigeria. Scammers ask for these transfers to be made via wire transfer services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. This ensures that the transactions are irreversible and untraceable.

There are plenty of horror stories that involve people falling for “Nigerian letter” and “419” scams and sending thousands of dollars. The Nigerian government is not particularly keen on helping victims as victims were intending to remove funds from Nigeria using illegal means. The scheme that is described in these emails to victims is actually a violation of the above-mentioned Nigerian Criminal Code, which is why this type of fraud is known as the “419 scams”.

Nowadays, these scams are usually carried out via email. However, it was not uncommon to find letters in mailboxes with the same scams in the past. And considering that these scams have been around in various forms since the late 18th century but still continue to find victims, they are unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon. The least that can be done is to educate users, particularly those most vulnerable, in order to prevent more victims.

How to avoid becoming a victim of a Nigerian letter/prince or 419 scam

  • If you receive an email from someone claiming to be in Nigeria and they ask you to send your personal or financial information, do not reply.

It’s not worth engaging with scammers even if you are fully aware that it’s a scam. And while the emails are usually pretty generic, it’s still worth forwarding them to your local law enforcement.

  • Do not believe emails or messages that promise large sums of money, particularly if the sender claims to be a prince, lawyer, or a government official from Nigeria.

As you likely already know, scammers often pretend to be princes, government officials, lawyers, widowers/widows, etc. and claim to need to transfer large sums of money out of the country. These claims are never legitimate. In 100% of the cases, these emails are scams.

  • Do not give away your financial information to anyone.

Your financial details are highly sensitive information that you should not be giving away to strangers over the Internet. If you ever receive an email that asks for such information, do not engage.

  • If someone close to you is engaging with these scammers, warn them about what’s going and encourage them to report the scam to law enforcement. 

If you know someone who is engaging with these scams and is sending scammers money, you should encourage them to stop immediately and report the crime to law authorities.

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