Welcome to Scam Information Links, this site was made with the intention of gathering information about scams, including items about victims, links to scam alerts, information, resources, and scam news items.
If you are viewing this page, you were probably directed here via a scam warning email you received, identifying you as a victim or potential victim of an advance fee fraud (419) scam, please take some time to read the information on this site, it is very important that you are made aware of how the scammers operate.
Below, you will find a brief guide to scams, please read it carefully, it contains important information.
A basic guide to scams
There are many different varieties of internet fraud, and we have set out some of the more common formats below and in our specific scams section. If you think you may have been scammed but cannot find something here relating to your specific circumstances, please do not assume that you are safe. These scams are just the most frequent ones, and there are many others.
Common types of scams
Advance fee frauds
Also known as 419 scams, after the section of the criminal law in Nigeria which makes them illegal, or "Nigerian" frauds. These take many forms, but all feature the lure of a huge sum of money or a consignment of jewellery, gold, or other valuables. They are called advance fee frauds because they all involve the victim being asked to pay fees in advance. The fees are said to be for a lawyer or barrister, court documents, registration or other formal payments needed, security company, courier or diplomat fees, or bribes. If the victim pays the fee, there will always be another one that needs to be paid before the money or consignment can be released, and this will continue until the victim realises it is a scam, or simply runs out of money to send. There is no consignment or huge sum of money - the entire story is a lie to get the victim to pay.
The most common lies told are that there is an over-invoiced contract with the government, an unclaimed bank account which will be forfeit if not claimed soon, a next-of-kin who has died and left the victim a fortune, a political refugee (or the widow/son/daughter of one) who has valuables he cannot take out of the country alone, a dying person who wants to distribute huge sums to charity before they die, or an investor who has a large sum of money to invest in the victim's country. These are all lies, told merely to set the scene for the request for money from the victim.
In these, the scammer will pretend to be from a legitimate or a fictitious lottery and will tell the victim they have won a huge sum of money. Again, there will be the endless requirements for fees to register, to claim the prize, to pay a lawyer or the courier company delivering the winnings and so on, until the victim has given up or run out of money. The scammer will pretend that it is a random lottery, often based on email addresses, to get round the fact that you cannot win a lottery you have never entered. Legitimate lottery sites, names and logos are often stolen or copied and used to bolster the pretence.
Cheque/check or money order scams
There are many variations on check scams and we have more information in our specific scams section. The most popular are overpayment for goods, investor scams, and the company agent or representative scam. If you have been asked by someone you don't know to cash a check, money order or traveller's check and send on the proceeds or goods, please act with extreme caution.
The basics are that the scammer asks the potential victim to receive payment (whether for goods being sold, investment, or from a "customer" of the scammer) and to forward all or part of the proceeds. The check/money order is fake, forged or stolen. The scammer hopes that the victim's bank will not realise initially, and will clear it. The victim sends money on, the bank later realises and debits the victim's account, and the victim has then lost the money sent on. The bank will almost certainly not be liable, and the victim may also find that their account is closed and/or that they are arrested or investigated by the police for money laundering.
Black money or "wash-wash"
The scammer claims to have a large supply of dollar bills which have been treated with a black dye to disguise that it is money. If treated with chemicals, the money will be cleaned up and turned into legitimate currency. The victim is asked to pay for the chemicals to make the transformation, but the fee will be much less than the total value of the currency, so the victim thinks there is a profit to be made. The victim may be shown photos of the black money or invited to visit the scammer for a live demonstration of the cleaning process. In fact, all the so-called money is just black paper, and the cleaning demonstration relies on sleight of hand to substitute a real banknote or bill for the piece of black paper.
The scammer pretends to be looking for love, and engages the affection of their potential victim, often using photos from the internet to present an attractive view of themselves. They target people on dating sites or in chat rooms and will often say that they are in love remarkably quickly in an effort to attach the victim to them. Once they think their target is falling for the lies, the scammer will ask for help with living expenses or the cost of a visa or flight to the victim's home country. Or the scammer may say that a relative is ill and needs urgent medical attention, or that they need help paying for their education.
These play on the good nature of people moved by disasters and the misfortunes of others. The scammer will claim to be an orphan in need of assistance, or a pastor or churchman looking for contributions to the work of his ministry. Remarkably quickly after almost every natural disaster in recent years, there have been scammers capitalising on it and pretending to be a charity helping the victims. Examples include 9/11, the Indonesian tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina.
How can I recognise a scam?
This is not an exhaustive list, but it includes some of the warning signs to look for.
- It all sounds too good to be true. There's the potential for a large gain with very little investment of time or money.
- The approach has come out of the blue and the scammer probably does not address you by name.
- There is an insistence on urgency and on confidentiality.
- People are introduced to you by the scammer, such as bank officials, security companies, diplomats or lawyers. These additional characters will be played by the scammer or an accomplice of his.
