Monday, 13 September 2010
CASE 074 - 419 scams
An advance-fee fraud is a confidence trick in which the target is persuaded to advance sums of money in the hope of realizing a significantly larger gain. Among the variations on this type of scam, are the Nigerian Letter (also called the 419 fraud, Nigerian scam, Nigerian bank scam, or Nigerian money offer, the Spanish Prisoner, the black money scam as well as Russian/Ukrainian scam (also widespread, though far less popular than the former). The so-called Russian and Nigerian scams stand for wholly dissimilar organised-crime traditions; they therefore tend to use altogether different breeds of approaches.
Although similar to older scams such as the Spanish Prisoner, the modern 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 e-mail and easy access to e-mail-harvesting software significantly lowered the cost of sending scam letters by using the Internet. 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 United Kingdom and Netherlands), 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.
The advance-fee fraud is similar to a much older scam known as the Spanish Prisoner scam in which the trickster tells the victim that a rich prisoner promised to share treasure with the victim in exchange for money to bribe prison guards. An older version of this scam existed by the end of 18th century, and is called "the Letter From Jerusalem" by Eugène François Vidocq, in his memoirs.
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." (Though in fact, Nigeria's total exports are more than $65 billion per year; even by conservative estimates, 419 fraud comes to less than 0.5% of this total.)
Embassies and other organizations warn visitors to various countries about 419. Countries in West Africa with warnings cited include Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Togo, Senegal and Burkina Faso. Countries outside West Africa with 419 warnings cited include South Africa, Spain, and the Netherlands.
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 would result in a large payoff for the victim. The e-mail's subject line often says something like "From the desk of Barrister. [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 con artist, 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 deposited money in the bank just before dying in a plane crash (leaving no will or known next of kin), a US 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, blood diamonds, a series of checks 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 assist the scam character in retrieving the money. Whilst the vast majority of recipients do not respond to these e-mails, 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 promised profits, are said to be required in advance for bribes, fees, etc.—this is the money being stolen from the victim, who thinks he or she is investing to make a huge profit.
419 eater-loads of info and cases