The vast majority of people who connect to the internet will probably have received an email or two asking for some kind of help. The request of assistance comes with the promise of great riches as a reward for doing something very simple -- To allow a vast fortune to be transported to your door, or into your bank account, and get a cut for your trouble.
Cool! Sounds easy does it not?
What about the desperate plea from a dying person wishing for you to give his/her fortune to a charity of your choice? You get a cut, naturally. Or how about the mysterious banker who wants your banking particulars and a scan of your passport so you can take legal ownership of vast funds?
Some people have never seen or heard of such things, and those are the lucky ones; but many of those who have, scoff with phrases like: "How stupid do they think we are?" or "Nobody would be stupid enough to fall for this rubbish!" Unfortunately, these sayings deny the real truth, the real hurt and the real pain of those caught out by this most evil of frauds.
WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?
In A Nutshell, it is a fraudulent act, a deception, a confidence trick, a scam. Whatever word or words are used to describe the act, it is sometimes not easy for some to spot it. The stories that the perpetrators use are written with the express intention of preying on those that cannot see the true nature of it. They would have you believe in the story to the point where you will give your money away, with the belief that soon you would be rich.
However, the fortune never seems to get to where it is supposed to get to, and then you are asked to pay for documents, a lawyer, taxation, storeage fees, bank fees, transfer fees... the list goes on until you have nothing left to give.
Here is a typical story, seen here on the UK's BBC news website:-
Woman loses life savings in scam - Tuesday, 26 April, 2005 [link]
DOES IT HAVE ANOTHER NAME?
Indeed it does, in fact it has a few names each deried from the same thing. The Nigerian Scam is probably the most popular or 419 Fraud. You may also see the abbreviation AFF (Advance Fee Fraud) being used.
The '419' numeric comes from the Penal Code of Nigeria, which is used to describe this particular crime. The term '419' has been adopted by many organizations, groups and individuals to seperate this type of fraud from the many others that haunt the virtual corridors of the internet.
WHO ARE THE PERPETRATORS?
Internet based Advance Fee Fraud is renowned for being perpetrated primarily by Nigerian nationals. It is very true that most are indeed of Nigerian origin, but not all. Sadly, because of deep-seated corruption that has prevailed in Nigeria and other African nations, the entire country has been very severly tarnished by 419 Fraud.
Nigerian's war against corruption - Monday, 28 March, 2005 [link]
IT MUST BE NEW, I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF IT!
Lot's of people think it is new when they first come across it, but this is far from the truth.
The fraud itself has been around for many years. Some people reading this may have seen letters sent by fax some years back, and prior to that the letters were sent in the postal mail. It should be pointed out that although not as popular as email, fax and postal mail 419 letters do still get used.
One can see that this fraud actually predates the internet, predates personal computers and even predates the fax machine. More surprising is the fact that this fraud actually predates most of our modern history!
The origins of the fraud are said to date back to the 16th century (yes, over 400 years ago), to a fraud known as "The Spanish Prisoner". The story goes that the con-artist asks a victim for assistance in the rescue of a rich prisoner. The promised prize is showers of riches from the supposed prisoner. Fees are demanded to fund the rescue, but all attempts fail. It goes without saying that the prisoner never existed, but the victim believes the story, and is ruined financially.
WHAT TECHNOLOGY IS USED BY THESE CON-MEN?
The advent of the internet has made light work of being able to communicate with vast numbers of people, and email spam is one tool used very effectively. We also see the scams being perpetrated via many of the modern communications systems, such as Instant Messaging, Internet Relay Chat, Voice Over IP. Not only that, but auction and selling sites are targets for the same scammers in a related fraud using fake/fraudulent cheques and credit cards. Dating and Romance websites are hugely attractive for 419 frauds too, as well as other more unsvory versions that involve blackmail and bribery.
THEY ARE NOT EARNING GOOD MONEY ARE THEY?
Yes they are. Advance Fee Fraud earns the scammers huge sums of cash each year. Vast quatities of money end up in the pockets of unknown nationals all over Africa and beyond. In the developed world most of the Law Enforcement agencies are powerless to stop this type of fraud, or even combat it. International boundaries and huge costs involved in running investigations stop any notion of your $200 being recovered.
Some agencies are slowly coming around to the notion that 419 Frauds cost tax payers some serious hard cash, so are beginning to educate via TV and Newspaper media. It is a long road and there are too few agents on the ground to do the job any real justice.
ARE THEY DANGEROUS?
Like any other type of criminal, the 419 fraudster is more than capable of doing someone physical harm, in addition to mental anguish due to loss of money. The vast majority of these criminals will run a mile if confronted, but the minority are capable of much greater crimes than theft. If a victim is lured into the territory of a criminal, the risks of great harm are huge. People can be attacked at airports and mugged. They could be beaten, or more likely they are kidnapped and held to ransom.
The extreme end of this horrid road is murder.
HOW DO WE FIGHT BACK?
Knowledge is power, and word of mouth is more powerful and more persuasive than any tool or device known to humankind. Being here reading this article may help you recognize a scam that you are in, or may help you recognize one that comes to your attention. However, by telling your family, your friends and your neigbours, you will help others to recognize a scam too. THAT is how we fight, and in the end only knowledge and education will beat back the scammers.
You can also become an activist and get involved more directly with the anti-419 movement. How about knocking down fraudulent websites by joining Escrow-Fraud [link] or Artists Against 419 [link].
THEY SAY THEY ARE POOR AND STARVING!
Of course they do, it is part of the con. They play on the heart strings of good people and rob them blind. The 419 fraudster sits in an internet cafe plying their trade. If they are starving and so poor, how could they justify sending millions of emails around the globe to communicate at length with potential marks?
Believing that the 419 fraudster is poor, starving and helpless is just as ludicrous as believing in Father Christmas.
This has been a very brief look at "Advance Fee Fraud" and some of what makes it tick. It is hoped that the reader has gained just a little knowledge from this eye-opener. Remember though... if an offer seems too good to be true, then it is!
Be careful out there!
References and Further Reading
- BBC News >> Woman loses life savings in scam [link]
- Nigeria Law >> Criminal Code Act-Part VI to end [link]
- BBC News >> Nigerian's war against corruption [link]
- Snopes >> Urban Legends - Nigerian or 419 Scam [link]
- Wikipedia >> Spanish Prisoner [link]
- Wikipedia >> Nigeria 419 Spam [link]
- Escrow-Fraud >> (Fake Website Reporting) [link]
- Artists Against 419 >> (Fake Website Reporting) [link]