Nigerian Scams

Nigerian Scams

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Nigerian Scams are a common type of advance-fee fraud schemes facilitated by spambots that can send large volumes of e-mails at once. Although its origin is not limited to Nigeria, the most infamous specimen of this e-mail scam is associated with a Nigerian sender posing as a significant political or royal figure and soliciting the reader to wire a specific amount of cash, which would supposedly allow the sender to access their savings account and reward the benefactor with more money than originally borrowed.


This style of scam has been recorded as early as in the 19th century with a confidence trick known as The Spanish Prisoner, but the modern Nigerian 419 scheme began as a postal scam during the corrupt years of the Second Nigerian Republic between the late 1970s and early 1980s. During this time, numerous variations of the scheme were discovered for the first time, many of which claimed to have been written by wealthy members of the royal family, businessmen or government officials soliciting for personal financial information such as bank account numbers.


Between the 1980s and 1990s, the trend of advance fee scams shifted from print and postal service to fax messaging as the primary means of dissemination and by the late 1990s, it had begun to thrive online with the innovation of e-mail communications and spambot software, which significantly lowered the cost of operations and allowed scammers to target uninformed readers in advanced economies of the English-speaking world.


  • According to the FBI Internet Fraud Complaint Center’s Internet Fraud Report (PDF) released in 2001, 419 fraud cases accounted for 15.5% of reported grievances, with only one in ten crimes being reported.
  • According to the UK presentation at the International Conference on Advance Fee (419) Frauds in 2002, around 1% of the millions of people who receive 419 e-mails and faxes were reported as fraud victims, inflicting annual losses for the United States in the excess of $100 million and losses of more than $1.5 billion across the world.
  • According to the Queensland Police Fraud & Corporate Crime Group’s report in 2006, 419 scams had defrauded more than $7 million from Queenslanders, including financial advisers, lawyers and university professors. One particular victim had reported losses of $2.2 million to scammers over the span of two years.

Scam Baiting

As the advance fee scams continued to wreak havoc and damage in the English-speaking world, some Internet vigilantes began responding with a counter-tactic known as scam baiting, or the practice of pretending interest in a fraudulent scheme in order to manipulate or prosecute a scammer. One of the earliest efforts at organized scam-baiting was started by Michael Berry, who launched the site in September 2003 to track the origin and chronicle the variations of the scams, as well as to identify and report fake banks and financian institutions that are suspected to be affiliated with the scammers.

Notable Examples

Dear Sir:

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 regulations of the Nigerian Government, 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 the Nigerian Government will realize that the Central Bank is maintaining this amount on deposit, and attempt to levy certain depository taxes on it.

Yours truly,

Prince Alyusi Islassis

In Online Humor

Due to the widespread nature of the scams and the elevated public awareness, fraudulent e-mails purportedly sent from Nigerian royalties have been often referenced in Internet humor and popular culture.

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