Nigerian 419 email scams live on

I saw this one just today. It’s a doozy:

From: The Desk Of Mr. James Dike
Reference: GTBank Plc.
Address: 402, Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, Abule-Egba, Lagos State, Nigeria.

Attention: $10.5M ATM Fund Beneficiary,

I am Mr. James Dike, the new appointed ATM Head of Operation Department Guaranty Trust Bank Nigeria PLC, I resumed to this office on the 1st of this month and For your information i have been empowered and instructed by the new elected President Federal Republic of Nigeria Gen. Muhammadu Buhari to pay all outstanding debt payment to the rightful beneficiaries and summit my payment report to his office with immediate effect and any payment that is not paid before the end of this month will be cancelled and the fund will be returned to the Federal Reserve Oil Account.

So, during my official research last week I discovered an abandoned ATM Master card valued sum of $10.5Million with card number 5321452123409380 belonging to you as the rightfully intimate beneficiary. I tried to know why this card have not been released to you but I was told that the formal ATM head of operation who left this office two months ago withhold your card for his own personal use without knowing that I will not approve or support him to take your card.

Now that your ATM Master card is still available for you to pick it up here in our bank. I want to know how you wish to receive your ATM card along with your four digits pin code number. You can come down here in our bank to pick up your card direct from my office or alternatively it can be send to your address through any registered reliable courier service company that you will take care of the courier charge. I don’t know the cost of shipping the card to you but if you permit me I can make an inquiry from the courier shipment company to find out the cost, but in that case you will be required to forward to me your shipment address to enable me find out the shipment cost to your location.

Your direct telephone number and address will be needed and more details of your ATM Master card payment will be made known to you as soon as I receive your swift positive response, to enable you know the amount programmed for your ATM Master Card daily withdrawal.I will send your ATM master card information including your Card Pin Code as soon as you declare your choice of receiving your ATM card so as to enable you receive your card and start making use of it to withdraw at any ATM card machine all over the world as programmed.

Do not hesitate to call me on +234 802-850-0459 as soon as you read this mail.

Thanks for your co-operation.

Yours Faithfully,
Mr. James Dike
ATM Head of Operation Department
Guaranty Trust Bank Nigeria Plc.
Tel: +234 802-850-0459.

A lot of us have become jaded when it comes to the old Nigerian 419 scam. Even though this one takes a different angle and doesn’t mention an exiled prince, for many of us, it’s easy to see through. We probably wouldn’t even read it…”$10.5M” in the subject line would be enough to trigger our “delete” reflex.

But somebody still falls for it. If they didn’t, these emails wouldn’t happen anymore. So while you may have become almost flippant about the Nigerian 419 scam, remember that there are still people who haven’t heard about it yet. If someone you know starts talking about an impending payout from a mysterious source, or mentions their plans to wire money overseas, it might be time to educate him or her.

“Does this fit with the way the world works?”

I saw a video the other day that featured Michael Shermer, editor-in-chief of  Skeptic magazine, talking about questions you can use to evaluate claims when it comes to science vs. pseudo-science. With a nod to physicist Carl Sagan, he referred to the method as a “Baloney Detection Kit.”

The fourth question in the Kit was:

Does this fit with the way the world works?

In other words, does the claim being made jibe with how reality tends to operate across a variety of situations?

What an excellent question to keep in mind when it comes to avoiding scams.

As I perused my Google Alerts for the latest news items about different types of fraud, I found that a lot of them could be avoided by simply asking that very question before acting. Here are some examples:

From Connecticut: Scam Targets Payday Loan Borrowers

In this scheme, a caller claims to be collecting on a delinquent loan, and tells the victim they will be arrested unless they make a payment over the phone right away. Is this how the world works?

Not even close. First, lenders don’t have the authority to decide if you’ll be arrested or not. The police in the U.S. are not employed by private financial institutions. Sure, if you commit loan fraud, they can contact authorities, but being delinquent doesn’t usually fall under that umbrella. Debtors prisons went out quite a while ago in this country. Second, whatever the circumstance, they don’t call you and tell you about an impending arrest in advance. You generally only get to know about it two seconds before it happens.

From Arizona: New Scam Claims that President Obama will pay Consumers Utility Bills

So the President’s gonna pay your light bill for you, huh?

