Nigeria: September 29, 2001


The Nigerian Scams- Just about everyone in business has received a letter or Email from someone in Nigeria offering millions of dollars for nothing. Nigeria is awash in corruption, and millions of such letters (and untold Emails) are sent out every year looking for a few people who will bite. US Postal authorities and the Secret Service intercept and destroy about two million such letters every year. Nigeria is considered the most corrupt nation on the planet, and this corruption has much to do with the economic and political problems that beset the most populous nation in Africa.

There are more kinds of scams than can be counted, but most follow a set pattern. Someone in Nigeria has a bunch of money they need to sneak out of the country, and if you will just tell them which bank account to send it to, they will wire it over and you can keep a share of it when you give them the rest. Those with money to move include relatives of ousted government leaders, corrupt officials, oil brokers who have accidentally accumulated surplus profits, people who just got a kickback from a Soviet arms deal 20 years ago, and any number of similar stories. If you're smart, you simply throw the letter away. They send out millions and won't bother to track down those who don't respond. Since dozens of scam groups operate from the same mailing lists, you will get another offer within a few months anyway. If you give them a bank account number, they will immediately check to see how much money you have in it. If you don't have a bunch of money, you probably won't hear from them again as you have nothing for them to steal. If your account does have serious money, they will follow up with a letter stating that you must pay fees, taxes, or bribes to get the millions. They know your account balance and will ask for a goodly share of what you have. If you don't pay up, they may try to draft your account, telling you (when you ask) that they were sure they had your ok and that you shouldn't mind since millions are en route. If you do pay up, you'll get letters asking for more and more fees until you figure out you've been had and stop. They'll try to keep you going with payment guarantees, notifications that cashier's checks have been issued, documents approving the transfer of the money, and so forth. For increased credibility, you may hear from an international clearing house which is holding your millions in escrow until you pay your fees. And by the way, they will want to do all of their communication by phone and fax to Nigerian numbers which charge you $50, which you won't mind as you're getting millions. After you stop paying, you'll wait a few months and then hear from the police, an investigative committee, or a government panel. It seems they have arrested a group of criminals in their country, the very group that bilked you out of your money. They have recovered your funds and will be happy to send them to you (with interest) just as soon as you pay legal fees and transfer taxes. Another variation is that the scammer shows up with trunk loads of US currency, all of it died black by Nigerian banks because it was held in reserve accounts. For a few tens of thousands of dollars, they will obtain the secret chemicals needed to turn the black paper into clean currency. Another variation is a letter threatening your life if you don't pay the final fees to get your millions, since they want their share. 

There are any number of other scams. In one variation, the usual surplus profits will be donated to your charity; the letter asking for fees will come in reply to your agreement to accept the funds. In another variation, the scammers have a large export order for a foreign customer but need to run it through your company books. They may flatter you by praising your expertise and asking for your advice on some fairly obvious matter. Of course, there are no products and no end user, just your money. Some Nigerian companies will order a few thousand dollars worth of your product with valid checks, then suddenly send you a huge emergency order with a fraudulent cashier's check. They will want the products shipped right away, before the check has time to clear. Any number of pieces of Nigerian-owed real estate are for sale by people who do not own them. Most dangerous is an invitation to come to Nigeria to take advantage of a business deal; you will find it necessary to pay huge fees to get back out of the country. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Don't think for a minute that a deal too preposterous to be a scam isn't a scam; it is.


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