What’s the 419?

One of the original email scams is widely associated with swindles that originated in Nigeria in the 1980s.  Utilizing advance fee fraud, the Nigerian letter scam is also known also as 419 fraud after the section in the Nigerian penal code that corresponds to this type of crime.  

The Nigerian letter con begins with a communication (originally letters, now email messages) asking for help in transferring a large sum of money out of Nigeria in exchange for a percentage of the money.  In order to participate, the victim is asked to provide bank account details and money to cover associated fees.  

In some instances, the perpetrators utilize fake checks, claiming the checks represent a portion of the money, and asking the victim to wire back the money for fees.  Once they have been paid, the criminals will continue to bombard the victim with requests for more and more money.  Even if the victim eventually stops complying with the demands, the con artists can still use the bank account information supplied initially to empty the victim’s bank accounts.  At its worst, the Nigerian letter scam has led victims to travel to Nigeria, where they are subjected to harassment and intimidation and even physical abuse.  

Since its debut, the scam has expanded to include a variety of countries and scenarios.  It may not always involve Nigeria.  It may be the estate of a dead celebrity or money won in a huge lawsuit, but the basic outline remains the same.  Someone somewhere has a lot of money and they want to give you some of it.  All you need to do is follow these three easy steps…open your wallet, remove cash, and hand it over. 

“The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”


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