Just like Reagan and Nixon and Kennedy all did, huh?

And he’ll be over tonight at six for dinner, with a marble rye and Trivial Pursuit, right?

Folks, this is not how the world operates. Presidents don’t pay your utility bills. In most cases, that one’s all on you. Don’t fall for it. They want you to surrender information so they can commit identity theft.

From Everywhere: The Exiled Nigerian Prince Scam

I won’t go into details about these scams, since most of you probably already know about them (here’s an old article if you don’t), but suffice it to say they fail the “is this how the world operates?” question with flying colors. Rich people don’t just give massive amounts of money away to random strangers. It would be nice if they did, but wishing something were true doesn’t usually do much to change the facts.

From Everywhere Again: Secret Shopper Scams

Offers for jobs that pay lots of money for minute amounts of unskilled work don’t appear out of nowhere in your email inbox. People who make $150 for an hour’s worth of work have advanced knowledge, skills or education to make their time that valuable. Cashing a check then wiring the money to someone doesn’t meet those requirements. Also, finding a job usually requires you to take the initiative first.

From South Carolina: Charleston police warn elderly against ‘found money’ scam

I suppose it’s possible that someone could find a wallet or briefcase that contained a large sum of cash. It still seems more like something that would happen in a movie than real life, but wallets exist, cash exists, and people who lose things exist. There’s no physical barrier to someone finding a vessel of some sort, bursting at the seams with cabbage.

However, upon finding such an object, there is generally a binary, either-or course of action that will follow, depending on the person who found it:

Honest Person: they’ll call the police and turn it in.
Dishonest Person: they’ll keep it all and run away.

There’s really not a whole lot of variation here. That’s just how the world works.

What won’t happen is that an honest person will find the cash, then offer to split it with a random stranger. Their concern will be for the owner of the money, or for helping solve a crime (because, let’s face it, big wads of discarded money have a distinctly criminal aroma about them).

What also won’t happen is that a dishonest person will find cash, then offer to split it with a random stranger. Their concern will be for their own gains and their own gains only.

Neither of those fit with how the world works, so if anyone in a parking lot ever tells you they found a big stash of money, don’t believe a word they say. That cash is a decoy, and they’re trying to get you to part with a chunk of “good faith money.” Politely decline, get a description, go somewhere safe, and rat ’em out. You just might save someone else from becoming a victim.

Retired couple gives away $11 million lottery win, but not to you

This message was waiting in my inbox this morning. It may actually be one of the best examples of social engineering I’ve yet come across:

Dear sir/madam
This is a personal email directed to you. I and my wife won a Jackpot Lottery of $11.3 million in July and have voluntarily decided to donate the sum of $500,000.00 USD to you as part of our own charity project to improve the lot of 10 lucky individuals all over the world. If you have received this email then you are one of the lucky recipients and all you have to do is get back with us so that we can send your details to the payout bank. Please you have to help me in prayer for my wife, You can verify this by visiting the web pages below.*(*
Allen and Violet Large

Here’s what was so brilliant about it: you know how these scam email messages always contain disguised links (e.g., the link says “” but really takes you to some spyware-infested website with a .ru domain)?

The website shown in the message wasn’t disguised at all. Furthermore, it really takes you to an MSNBC article. Further furthermore, there really was an elderly couple from Nova Scotia named Allen and Violet Large, who really won $11 million playing the lottery, and who really did give it all away. I didn’t remove the link from the message quoted above—it’s safe to go ahead and click on it (it’s actually kind of a neat story).

So how do I know it’s not real, and is in fact just another Nigerian 419-style scam?

First off, it arrived via email. To me, it’s already suspicious. Secondly, it’s an email that’s telling me I’m going to get a large amount of cash for doing nothing. At this point, I’m already one thousand percent sure it’s fraudulent.

But let’s really make a case against it, shall we? Read the first paragraph of the MSNBC article (emphasis mine):

An elderly couple who won around $11 million from a lottery ticket in Canada have given the money away to good causes and family, according to media reports.

Have given. Not “are giving.” It’s a done deal, dude; if you’re not a good cause or related to the Larges, and if you haven’t already received money from them, you’re not getting any ’cause there ain’t no more.