- You're supplied with a great number of official-looking documents (they are forged).
- There's an early request for personal and detailed information from the victim, such as address, date of birth, bank account details, or identification such as a passport.
- There are legitimate-sounding government agencies or financial organisations involved but the email address does not relate to the organisation (e.g. a scammer pretending to be a bank but using a free email account such as Yahoo).
- The scammer uses mobile phone numbers rather than official company landlines.
- Each fee is said to be the last and the scammer may even have claimed to pay some of the fee to build confidence and trust.
Does any of this sound familiar?
If so, please go to the scam section relating to your situation and we will try to help you understand and deal with it.
What do I do if I think I've been scammed?
- Cease all communications with the scammer immediately. Delete any emails unopened and hang up if the scammer calls you.
- Report the scam to your local police and to the Internet Crime Complaint Centre here if you are in the US. There is not much chance that the scammer will be caught, as he is probably overseas and certainly using false details. However, the more scams are reported, the more the authorities can tell how widespread it is, and the greater the effort that goes into stopping it.
- If you have given the scammer your bank account, credit card or other financial details, tell your bank, card company or other provider immediately, and ask them to change your accounts and card numbers.
- Do not accept any deliveries that are from the scammer or that you are not expecting. If you receive a check or something similar (such as a money order) take it to your bank or local police and tell them you think it is fake.
- Do not panic. Whilst scammers are criminals and some of them are dangerous, the risks are negligible if you simply stop communicating with them. If you are in any doubt about your safety, report your concerns to your local police, who will be able to advise you.
- Don't expect to get your money back. I am afraid there is very little prospect of that happening, and anyone who tells you they can get your money back for a fee is a scammer. Please see our section on Money Recovery Scams for more information.
- Spread the word. We know it's very uncomfortable to feel that you got conned, or nearly got conned, but if you fell for it, so will others. Talking about it may be hard, but the more you help educate everyone about scams, the less opportunities there are for scammers to defraud others.
- Ask here for help and advice. It's why we are here.
Useful links for general advice
FBI information on internet fraud
Internet Crime Complaint Centre (IC3) index of scams, prevention tips, and how to file a complaint.
UK Dept of Trade & Industry information
Metropolitan Police (London, UK) Fraud Alert front page, information about how to report and what to include and their contact page.
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria
Central Bank of Nigeria forum Includes lots of discussion about frauds.
419Eater FAQs about advance fee fraud
Craigslist information about scams
Joewein scams FAQs
Nigeria419 coalition information
Metropolitan Police advice on money transfer services
Western Union security advice
Moneygram Security advice
|US SECRET SERVICE PUBLIC ADVISORY REGARDING "4-1-9" OR "ADVANCE FEE FRAUD" SCHEMES
4-1-9 Schemes frequently use the following tactics:
1. An individual or company receives a letter or fax from an alleged "official" representing a foreign government or agency.
2. An offer is made to transfer millions of dollars in "over invoiced contract" funds into your personal bank account.
3. You are encouraged to travel overseas to complete the transaction.
4. You are requested to provide blank company letterhead forms, banking account information, telephone/fax numbers.
5. You receive numerous documents with official looking stamps, seals and logo testifying to the authenticity of the proposal.
Eventually you must provide up-front or advance fees for various taxes, attorney fees, transaction fees or bribes.
Other forms of 4-1-9 schemes include: c.o.d. of goods or services, real estate ventures, purchases of crude oil at reduced prices, beneficiary of a will, recipient of an award and paper currency conversion.
If you have already lost funds in pursuit of the above described scheme, please contact the U.S. Secret Service in Washington, D.C. at 202-406-5850.
Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud Overview
The perpetrators of Advance Fee Fraud (AFF), known internationally as "4-1-9" fraud after the section of the Nigerian penal code which addresses fraud schemes, are often very creative and innovative.
Unfortunately, there is a perception that no one is prone to enter into such an obviously suspicious relationship. However, a large number of victims are enticed into believing they have been singled out from the masses to share in multi-million dollar windfall profits for doing absolutely nothing. It is also a misconception that the victim's bank account is requested so the culprit can plunder it -- this is not the primary reason for the account request -- merely a signal they have hooked another victim.
In almost every case there is a sense of urgency.
1. The victim is often enticed to travel to Nigeria or a bordering country.
2. There are many forged official looking documents.
3. Most of the correspondence is handled by fax or through the mail.
4. Blank letterheads and invoices are requested from the victim along with the banking particulars.
5. Any number of Nigerian fees are requested for processing the transaction with each fee purported to be the last required.
6. The confidential nature of the transaction is emphasized.
7. There are usually claims of strong ties to Nigerian officials.
8. A Nigerian residing in the U.S., London or other foreign venue may claim to be a clearing house bank for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
9. Offices in legitimate government buildings appear to have been used by impostors posing as the real occupants or officials.
