The 419 Scam - Be Aware of Internet Fraud
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The 419 Scam - Be Aware of Internet Fraud

The advance- fee fraud or Nigerian letter scam can lead to kidnap, ransom and murder. Those who only lose their life savings are the lucky ones.

If you are like most people, the Nigerian scam letter will not cause a ripple in your day. Also called the 419 scam, this advance-fee confidence trick works on the principle that some unfortunate soul has inherited or can get his hands on millions of pounds or dollars and needs your assistance to get the money out of his despot-ruled country on the double. There is however a catch. Money needs to be paid upfront for bribes and official fees, and that my friend, is where you come in...

Actually if you have any sense, that is when you hit the delete key, but the longevity of the Nigerian letter scam proves that somewhere, somebody is buying into it on a regular enough basis to make this confidence trick still worth pulling.

Astonishing as it may be, somebody right now is in the process of getting fleeced by an individual or gang that is pulling off yet another version of the original Nigerian oil scam.

Though today, the advent of email has made the delivery of the fraudulent message a thousand time easier and thereby spreading the net to catch victims that much further, it actually started out as a letter or fax sometime in the mid 1980's.

At that time the Nigerian economy was going into a tailspin, and a group of resourceful if less than honest Nigerian university students started mailing potential dupes with offers related to the international expansion of the Nigerian Petroleum Company. Unfortunately, so the story went, because Nigerian government regulations forbade Nigerian corporations from sending large sums of money out of the country, the Nigerian Petroleum Company was unable to transfer the capital required to finance oil exploration.

All that was needed was a non-Nigerian to open a bank account with an Nigerian bank to the tune of ...oh... US$100,000 or so.

It beggars belief that anyone ever fell for these scams. We are not looking at frail old age pensioners being relieved of their pension pot but of canny business men or international investors who thought they were on to a sure thing - the fact that it was an obviously shady deal where somebody (usually the Nigerian government) was being defrauded perhaps made the transaction all the more thrilling.

Today, the 419 scam, named for that part of the Nigerian Criminal Code which deals with fraud, has sprouted offshoots and whole new branches making it, in some cases, barely recognizable but whether the protagonist is the secretary of an Arabian prince, the son of an ex-president or the wife of a murdered diamond merchant, and whether the goods in question are cold hard cash, diamonds or rare art treasures, the basic deal is the same. "I need to borrow your money in order to get my money out of the country. Once I have transferred it into your bank account, you will be well rewarded. Honest!"

No-one would have said that Mr. Steven Baker was a gullible man and in his case, you would also not say he was greedy. The 419 scam was presented to him by a friend who said her father had died and left her a sizable inheritance. Though not offered millions, Mr. Baker was given an enticement though as he says, "It was helping out a friend and we stood to gain something as well."

Detective Superintendent Brian Hay, head of the Queensland task Force that was assigned to the case, is clear that Mr.. Baker was a victim above all else. "They saw an opportunity, he thought he was helping out a friend and he's suffered the price for it," he said. Over two years, Mr. Baker lost up to €1.5 million of his own and family member's money. The complicated scam involved three different European countries, a  very sophisticated back story and supporting documents that were indistinguishable from the real thing.

Mr. Baker didn't just lose money, the stress he suffered took its toll on his marriage and his self esteem. A proud man, he will work for the rest of his life to pay off the money he borrowed from friends and family and lost in the scam that trapped him.

Even after all he has lost, in comparison to some victims of the Nigerian letter scam, Steven Baker is lucky.

In 2004, wealthy Greek national, George Makronalli responded to an enticement that had been released on to the internet seeking assistance in the movement of money which had supposedly been stolen from the South African government. He visited South Africa in the November presumably to meet with the crime syndicate and after a returning home, rentered South Africa through Johannessburg airport on December 18.

George was never seen alive again. His brother Sotirus, who had also invested money in the scam, contacted Interpol after he lost contact with George and shortly thereafter received a ransom demand for $160,000. The money was not paid and George's dead body turned up soon after.

"This was a blatant execution after a failed demand. Mr Makronalli's suitcases full of clothes and travel documents were found with his body. Robbery was not the motive," 

So, make no mistake, the Nigerian letter scam is a serious and dangerous business which deprives people not only of their savings but also sometimes of their liberty and lives. While some of the perpetrators may be individual 'chancers' who pose to real physical threat, others form part of gangs or syndicates that are more than willing to kidnap, ransom and kill for a profit.

Scam baiting

Even so, there are people online who are fighting back. Not only via the dissemination of information to help people avoid being caught up in a 419 scam but also proactively hunting down and entangling perpetrators in time-wasting web games. According to scam baiting website 419 Eater the point of this online sport is to waste their time and resources and whilst you are doing this, you will be helping to keep the scammers away from real potential victims.

The 419 Eater website is a treasure trove of information abut the Nigerian letter scam, although as they are quick to point out, this kind of advance fee fraud can come from anywhere in the world and target anyone, anywhere. They have a list of recent victims which includes a Thai shop assistant, a Korean man and a Saudi Arabian. Even if you do not have much money of your own, what you can borrow will do fine.

In conclusion, be aware that the Nigerian scam is alive and well and as lucrative as it ever. It is not a relatively benign and rather silly scheme that is likely to dupe only the feeble-minded but a sinister and internationally orchestrated fraud that is sophisticated enough to capture business men and women and strip them of all assets. It can lead to kidnap and murder and it comes in many disguises.

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Comments (5)

Awesome!

Thanks, Donald. :) It amazes me that people fall for this, but where I live they line up to be fleeced by time-share salesmen too. My own mother was taken by a Thailand ruby scam some years back, losing all her holiday money. In the end, she chalked it up to experience but it was a painful lesson.

interesting thank you

Good article. I always hit the spam button when those show up in the inbox rather than just delete, I guess I just want to let someone know that I knew it was a scam, figure others do that too...

Thanks Julie for this reminder article. We should be very cautious about internet scams. @Sara thank you for sharing how you respond to these emails. I usually delete them instead of hitting the spam button.

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