Finally, the senders made a rookie mistake: the “from” line didn’t say Allen Large or Violet Large, nor did it contain the “” email address; instead the message appeared to come from a completely different name with a email address (it’s that of a real person, so I won’t give any more details than that).

I don’t know where this scam is coming from, so I can’t say if it’s just a plain old Nigerian 419-style scam or a Nigerian Nigerian 419 scam, but I noticed the signature at the end uses the word “Goodluck” instead of “good luck,” and it only stood out to me because I know that the President of Nigeria is actually named Goodluck Jonathan.

Then again, that could just be a typo; since we already know it’s a scam, we’re really just sort of nitpicking at this point.

Non-electronic scams are still a threat

A lot of the articles I write concern scams and fraud that in some way depend on electronic communications (email or websites) to function. Nigerian 419 scammers have probably saved thousands of dollars on postage since the widespread adoption of email.

However, not all scams occur online.

Just this week, I heard about two separate cases locally. One was an elderly person who let two men who claimed to be from the power company enter his home. They quickly found a large stash of cash in the victim’s bedroom.

There was also the case of a person just out of high school who got a letter in the mail tell him he’d won the lottery. He ended up wiring just under $2,900 to a criminal overseas.

The home entry scam almost always targets elderly victims who live alone. If this sounds like your relative, neighbor or friend, you need to warn them about this type of robbery. Make sure they know never to let anyone in without seeing identification and confirming the visit with the power company (or whoever claims to be visiting). Also, encourage them to keep their money somewhere other than inside their house. I know there’s been a recession lately, but 1929 was a very long time ago, and we have FDIC and NCUA insurance in case of a major meltdown. Perhaps we should ask this most recent victim which turned out to be safer: keeping his money in a financial institution or in his house.

A lottery scam is a lottery scam, and it doesn’t matter if the message is in your inbox or on paper. I think a lot of people know about the email version of the Nigerian 419 scam, but when it shows up on paper, they let their guard down. It’s sort of the opposite of 15 years ago, when everybody immediately trusted everything that showed up in an email.

I wish there was a statistic on email vs. paper Nigerian 419 scam success rates. I’d be willing to bet the paper version actually snags more victims. Just remember that it doesn’t matter what form it takes, it’s always fraud.

Fraud Prevention Templates: Nigeria.

Before I get to today’s fraud prevention rule-of-thumb, I want to make it clear that I am in no way disparaging the people or the culture of Nigeria.

I mean, King Sunny Adé and Ebenezer Obey come from Nigeria, and their music totally owns.

However, it’s also a fact that a certain type of scam originated in Nigeria, and is even named after a section of their criminal code (the illustrious Nigerian 419 Scam). So here’s our rule:

If you get an email or a letter that has anything at all to do with Nigeria and money, it is fraudulent.

This includes phone numbers, websites and email addresses, too; if the message includes a really long phone number that starts with the International Dialing Code “234” or a web/email address ending in “.ng,” it’s a scam.

Of course, since almost all of these scams involve strangers offering you large sums of money, if you’ve already read certain other Fraud Prevention Template articles, you won’t even need to know what country code top-level domain Nigerian URLs have.

Naturally, there are plenty of 419 scams that don’t involve Nigeria at all. This is just one quick litmus test.

Ridiculous Spam Friday VII: The New Blood.

Yes, I’m repurposing titles from the Friday the 13th film franchise for these, in case you were wondering.

First contestant:

From: Laboratorio de Genetica Molecular <>
Date: Tuesday, April 06, 2010 6:06 AM
To: undisclosed-recipients:
Subject: Matter That Needs Your Attention!!!

Good day,

This is a personal email directed to you for your consideration alone, I request that it remain and be treated as such only. Please bear with me for now and do not ask my name. I am a banker with HSBC here in Malaysia

I have an interesting business proposal for you that will be of immense benefit to both of us. Although this may be hard for you to believe, we stand to gain 7.2 million USD between us in a matter of days. Please grant me the benefit of doubt and hear me out. I need you to signify your interest by replying to this email..

Most importantly, I will need you to promise to keep whatever you learn from me between us even if you decide not to go along with me. I will make more details available to you on receipt of a positive response from you.

