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Money Matters

Beware the Nigerian bank scam

Dear sir,
I wish to go into business with you. I got your name and contact information from the Ivorian Chamber of Commerce. I am the only child of a wealthy cocoa merchant who was poisoned to death by his business associates. Before he died, my father told me he had the sum of $16.5 million left in an expense account. I would like you to provide me with a bank account where this money can be transferred and for you to serve as guardian since I am only 19 years old. I am willing to offer you 15 percent of the total sum for your cooperation.
Ley Momadou

Dear Ley,
You poor kid! Of course I'll be glad to lend a hand! My bank account number is ...

Sorry Ley, but I can't help you out. The reason is yours is a scam, pure and simple -- one that Bankrate readers should know inside and out.

The Internet has breathed new life into this venerable con, which is so well known it has several names -- the Nigerian bank scam, the advance-fee fraud and "419" after the section of the Nigerian penal law that its perpetrators break. The ease of sending e-mail has made it an increasingly popular ruse.

It can come in a variety of guises. In some cases, like our pal Ley here, someone will get an e-mail or snail mail asking for help with a huge pile of money. Usually, some sort of foul play is involved (murder and mysterious plane crashes are apparently popular among these folks). The correspondent generally lives in an African country and desperately needs an American bank account in which to safely place the cash. Other variations include government overpayment of a business contract, solicitations for religious groups or investors looking to back a company.

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Things go sour quickly after that. Some scams ask for upfront fees to help cover the cost of transferring the money (this gig is known as advance-fee fraud). Others simply want a bank account number in an attempt to gain access to your funds. Still others ask for a Social Security number for so-called processing purposes. No matter the bait, all such scams dangle the potential for huge profits with a minimum of effort -- money that you never see.

It's essential that you keep an eye peeled for common red flags surrounding these scams. Requests to send money, bank drafts, bank account numbers or personal information are always warning signs. The letters typically emphasize confidentiality and an urgency to seal the supposed deal as quickly as possible.

It's such a common scam that the U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory for Nigeria, warning people not to go there in pursuit of illusory riches.

If, by chance, you receive one of these letters, do not respond in any way, as any contact puts you at risk of being scammed. If you get an e-mail, forward it to the Financial Crimes Division of the U.S. Secret Service. If it's a letter on paper, fax a copy of the letter to (202) 406-5031. If you've already been taken for money, contact a local Secret Service office immediately.

Oh, and by the way, Ley, sorry about your poor Dad. But at least he didn't live to see his only "son" stooping to this sort of pathetic chicanery.

-- Posted: Aug. 6, 2002

More Money Matters columns
See Also
Nigerian money-offer scam still circulating
Financial advice glossary
More Money Matters stories

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