What Is 419 Fraud?
This article was originally written for my other site, which I’ve now redirected to this site, so I’m re-posting the article here.On this page, I will explain to you in a basic non technical way what 419 fraud is, how it happens and how to avoid falling in to the 419ers trap. I will try to keep my explanations as simple as possible in order to advise people who are possibly new to the internet and/or computers, because if you have ended up here by doing a search for 419, then you may fall in to that category.
Firstly, what is 419? Well, it is called 419 due to the large amount of scam emails that are sent from Nigeria in West Africa, it takes it’s name from section 419 of the Nigerian penal code, this is the penal section that deals with the prohibition of this kind of fraud and advance fee fraud associated with 419. It’s not a new type of crime, it has been around for a long time in many guises, one of the earliest examples of this type of advance fee fraud was known as the Spanish Prisoner Of War Scam dating from the 16th century.
The Spanish prisoner scam was a confidence trick dating back to 1588. In its original form, the confidence trickster (con man) tells his victim (the mark) that he is in correspondence with a wealthy person of high estate who has been imprisoned in Spain (originally by King Philip II) under a false identity. The alleged prisoner cannot reveal his identity without serious repercussions, and is relying on the confidence trickster to raise money to secure his release. The confidence trickster offers to let the mark supply some of the money, with a promise that he will be rewarded generously when the prisoner returns both financially and by being married to the prisoner’s beautiful daughter. However, once the mark has turned over his money, he learns that further problems have arisen, requiring yet more money, until the mark is cleaned out and has no money left to send.
The key features of the Spanish prisoner scam are the emphasis on secrecy and the trust the confidence trickster is placing in the mark not to reveal the prisoner’s identity or situation. The confidence trickster will often claim to have chosen the mark carefully based on his reputation for honesty and straight dealing, and may appear to structure the deal so that the confidence tricksters ultimate share of the reward will be distributed voluntarily by the mark.
Modern variants of the Spanish prisoner include advance fee fraud, in particular, the Nigerian money transfer fraud, or as it is more commonly called, 419 advance fee fraud. In 419 fraud, a valuable item might supposedly need to be ransomed from a security company, bank, warehouse, customs agent, or a lost baggage facility before the authorities or thieves recognize its value. In the Nigerian variation, a self proclaimed relative of a deposed African dictator offers to transfer millions of ill gotten dollars into the bank account of the victim in return for small initial payments to cover bribes and other expenses.
In later years, they kept sending their scams via postal mail, and in some cases, 419 scammers still do this today, but of course, it moved on from letter writing, with the advent of fax machines it made the scammers work much easier and faster, and in this modern day, of course, the main source of scams are on the internet through emails.
Ok, lets look at an example of modern day 419 scam, but remember, no matter what variant of the scam it is, it always involves the victim having having to send some sort of advance fees. We’ll use the traditional and probably best known 419 scam for the example, it’s called, the trunk box scam. In this one, you receive an email from some deposed African leader, or if they are a dead African leader, it will be from a relative of theirs, or someone from a bank or government. They tell you that there are $xx.xxx.xxx millions of dollars in a trunk box that is either in somewhere like a security company, bank or vault, and that the company looking after the trunk box are not aware that it contains millions of dollars, telling you that when it was put there, they marked the contents of the box as being something else so as not to arouse suspicion or get the attention of thieve or government officials.
They will send you official looking stamped documents via email, which show that the trunk box was deposited in whatever security company or bank on such and such a date etc, soon after, there will be a request for fees, they will say something along the line of, due to this trunk being stored for so many years, it has accrued a large amount of demurrage (rent), that needs to be paid before the trunk is allowed to be released, they might tell you the demurrage totals $2,700 or whatever figure they come up with, if the victim was to pay that money, it then moves on to the next stage. Now, the victim just needs to get the money from the trunk box sent to them, but before that can happen, there are more documents sent to you, these will also require a fee to be paid, for things like back taxes, anti terrorist certificates, anti money laundering certificates, that sort of thing.
Now the victim is thinking, hmmmm, I already paid $2,700 and now these new fees need paying, they might argue with the scammer on the phone or via email. The scammer takes offence and tells the victim to forget about it, they will get someone else to claim the money instead, so, the victim, not wanting to lose out on the millions, plus not wanting to lose the $2,700 they already paid, comes back on board and pays the new fees, you might think that is the end of the fees, but no, that’s only just the beginning!