When I first saw “Laboratorio de Genetica Molecular” I thought it said “Banco del Mutuo Soccorso” and thought, “Cool! I got an email from the best Italian progressive rock band ever (with the possible exception of Goblin)!”

Then I read it again.

Notice the request for secrecy in the last paragraph. That’s a classic ploy; “don’t tell anyone about this, because they might tell you it’s a scam.”

But what I’m really in love with is the line, “Please, bear with me for now and do not ask my name.” What are you, the Man From U.N.C.L.E.? Nothing says “trust me” like “I’m not telling you my name.”

By the way, if this guy is from Malaysia, why is his email address from Brazil (.br)? File this one under “advance fee fraud.”

Second contestant:

From: Apple AppStore <>
Date: Friday, April 09, 2010 4:45 PM
To: [correct address]
Subject: 883.19284 Apple App-Store Confirm Order

Apple Store
Call 1-800-MY-APPLE

Order Status

You can also contact Apple Store Customer Service or visit online for more information.

Visit the Apple Online Store to purchase Apple hardware, software, and third-party accessories.
Copyright 2010 Apple Inc. All rights reserved.

I don’t think it’s actually called the “AppStore,” is it?

The words “Order Status” linked to I’m pretty sure a real email from Apple would like to—oh, I don’t know…maybe APPLE? Once again, that “.br” domain name comes into play. The plot thickens. I’m not 100% sure what the “payload” of this spam is, but I’m guessing it’s a malware site.

Final contestant:

Date: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 6:45 AM
To: none

Dear Western Union Customer,

You have been awarded with the sum of $50,000 USD by our office, as one of our customers who use Western Union in their daily business transaction.

This award has been selected through the internet, where your e-mail address indicated and notified. Please provide MR.stephen pagerwith the following listed below so that your fund will be remited to you

through Western Union.

1. Name:______
2. Address________
3. Country:_______
4. Phone Number____
5. Occupation:________
6. Sex:_________________
7. Age___________________

Tel: +234 8021-468-331

As soon as these details are received and verified, your fund will be transferred to you. Thank you, for using western union.

Le sigh. Really?

What I absolutely love about this message is the lines after “Name” and the other information. Like you’re going to print this out and fill in the blanks in pen and then…well, I’m not sure. Phone it in? Email a piece of paper?

Let’s get this straight: Western Union does not just give money to random people, whether they use the service regularly or not. I have never used Western Union at all, nor have I used “WESTER UNION,” whatever that is.

Also, I’m pretty sure Western Union isn’t based in China (.cn), and I bet you can’t guess what country that phone number is from.

It’s Nigeria.

That makes this message the setup for a Nigerian 419 scam.

Fraud Prevention Templates: lottery scams and advance fee fraud.

It seems like there are a million different types of scams and fraud out there, but in reality many of these examples employ similar mechanisms to one another. In effect, there is little difference between a Canadian Lottery scam and a Nigerian 419 Scam.

This means that, instead of filling your head with every single detail of every new variant, there are a few basic rules that can help you steer clear of many common dangers.

Since I already brought up lottery scams, we’ll use that for today’s template:

If you receive an email (or a letter) from a stranger that promises you a large sum of money, you are looking at an attempted scam.

Simple, eh?

I have yet to hear of a case when this wasn’t true.

Now, sometimes when people want to believe something, they’ll resist any attempts to dissuade, so I feel like some further explanation is necessary.

Let’s look at the word “stranger.” I don’t care if they’ve given their name, contact information and title in the body of that message, if it’s not someone you’ve met before, that is a stranger. It is important to not take this kind of information at face value. Want to know why?

I am the former King of Nigeria. I am also a Canadian Lottery official.

See what I did there? Despite the fact that I have never been a king of any nation or a Canadian anything, I was still able to type those words. Anyone can claim to be anything when they’re contacting you out of the blue. It doesn’t matter if it uses real names, or if it’s written on official-looking paper; there is no physical barrier to claiming to be someone you are not.

This is a pretty goofy point to have to make, but if you’ve got a friend or relative who seems bound and determined to fall for one of these scams, you might have to get into this basic area with them.

