The Nigerian Advance Fee scam has been exploding around the country for some years. Prof. Cotton has gotten two or three in one week! These little gems formerly circulated by postal mail, arriving in your mailbox in official-looking envelopes. Now the originators use e-mail - faster and cheaper.
All of the scam e-mails reproduced here are real, although conversion into HTML makes them look a bit different from the original form. These were received in 2004 and 2007; you can compare and see that they really don't change. Same type of story each time. Prof. Cotton has a LARGE collection of such scam e-mails!
Would you be tempted to bite??
Would you be tempted by any of these multi-million dollar windfalls?? We hope not! These are all examples of a wicked advance-fee scam that has been operating since the early 1980's (according to the 419 Coalition site). Be sure to read the 419 Coalition site (link in list below) and understand it.
Prof. Cotton talked to an agent at the local Secret Service office and got some current information. These advance-fee scams produce the largest dollar losses of any scam tracked by the Internet Fraud and Complaint Center. The median loss is $3,400 (half of losses are lower than this and half are higher). The really stunning thing was just how high the losses can get. Losses of $75,000 to these scams are not unusual. There is actually someone in Dallas who lost $1,600,000 to one! That's really hard to believe, but the agent assured me that is it real. Such losses are produced by endless greed sitting on a foundation of unrelenting stupidity. These losses are beyond our ability to imagine.
So who is getting scammed?? Uneducated dunces? Nope. The agent said that it is doctors, dentists, lawyers, real-estate brokers and other professionals. You might think that these people would know better. Obviously not...
The agent said that people have mortgaged their homes, borrowed against life insurance, used their inheritances, borrowed money, and so on to get money to pay the advance fees. The promised millions do not exist, but the con is so good that the marks pay and pay and pay, until they either give up or run out of money. A large number of people have been financially devastated by these scams. It's scary. One woman in a north central state essentially cleaned out her employer's (a law firm) bank account, sending over one million dollars to one of these scammers! The lawyers didn't find out until their checks bounced. The unfortunate (and gullible) woman was convicted of embezzlement.
Is there any chance of getting lost money back?? The answer is - for all practical purposes - NO. Any recovery is rare, small, and occurs only in special cases.
These scams are now so numerous and widespread that the Secret Service has stopped keeping statistics on them. Prosecution of the scammers is essentially impossible as they are not in the U.S. Nigerian police are only marginally helpful.
There is only one defense - the Delete button in your e-mail program. NEVER respond to one of these things. There is no secret agent, white knight or angel that will protect you if you do fall for one of the scams.
The scam is well -known in Nigeria. A music video called "I Chop Your Dollar" appeared in 2006. It musically celebrates the swindling of greedy Americans by clever Nigerians.
2007 update: the wave of Nigerian scam e-mails seems to have abated. Long times now pass with none coming in.