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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Nigerians Are Back (No Wait, That's The Swallows)

I taught a personal finance class a couple of years back. One of my students' favorite recurring features was the "Scam of the Week". This section would cover as many ripoffs I could find - from the Irish Travelers to Driveway Paving Scams.

However, I always had a soft spot for "Nigerian" scam letters. JLP at All Things Financial just got one in his email inbox:

I am contacting you to partner with me in respect of transfer of certain funds, which is being held in a floating account in my organization, Fountain Securities , in Madrid Spain. I am privileged to have full knowledge of the availability of this fund due to my function and position in the organization at present. I have to contact you because it is imperative for me have the cooperation of a foreigner to be able to transfer the fund out of my country.

This fund, was deposited by Mr. George Martins, who died in 1994 without leaving any information of any next of kin to inherit the fund. The account therefore has not been operated since his death.

The total amount involved is Fifteen Million American Dollars. My name is ####### ######. I would give the details of the transfer process if I receive your response and am convinced that you are willing and dependable to carry out the transaction with me in absolute confidentiality. We have to establish mutual trust such that it will be glaring to both parties that we could work with open mind. On transfer of the fund into your account, your share would be 35% of the total sum while the rest part would be for me and I intend to invest the major part of my share in your country with your assistance.

I would appreciate if you could respond to me on my more private mail: #########@k.ro. Kindly state your telephone number so that I could call you.
This is an example of what's often called an "Advance Fee Fraud" or "419" scam. The practice of referring to these types of scams as "419s" comes from the fact that the overwhelming majority of them seem to come from Nigeria (the "419" refers to the Nigerian Penal code section dealing with these scams).

We used to keep a pool in one of my old offices as to who would get the first 419 email each year or semester. Hence the title of this post - the Nigerian scam letters return to my inbox each year just like the swallows return to Capistrano.

For more information on 419 scams, the Secret Service has an advisory alert here

For a much more creative (and humorous) approach, check out the gang at www.419eater.com. These folks do their best to "Scam the Scammers" - they figure that the more time they can make scammers waste on them, the less time the scammers have to spend on other people. Check out their "scam baiting hints and tips" page.

For my all-time favorite scambaiter story, "The Order of the Red Breast", click here (scroll down to the section titled "war paint"). I don't know if it's for real or not, but it's a pretty funny story regardless.

Update: here's a timely article from Yahoo! news: Nigeria jails woman in $242 million email fraud case (hat tip to Powerline for the link)

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