is one of the most common scams on the Internet right now and one of
the top issues that we we receive inquiries about at TruthOrFiction.com.
We'll describe the scam in detail, but very simply, it consists of
someone convincing you that a lot of money or an expensive prize is
within your reach. At the last minute, however, you will be asked to advance some
money to clear one last hurdle. After that, neither the
scammers nor your money are seen again.
There are literally hundreds of different
versions of this scam using many different names for the originator so if
you may not see here the particular message that you may have
received. The bottom line is the nature of the offer made
These scammers also approach victims through the mail, fax, and by
According to the Secret Service, it is a scheme that predates the
Internet. It has
become known as "The Nigeria Advance Fee Scam." It
is also known as "Four-One-Nine", referring to the
Nigerian law for fraud. The majority of the messages initially
claimed to be coming from people in Africa, especially Nigeria, but
now the emails seem to be coming from every part of the globe.
There are several different scenarios presented in the messages.
The most common one tells you that there are millions of dollars
sitting idle from a business deal, a government action, or an
inheritance, and all you need to do is agree to let the money be run
through your bank account or to help invest it in the U.S., and
you'll get a commission, usually in the hundreds of thousands or
millions of dollars.
Another version of the scam targets non-profit organizations such as
churches and says that a wealthy African has died and left millions
of dollars to your group. At least one U.S. church lost
$90,000 to an advance-fee-crook.
Other emails claim to have unclaimed cash from the terrorist attack
on the World Trade Center in 2001 or inheritance money from a victim
of the Pentagon attack on the same day.
TruthOrFiction.com has also received reports from readers who
responded to job ads and then were offered large amounts of money
from foreigners along with the promise that than can keep a cut of
There are also a number of reports of strange emails from foreigners
who offer to buy an item for sale on the Internet.
In response to your listing to sell an expensive item such as exercise
equipment, a boat, car, or airplane, you receive an email (frequently in poor
English) from someone who says confidently he wants to buy it.
He asks for more information and says that he's got either a Fedex
account that can be used to send the merchandise or that he has an
agent, a shipper, or someone else in the United States who will
arrange for the product to be picked up and shipped.
He may even offer to pay more than your asking price and may also
offer to pay with a cashier's check or money order.
What happens, however, is that when you receive his payment, it is for
several hundred or several thousand dollars more than agreed.
He explains that it was a clerical error and apologizes and asks you
to simply send the difference back to him in whatever form you prefer.
Or he says that is the extra mount of money needed by his agent to
arrange for the shipping and he asks that you give it to the agent
when he contacts you. His check to you, however, was bogus, but looks so real that you don't
find that out for several days. You've been scammed and you can kiss the money you sent to him or his
It didn't take long after the end of the war in Iraq in 2003 for a
version to appear that claims to be from the former accountant of a
son of Saddam Hussein.
The scammers have also personally approached various professionals
saying they want to build something like a medical center, sports
stadium, factory, or commercial building. The professional is eventually asked to pitch in some funds to get
the project over a hurdle, and it all disappears.
Watch out for people who say you've won contests or lotteries that
you never entered, have funds for you from a transaction that you
never arranged, that you have won a prize but you need to pay for the
shipping, or who say they need your credit card or other financial
information in order to complete the transaction.
There are hundreds of other variations on those themes and, according to the
U.S. Secret Service, thousands of people who have lost hundreds of
millions of dollars. The Secret Service receives an
average of 100 phone calls and 300 to 500 pieces of correspondence
per day about the advance fee scams and says that in 2001, there
were reports from 2,600 Americans who said they'd been scammed.
Sixteen of them lost more than $300,000. Many people who've
lost money don't report it.
In August, 2006, Fox news reported that a Nigerian Advance Fee scam
may have been a part of the money troubles between Tennessee
minister Matthew Winkler and his wife Mary, who is accused of
killing Matthew, allegedly after a heated argument about finances.
The Secret Service says the approaches of the scammers may include
of money from wills
fraud (C.O.D. of goods or services)
of real estate
of hard currency
of funds from over invoiced contracts
of crude oil at below market prices
Returning lost luggage to you that had several
hundred thousand dollars cash in it.
Here's an example of what
1. You receive a request from a foreigner with the prospect of
millions of dollars coming your way.
2. You reply and through a series of exchanges via email, fax,
and phone, you are presented with documentation and convincing proofs of the
identities and the credentials of the people you are dealing with.
3. You are asked to provide information about yourself or
your company including letterhead, Social Security and other
4. You may be asked to come see them in person in their
country, or they may ask to come see you.
5. Very often, some strings will be pulled on your behalf such
illegally getting you into the country that is your destination.
6. Once you are feeling good about the transaction and can
taste the millions of dollars in your bank account, there is a
sudden complication. You are told that the money is secure and
ready to be transferred, but that in order to get it released, a
government official needs to be bribed or a fee needs to be paid.
You are given a last-minute request to advance thousands or hundreds
of thousands of dollars to get rid of the unexpected glitch.
Or, in the worst cases, you may actually be trapped in a foreign
country and will have to pay your way out. The amount of money
the scammers ask for is based on how much they've learned about your
assets. If they think they can get hundreds of thousands or
millions of dollars, that's how much they'll ask for. If they
know you can pay only a few thousand dollars, that's how much
they'll ask for.
7. You never see your money or the crooks again.
One interesting note about the advance fee scams is that many of
them admit that the money is stolen or the result of criminal
activity such as overcharging companies who did business with the
country. That means that anyone who wants to get involved in
the scheme has already agreed to participate in something that is
"under the table". That cuts down on the number of them
who complain to authorities after it's all over. There are
many wealthy individuals who would rather endure the loss of the
money than to admit that they got scammed while participating in
The U.S. Secret Service says don't respond to these communications
but they'd like to hear from you if you've
lost money to the scammers.
HERE for the link.