The beauty of this template is that you don’t even have to know the details of every form of lottery scam or advance fee fraud to stay safe. If it’s a stranger offering you money, it’s a scam. Think of these scenarios:

  1. You get a letter that says you’ve won the Canadian Lottery.
  2. You get an email from a Nigerian prince, currently living in exile. He wants you to help him hide money, and will give you a large sum if you assist.
  3. You get an email from a solider who claims to have found a large stash of money in Iraq or Afghanistan. He wants you to help him claim this money, and you’ll get a cut.
  4. You receive an email that says you’ve won the Microsoft Lottery.

Every one of these examples is going to lose you a large amount of money if you follow through with the instructions. Every one of these involves a person contacting you out of the blue and promising a large amount of money. Keep this one basic rule in mind, and you’re safe.

Bride of Ridiculous Spam Friday

Hey, why not make “Ridiculous Spam Friday” a running gag? Here’s the best junk email from the past couple weeks. There are URLs displayed within the text of some of these—do not, under any circumstances, attempt to visit these websites.

Bachelor #1:

From: Blueprint Profits Fast Cash
Date: Monday, March 01, 2010 6:44 AM
To: [email address]
Subject: Learn Blueprint Profits and….Make Money

Blueprint for Profits   
Have you Heard? Millions of People are Making Money from Home!   
Hurry, Act Now and get Instant Access!   
Earn Money working from Home   
with Blueprint for Profits!   
Sign up today and qualify instantly!   
Online Marketing Resources Care of Customer Service Center    
Unit 0480 PO Box 6945    
London W1A 6US United Kingdom   
If you’d prefer not to receive future emails from us
click here
or write to:
PO Box 85073 # 75575
Richmond, VA 23285-5073

I believe we can file this one under “B” for “Blatant Scam.” Yeah, I’ll bet it’s a “secret economy.” Secret as in “a criminal organization is behind this.” This is a great example of “unsubscribe” links to not click on. You do not want to tell these people they’ve hit a valid email address. Bachelor #2:

Date: Friday, March 05, 2010 8:28 AM
To: [email address]
Subject: – Your Cancellation (476-381899-389120)

Dear Customer,

Your order has been successfully canceled. For your reference, here`s a summary of your order:

You just canceled order #303-094123-63755



Sold by:, LLC


Because you only pay for items when we ship them to you, you won`t be charged for any items that you cancel.

Thank you for visiting!

Earth`s Biggest Selection

What was interesting here is that the second link to Amazon was a valid link. However, the words “ORDER INFORMATION” linked to a website hosted in the Philippines. I guess the idea here is to trick you into thinking a real Amazon order has been cancelled. Are they assuming that everyone always has an Amazon order pending at all times? It’s hard to tell.

This last one may be an all-time classic. Bachelor #3:

From: Dr rachel joel <>
Date: Thursday, March 11, 2010 3:09 AM
To: [email address]
Subject: I am presently at JFK International Airport




I am a Diplomat named Dr Rachel Joel sent to deliver your contract/inheritance fund of$8.3M to you. I’m presently in JFK international airport. You have to reconfirm your details, name,address,phone,occupation,identification. Call me on 718-690-9783

Dr Rachel Joel.

– Dr rachel joel

Wow. Dude is just sitting in an airport, hoping this email gets to the right person? What’s doubly weird is that, if you Google a few phrases from this message, there appears to be a whole hoard of these guys wandering around JFK, waiting to give millions of dollars away to strangers. And why would Dr. Rachel Joel’s email address be “Michael Steven?” Actually, just look at all the numbers in that address; must take Dude forever to log in (which can’t be all that easy when you’ve been living in an airport for months).

Today’s examples are all pretty obvious scams. In order, I’m guessing they are:

  1. Fake money-making “system” that just charges you $70 per month for nothing (think “Google Works,” etc.)
  2. Malware site that installs keyloggers or gains control of your PC
  3. Nigerian 419 scam that will end with the victim wiring thousands of dollars overseas.

If you’ve received one of these messages or something similar (and you don’t run a blog about scams and fraud), the only way to respond to them is to delete them.


This one is just dandy:

Date: Thursday, February 11, 2010 8:35 PM
To: undisclosed-recipients:
Subject: YOU HAVE WON (£ 500.000.00 GBP)

YOU HAVE WON (£ 500.000.00 GBP)

 You are to Fill the below details…

5. OCCUPATION…………………6. SEX………..

Yours Sincerely,

Esta mensagem foi verificada pelo sistema de antivírus e
 acredita-se estar livre de perigo.

