What are ‘419’ scams?

A ‘419’ scam is a form of upfront payment or money transfer scam. They are called 419 scams because the first wave of them came from Nigeria, but they can come from anywhere in the world. The ‘4-1-9’ part of the name comes from the section of Nigeria’s Criminal Code which outlaws the practice. These scams are also known to be called the Advance Fee Scam. The reason being invariably, the victim is requested to make a payment in advance in order to process the release of the funds from the foreign country/bank.

The scammers usually contact you by email or letter and offer you a share in a large sum of money that they want to transfer out of their country. They may tell you about money trapped in central banks during civil wars or coups, often in countries currently in the news. Or they may tell you about massive inheritances that are difficult to access because of government restrictions or taxes in the scammer’s country.

Scammers ask you to pay money or give them your bank account details to help them transfer the money. You are then asked 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 will make up new fees that require payment before you can receive your supposed ‘reward’. They will keep making up these excuses until they think they have got all the money they can get out of you. You will never receive the money that was promised.

Banks all over the world are targeted not only by phishers, but 419 scammers have also spotted the potential for drawing in victims using the name and details of well-known banks. The scam usually involves an account that has become dormant, due to its (non-existent) owner having died. The “scammers “mission, should they accept it, is to pretend to be a relative of the account holder and claim the money;

Warning signs

  • You receive an offer out of the blue to ‘help’ someone from a foreign country to transfer money out of their country.
  • The offer sets out a long and often sad story about why the money cannot be transferred by the scammer. This usually involves an inheritance or profits from natural resources that the scammer might say they are trying to protect from taxes or a corrupt government.
  • You are offered a percentage of the total amount transferred in return for your assistance. The amount of money to be transferred, and the payment that the scammer promises to you if you help, is usually very large.
  • The email or letter is in a very polite tone, but often in broken English.

How to protect yourself from 419 scams

  • If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Remember there is no get-rich-quick schemes, the only people who make money are the scammers.
  • Do not let anyone pressurize you into making decisions about money or investments, always get independent financial and/or legal advice.
  • Do not open suspicious or unsolicited email (spam): delete them.
  • Never reply to a spam email (even to unsubscribe).
  • Never send your personal, credit card or online account details through an email.
  • Money laundering is a criminal offence: do not agree to transfer money for someone else. Don’t let the fact that a letter sounds enticing or genuine trick you.