After paying the next several thousands of dollars in fees, there might be a fee for something else, or the scammer will simply move on to getting the trunk box shipped to the victim. This presents the scammer with a whole new way to scam yet more fees, for example, because the trunk contains millions of dollars, you can’t simply send something like that as normal freight, the scammer will tell the victim that it will need to be accompanied by a diplomat and that it will require a diplomatic tag and insurance. The victim has now invested heavily at this stage and cannot afford to pull out, it might be possible that the victim no longer has much money and says they can’t afford to pay the new fee, but that’s ok, the scammer can help you out this time, say the fees are $5000, the scammer might offer to pay half of it for you, the victim thanks them for helping and manages to scrape together the other $2000 which they send to the scammer.
Well, there shouldn’t be any more problems now, the trunk box is on the plane and you will soon have your money, right? Wrong again, you will now get an email or phone call from the scammer saying there is a problem at the airport, they will need the victim to pay airport taxes, customs duties, import taxes etc, the victim is now pulling their hair out in frustration, they now have no money left at all, how are they going to pay these new fees? Don’t worry, the scammer will offer to help you out again, he can send you a cheque (check) as long as you promise to pay him back when you get the trunk box. Now lets see, say the new fees are $10,000 and the victim has no way of paying it, not a problem, the scammer gets one of his accomplices to make a fake cheque (check), or supply a stolen cheque, this is then be sent to the victim by courier, they will be told to deposit it and then immediately wire the funds by Western Union back to the scammer.
Unfortunately, the way most banks work these days, when you deposit a cheque, the bank will let you withdraw those funds before the cheque has actually cleared. Another problem is that cheques, even fake ones, can take up to six months to come back from the issuing back as being fraudulent, although it’s usually a lot sooner than that within a week or two, but it can be quite some time in certain cases. So, the victim gets the cheque, deposits it, withdraws the funds and sends it to the scammer, all fees are now paid, the trunk should be released from the airport and delivered to your house, what could possibly go wrong now?
Well, that might be the end of it, but it’s not, because none of it exists, except in the mind of the scammer, there is no way they can deliver that trunk box to your house, it simply doesn’t exist, so that’s the end of the story, sorry. But wait, there is a bit more, I should point out that scammers being the devious scum that they are, will sometimes arrange to do something called “sitting” a victim, this is where they actually meet with the victim in the victims own country, the meeting might take place in a hotel or even a fake office they have rented and set up for the day.
So what happens now? Lets say you are told there is to be a meeting at an office where you will receive your trunk, so you get picked up by the scammers and taken to the location, once inside the building, you are shown the trunk box, then, one of a couple of things could happen, it might be that they open the trunk and you are faced with piles of black paper instead of money. They might have neglected to tell you that the money had to be dyed black in order for it to leave the country of origin, but this is not a problem, because the money can easily be cleaned using a special chemical solution.
Can you guess where this is going? Yes, you guessed it, this is not any old cheap chemical that’s needed to clean the money, it’s very expensive, and having the victim in front of the trunk box with the supposed millions of dollars worth of blackened paper money in front of them, is an ideal opportunity for the scammers to really clean up. They will take some of the blackened bank notes from the trunk, except those particular notes they choose will be real bank notes dyed black for the purpose of the scam, and using a small amount of the expensive chemical that they have with them, they will remove the dye from the bank notes and give them to the victim, this is called the Wash Wash scam, of course, the victim is now fully on the hook, they know all that money is there for the taking, but there is just one problem.
As mentioned, the cleaning chemical is very expensive, and this is where the scammers capitalise, they will tell the victim that in order to get the money cleaned up, they will need $50,000 for chemicals, but as we deduced earlier, the victim has not go any money left to pay for it, so it’s the scammer to the rescue again with another fake or stolen cheque to give to the victim, which if the victim is quick, they can deposit that in their bank before the other fake cheque gets returned as being fraudulent.
When scammers use fake or stolen cheques in their scams, there is always a sense of urgency, because they know those cheque could be returned at any time and then their game is up, although we do know of some victims who despite having counterfeit cheques returned, still get convinced by the scammers that it was all a mistake and they then accept yet another cheque to deposit, why? Because they are so deep in to the scam, they are blinded by everything, they have bought in to everything they have been told and seen, and have invested so much in it that to even think it wasn’t for real would destroy them, all they see is the end product which is always just another fee away!
If you have been a victim of fraud, or think that you might be being scammed at this present time, please go to the Scam Warners Forum, they will be happy to give you any help and advice you require.