What is the 419 Scam?
The 419 advance fee scam is a particular type of Advance Fee Fraud that emanates from Nigeria. Fraudsters typically target individuals via email, telephone or social media asking for an advanced payment in return for huge financial rewards.
The 419 scam is so prevalent in Nigeria that the fraudsters who carry out such crimes are locally referred to as ‘Yahoo boys’.
Often, with this type of scam, the price paid by victims is much greater than financial loss. A man from Cambridgeshire committed suicide by lighting himself on fire when he realised the $1.2 million “internet lottery” he had won was, in fact, a scam. In 2007, a Chinese student at the University of Nottingham committed suicide after she discovered she had fallen for a lottery scam [BBC News].
Why do they call it 419?
The ‘419’ refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code which deals with fraud and makes this type of fraud illegal. Although this scam originated in Nigeria, it is carried out by scammers in many different countries including Ghana, Senegal, Malaysia, Russia and the USA.
Likewise, individuals are targeted in different countries. The UK and USA are amongst the countries with a high incidence of this scam. The internet has, no doubt, allowed such frauds to grow in number and reach further afield.
How does the 419 scam work?
- Scammers contact potential victims
Scammers often use mass emails promising potential victims huge riches. Alternatively, scammers may use fake, but plausible, accounts on social networks to make contact with potential victims.
- The victim is sold a story
The victim is told a story which varies wildly from case to case. However, the common theme is that the fraudster pretends to be an official of some kind who needs to transfer a large sum out of Nigeria for whatever reason and the victim will be paid a percentage for assisting them in that task. Often false and plausible documents are sent which persuade the victim to participate.
- Scammers gauge the victim’s gullibility
The fraudsters will often use ‘tests’ to gauge the victim’s gullibility, by asking them for their bank details for example. The bank account won’t necessarily be drained of resources immediately by the scammer, but may well be drained later by the person that the scammer has sold those details on to.
The elderly are particularly susceptible to such frauds, given they are generally far more trusting than the younger generation and the scammers sometimes use letters in the post as well as the internet.
- The advance fee is requested
Once the victim’s trust has been gained, there will be an obstacle to prevent the transfer of some kind, which requires the victim to make a payment of an admin fee, transfer cost, or something similar.
Sometimes the scammer will say that the victim needs to deposit a minimum sum to be able to participate and profit from the scheme. The transfer will often be a wire transfer, which is untraceable and irreversible.
- The scammer ceases contact
The scammer may get in contact numerous times, asking for more and more money until they eventually cease contact. In many cases, the scammer will then use the victim’s bank details to drain their account.
Who started 419 in Nigeria?
No one knows for certain who started the 419 scam in Nigeria, however the prevalence of the scam rose in the 1990s. Some believe the scam began in the 1970s, some point the origin of the scam to a ‘Professor’ Crentsil in the 1920s, and some even believe an early version of this scam was used by 17th century prisoners in Europe.
Signs of a 419 Advance Fee Scam
- Unsolicited contact from someone claiming to be a foreign dignitary or executive.
- A promise of a multimillion-dollar fortune in exchange for a cash transfer.
- A sad story about why they can’t transfer the funds themselves to manipulate the victim into helping.
- They claim a bank or government organisation requires transfer or admin fees before the money can be transferred to the victim.
How Can St Pauls Chambers Help?
If your client is under investigation for committing a 419 advance fee scam, or another form of advance fee fraud or online scam, our expert fraud barristers can help. Please get in touch with our team today.
For more insight into the different types of advance fee scam, please read our dedicated article.