How the Scam Works
The scammer will tell you an elaborate fake story about large amounts of money 'trapped' in central banks during civil wars or coups, often in countries currently in the news. Or they may tell you about a large inheritance that is 'difficult to access' because of government restrictions or taxes in their country.
The scammer may contact you by email, letter, text message or social networking message. They will offer you a large sum of money to help them transfer their personal fortune out of their country.
These scams are often known as 'Nigerian 419' scams because the first wave of them came from Nigeria. The '419' part of the name comes from the section of Nigeria’s Criminal Code which outlaws the practice. These scams now come from anywhere in the world.
Scammers may ask for your bank account details to 'help them transfer the money' and use this information to later steal your funds.
Or they may ask you to pay fees, charges or taxes to 'help release or transfer the money out of the country' through your bank. These fees may even start out as quite small amounts. If paid, the scammer may make up new fees that require payment before you can receive your reward. They will keep asking for more money as long as you are willing to part with it, but you will never be sent the money that was promised.
- You receive a contact out of the blue asking you to 'help' someone from another country transfer money out of their country (e.g. Nigeria, Sierra Leone or Iraq).
- The request includes a long and often sad story about why the money cannot be transferred by the rightful owner.
- You are offered a financial reward for helping them access their 'trapped' funds. The amount of money to be transferred, and the payment that the scammer promises to you if you help, is usually very large.
- The writing in the message is in very polite but broken English.
- The scammer will often ask you to send money via a money transfer service.
How to Protect Yourself
- Never send money or give credit card details, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust and never by email.
- Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
- Do not agree to transfer money for someone else. Money laundering is a criminal offense.
- Seek independent advice from someone you know and trust if in doubt.
- Verify the identity of the contact by calling the relevant organization directly – find them through an independent source such as a phone book or online search. Do not use the contact details provided in the message sent to you.
- Do an internet search using the names or exact wording of the letter/email to check for any references to a scam – many scams can be identified this way.
- If you think it’s a scam, don't respond — scammers will use a personal touch to play on your emotions to get what they want.
- Remember there are no get-rich-quick schemes: if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.