An advance fee scam involves promising a person a significant share of a large sum of money or goods in return for a small up-front payment, which the fraudster requires in order to obtain the large sum or goods. If a victim makes the payment, the fraudster either invents a series of further fees for the victim or simply disappears.
This type of scam is sometimes described as “419” as it stems from the violation of Section 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code. The scam combines the threat of impersonation and fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter, email, or fax is received by the potential victim.
How this scam works
The scammer will contact you out of the blue by email, letter, text message or through social media.
The scammer will tell you an elaborate story about large amounts of their money trapped in banks during events such as 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 will then offer you a large sum of money to help them transfer their personal fortune out of the country.
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.
You will never be sent the money that was promised.
Common types of advance fee scams are:
The scammer gives an elaborate story of contracts being awarded by the Government through the NNPC or other government institutions. These scams usually run into millions of dollars with supporting documents which appear genuine.
The scammer needs your assistance to get money out of a bank account located in another country. The scammers often spin you some sob sorry about needing assistance or that the rightful owner of the money has died and the money will be confiscated by government unless you act.
The scammer claims you have won money in an overseas lottery. Often they use the name and logos of legitimate lotteries like El Gordo or UK National Lottery. But they also make up competitions using the names of legitimate companies like Yahoo or Shell. The letter or email often starts with “congratulations” and a request for personal information, including drivers license and bank account details, so they can confirm your identity and where to send your winnings. Be aware that this information can also be used for identity fraud to fool others.
A government official or a representative of an investment company or a legal firm needs assistance to invest their or their client’s money offshore. The emails can be a few short paragraphs giving scant details and asking you to contact them. More often the emails detail some intrigue about how the money was gained, why it needs to be shifted offshore, and why the transaction needs to be kept under wraps.
Scammers trawl internet dating sites, chat rooms and other profile sites looking for lonely hearts. They may request money for dowries, visas or to help sick family members.
- 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).
- Authenticate every contract document by conducting a due diiligence and proper verification through NNPC offices in Nigeria and in London.
- The request includes a long and often sad story about why the money cannot be transferred by the owner. This typically involves some type of conflict or inheritance and they may want to move the money straight into your account.
- You are offered a financial reward, such as a share in the amount, 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.
- They will claim that a bank, lawyer, government agency or other organisation requires some fees to be paid before the money can be moved. The scammer will often ask you to make payments for the fee via a money transfer service.
- Never send money or give credit card details, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust.
- Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, electronic currency, or a virtual currency like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
- Do not agree to transfer money for someone else. Money laundering is a criminal offence.
- Seek independent advice from someone you know and trust if in doubt.
- If someone is claiming to be from a particular organization 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, contact details 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.
Have you been scammed?
If you think you have provided your account details, passport, tax file number, license, Medicare or other personal identification details to a scammer, contact your bank, financial institution, or other relevant agencies immediately.
We encourage you to report scams to us via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.
We also provide guidance on protecting yourself from scams and where to get help.
Spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.