The most common forms of these fraudulent business proposals fall into seven main categories:
1. Disbursement of money from wills
2. Contract fraud (C.O.D. of goods or services)
3. Purchase of real estate
4. Conversion of hard currency
5. Transfer of funds from over invoiced contracts
6. Sale of crude oil at below market prices
The most prevalent and successful cases of Advance Fee Fraud is the fund transfer scam. In this scheme, a company or individual will typically receive an unsolicited letter by mail from a Nigerian claiming to be a senior civil servant. In the letter, the Nigerian will inform the recipient that he is seeking a reputable foreign company or individual into whose account he can deposit funds ranging from $10-$60 million that the Nigerian government overpaid on some procurement contract
The criminals obtain the names of potential victims from a variety of sources including trade journals, professional directories, newspapers, and commercial libraries. They do not target a single company, but rather send out mailings en masse. The sender declares that he is a senior civil servant in one of the Nigerian Ministries, usually the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The letters refer to investigations of previous contracts awarded by prior regimes alleging that many contracts were over invoiced. Rather than return the money to the government, they desire to transfer the money to a foreign account. The sums to be transferred average between $10,000,000 to $60,000,000 and the recipient is usually offered a commission up to 30 percent for assisting in the transfer.
Initially, the intended victim is instructed to provide company letterheads and pro forma invoicing that will be used to show completion of the contract. One of the reasons is to use the victim's letterhead to forge letters of recommendation to other victim companies and to seek out a travel visa from the American Embassy in Lagos. The victim is told that the completed contracts will be submitted for approval to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Upon approval, the funds will be remitted to an account supplied by the intended victim.
The goal of the criminal is to delude the target into thinking that he is being drawn into a very lucrative, albeit questionable, arrangement. The intended victim must be reassured and confident of the potential success of the deal. He will become the primary supporter of the scheme and willingly contribute a large amount of money when the deal is threatened. The term "when" is used because the con-within-the-con is the scheme will be threatened in order to persuade the victim to provide a large sum of money to save the venture.
The letter, while appearing transparent and even ridiculous to most, unfortunately is growing in its effectiveness. It sets the stage and is the opening round of a two-layered scheme or scheme within a scheme. The fraudster will eventually reach someone who, while skeptical, desperately wants the deal to be genuine.
Victims are often requested to travel to Nigeria or a bordering country to complete a transaction. Individuals are often told that a visa will not be necessary to enter the country. The Nigerian con artists may then bribe airport officials to pass the victims through Immigration and Customs. Because it is a serious offense in Nigeria to enter without a valid visa, the victim's illegal entry may be used by the fraudsters as leverage to coerce the victims into releasing funds. Violence and threats of physical harm may be employed to further pressure victims. In June of 1995, an American was murdered in Lagos, Nigeria, while pursuing a 4-1-9 scam, and numerous other foreign nationals have been reported as missing.
Victims are often convinced of the authenticity of Advance Fee Fraud schemes by the forged or false documents bearing apparently official Nigerian government letterhead, seals, as well as false letters of credit, payment schedules and bank drafts. The fraudster may establish the credibility of his contacts, and thereby his influence, by arranging a meeting between the victim and "government officials" in real or fake government offices.
In the next stage some alleged problem concerning the "inside man" will suddenly arise. An official will demand an up-front bribe or an unforeseen tax or fee to the Nigerian government will have to be paid before the money can be transferred. These can include licensing fees, registration fees, and various forms of taxes and attorney fees. Normally each fee paid is described as the very last fee required. Invariably, oversights and errors in the deal are discovered by the Nigerians, necessitating additional payments and allowing the scheme to be stretched out over many months.
Several reasons have been submitted why Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud has undergone a dramatic increase in recent years. The explanations are as diverse as the types of schemes. The Nigerian Government blames the growing problem on mass unemployment, extended family systems, a get rich quick syndrome, and, especially, the greed of foreigners.
Indications are that Advance Fee Fraud grosses hundreds of millions of dollars annually and the losses are continuing to escalate. In all likelihood, there are victims who do not report their losses to authorities due to either fear or embarrassment.
In response to this growing epidemic, the United States Secret Service established "Operation 4-1-9" designed to target Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud on an international basis. The Financial Crimes Division of the Secret Service receives approximately 100 telephone calls from victims and potential victims and 300-500 pieces of related correspondence per day.
Secret Service agents have been assigned on a temporary basis to the American Embassy in Lagos to address the problem in that arena. Agents have established liaison with Nigerian officials, briefed other embassies on the widespread problem, and have assisted in the extrication of U.S. citizens in distress.
If you have been victimized by one of these schemes, please forward appropriate written documentation to the United States Secret Service, Financial Crimes Division, 950 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001, or telephone (202) 406-5850.
If you have received a letter, but have not lost any monies to this scheme, please fax a copy of that letter to (202) 406-5031.