Do I even need to tell you this is a scam? Probably a 419-style setup; after you contact them, they’ll have you wiring money overseas to pay “fees” for a prize that will never arrive.

There are some things I really love about this:

  1. “Microsoft National Lottery.” I wasn’t aware Microsoft was its own nation. Facebook, on the other hand
  2. Scam emails usually have some clunky English, but the language is butchered beyond belief in this one. Whoever wrote this hasn’t even got the rudiments wired.
  3. “Mr. Alex Winter Fall.” A man for all seasons (or at least two of them).
  4. Isn’t Microsoft based in the United States? What would they be doing hosting lotteries in the UK and handing out British Pounds to random people?
  5. Hotmail is owned by Microsoft, so they somehow managed to get something almost right. However, a real email from the company would be hosted at
  6. Does anybody honestly believe that large corporations just give away millions of dollars to random people? They don’t. Not even the richest ones.
  7. I wonder why the virus scanning information at the bottom of the email would be in Spanish, if this were actually sent from the U.K. to a U.S. recipient.
  8. “Microsoft E-mail Award-Winning Draws.” Not a very snappy name, is it?

Jokes about linguistic butchery aside, I actually think this message isn’t targeted to native English speakers. These things go all over the world, and if you only know a little English (or none), you might not immediately realize how “off” the grammar and spelling are.

What is a Nigerian 419 scam?

In the world of fraud prevention, you’ll see the term “Nigerian 419 Scam” come up quite a lot. But what is it?

Simply put, a Nigerian 419 scam (or just “Nigerian scam”) is a type of advance fee fraud; the victim sends or wires money to the scammer in hopes of receiving a large payout. Naturally, this payout never comes.

In the early days of the scheme (1980s), crooks used postal mail and fax to try and hook people, but email is the preferred medium today—you can send millions of messages at the same time, for free.

Here’s the hook: the con artist claims to be a relative of a deposed dictator, an African prince living in exile, a government employee, banker, or similar. In every case, they claim to know of a large sum of money, either their own or someone else’s, but need your assistance in obtaining it. In return for your help, they will give you a percentage of the fortune, usually to the tune of several million dollars.

The victim will be asked to help by sending money, either to bribe a bank official or to set up a bank account (they are given the impression that they must keep a certain amount of money in a Nigerian bank in order to get a piece of the fortune). Once the victim starts sending money, the con artists will claim to experience various delays and the need for more cash, in hopes of further stealing from the victim.

At some point, the victim either realizes they’ve been had, or the crooks move on to new victims. There have been cases of victims being kidnapped, robbed and murdered, as well.

It sounds so obvious when you deconstruct it, but the simple fact is that an awful lot of people still fall for this scheme. Crooks don’t keep hammering away at scams that don’t work.

There are a thousand different signs to watch out for, like messages sent from free web-based email addresses or persons asking you to wire money via Western Union or Moneygram, but I think we can narrow it down to just this one point: never send money in an attempt to get money (or gold, diamonds, or anything else).

For one thing, how many Nigerian princes do you think there are in the world? How did this prince, banker, government official or whatever, just happen to pick you, out of over six billion other people on Earth? How do you know you’re dealing with a real person at all?

More to the point, why in the world would you even attempt to get your hands on a pile of stolen or embezzled cash? Think about that—stealing is stealing, no matter what country it originated in. Even if it all turned out to be true, how do you think you’re going to explain $2,500,000 to the IRS? They’re going to ask. You know they will.

Of course, that won’t happen, because it never turns out to be true. Stop asking yourself, “But what if it is?” right now. It’s not. In the history of the entire universe, there has never been a single case of this deal being legitimate.

By the way, why is it called a “Nigerian 419 scam” in the first place?

Well, these things originated in Nigeria in the 1980s, when their economy was circling the drain in a major way (they’ve never really recovered). Many of these scams still come from Nigeria, and there may be actual Nigerian government officials involved in some of these schemes, which can be run by single people acting alone, or by powerful organized crime syndicates. “419” is an article of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with fraud.