Saturday, March 7, 2009
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Nigerian 419 scam originated in the early 1980s as the oil-based Nigerian economy declined. Several unemployed university students first used this scam as a means of manipulating business visitors interested in shady deals in the Nigerian oil sector before targeting businessmen in the west, and later the wider population. Scammers in the early-to-mid 1990s targeted companies, sending scam messages via letter, fax, or Telex. The spread of email and easy access to email-harvesting software made the cost of sending scam letters through the Internet low. In the 2000s, the 419 scam has spurred imitations from other locations in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, and, more recently, from North America, Western Europe (mainly UK), and Australia.
The number "419" refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code (part of Chapter 38: "Obtaining Property by false pretences; Cheating") dealing with fraud. The American Dialect Society has traced the term "419 fraud" back to 1992.
This scam usually begins with a letter or e-mail purportedly sent to a selected recipient but actually sent to many making an offer that will ultimately result in a large payoff for the intended victim.
The email's subject line often says something like "From the desk of Mr. [Name]", "Your assistance is needed", and so on. The details vary, but the usual story is that a person, often a government or bank employee, knows of a large amount of unclaimed money or gold which he cannot access directly, usually because he has no right to it. Such people, who may be real but impersonated people or fictitious characters played by the scammer, could include the wife or son of a deposed African or Indonesian leader or dictator who has amassed a stolen fortune, or a bank employee who knows of a terminally ill wealthy person with no relatives or a wealthy foreigner who had deposited money in the bank just before dying in a plane crash (leaving no will or known next of kin), a U.S. soldier who has stumbled upon a hidden cache of gold in Iraq, a business being audited by the government, a disgruntled worker or corrupt government official who has embezzled funds, a refugee, and similar characters.
The money could be in the form of gold bullion, gold dust, money in a bank account, so-called "blood diamonds", a series of cheques or bank drafts, and so forth. The sums involved are usually in the millions of dollars, and the investor is promised a large share, typically ten to forty percent, if they will assist the scam character in retrieving the money.
Whilst the vast majority of recipients do not respond to these emails, a very small percentage do, enough to make the fraud worthwhile as many millions of messages can be sent. Invariably sums of money which are substantial, but very much smaller than the potential profits, are said to be required in advance for bribes, fees, etc.—this is the money being stolen from the victim, who thinks he is investing to make a huge profit.
Insa Nolte, a lecturer of University of Birmingham's African Studies Department, stated that "The availability of e-mail helped to transform a local form of fraud into one of Nigeria's most important export industries."