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Part 2: "419" Scams

"419" is a term used to describe a common variant on the phishing scam technique. The number refers to a relevant section of the Nigerian penal code, and was coined due to the scam's origins in West Africa, in particular Nigeria. The technique is also known as Advance fee Fraud, Nigerian Scams, and Nigerian 419. However Nigeria is by no means the only source and the technique is in widespread use by conmen around the world. Johannesburg, London and Madrid are the most recent hotspots. These scams have been around for many years, but people are still falling for them in large numbers, as thanks to the widespread use of email, more people are vulnerable now than ever before. Some victims have lost everything to the fraudsters.

In essence, a 419 is a confidence trick, a trick that preys on people's greed and gullibility. An apt phrase to remember might be "there is no such thing as free money", but this is exactly what the victim is promised.

419's come in many shapes and forms, but the technique used is nearly always the same. The victim receives a letter or email concerning a large amount of money that has recently come into the possession of the sender, who is looking for a willing partner to help transfer the money in exchange for a hefty cut. The email on the left from our archives is a good example. 'Mr Bruma Johnson' claims to be a senior government officer in the South African government. In return for your help he claims to be offering 25% of sixty million five hundred thousand USD.

The initial temptation is understandable. The risks are claimed to be non-existent, and the rewards are huge, but it really is just too good to be true.

The victim then receives a request for an 'administration fee' to help cover costs associated with processing and transferring the money. They are assured the payment is a once off, and that they will receive their money straight afterwards. These 'one off fees' often run into thousands of pounds, but these seem negligible to the victim in comparison to the returns. Once the payment is made, another 'glitch' will arise, then another, and another, each requiring another 'small payment', and the massive rewards dangled like a carrot on a stick as a constant enticement. Victims become desperate, too far in debt to cut and run, and left with no option but to keep paying out in the deluded belief they will get the rewards they are promised.

The variations of 419 scams are endless, but they are easy to spot and all follow the same rules.



My name is MR.BRUMA JOHNSON a senior government Officer in the Department of Works and Housing of the Federal Government of the Republic of South Africa. I got your company information from commercial department of your Country's Embassy here in Pretoria South Africa. Based on the information regarding the reputation of your company, I have the same view of mutual understanding and trust in you pending when I receive your response in this subject matter.

I and two other senior Government  officials from the department of Finance and Reserve Bank of South Africa has a total of USD$60, 500,000.00 (Sixty million five hundred thousand united states dollars only) to transfer into a foreign Company/individual Bank account safely pending our arrival for disbursement and investment of our share in your Company.

All we need is a foreign partner who will provide us with a reliable foreign Bank account with other necessary information that will facilitate the easy transfer of the money. We have unanimously agreed to give to you 25% of the entire amount after the transfer, while 75% will be for us which will be deposited into our own individual account that you will help us open in your country on our arrival for disbursement.

For further instruction and details, please contact me immediately on the above e-mail or telephone number and also provide me with your own fax and telephone numbers for easy communication.
I wait urgently for your response,

Thanks for your anticipated co-operation,
Best regards ,


It is not known how many people have fallen victim to these scams, but in England alone there are 317000 fraud cases reported each year. It is believed most victims are too embarrassed to come forward, so the real figure is likely to be much higher. Victims are drawn into a vicious spiral that can only lead to ruin, and often carry out their correspondence in great secrecy in the belief they are 'onto a good' thing, and the wish to keep it to themselves. There are many reports of victims being warned repeatedly by friends and family they are the victims of a scam, but so great is the lure of the promised fortune they choose to ignore the warnings until it is too late.


Dear  X,

I am Barrister Fred Adams a Solicitor at law.

I am the Personal Attorney to Mr.William Florance a national of your country, who used to work with shell development company Togo. On the 21st of April 1999, my client, his wife And their three children were involved in a car accident along Hillakondji Express Road. All occupants of the vehicle unfortunately lost there lives. Since then I have made several inquiries to your embassy to locate any of my clients extended relatives, this has also proved unsuccessful. After these several unsuccessful attempts, I decided to trace his relatives over the Internet, to locate any member of his family but of no avail, hence I contacted you. I have contacted you to assist in repatriating the money left behind by my client before they get confiscated or declared unserviceable in (FKB),  the bank where this huge deposits were lodged. Particularly, the deceased deposited the valued sum of USD 12.500.000 (twelve million five hundred thousand united states dollars) and this bank has issued me a notice to provide the next of kin or have the deposit confiscated within the next three official working months. Since I have been unsuccessful in locating the the relatives for over 2 years now, I seek your consent to present you as the next of kin of the deceased since you are from the same country so that the proceeds of this deposit valued at $12.5 million dollars can be paid to you and then you and me will share the money, 60% to me and 30% to you, while 10% should be for expenses or tax your government may require, I have all necessary legal documents that can be used to back up claim we may make. All I require is your honest cooperation to enable us see this deal through. I guarantee that this will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect you from any breach of the law. You have to assure me that you will not sit on the fund when it is finally claimed. I will not fail to inform you that this transaction is 100% risk free. I suggest you get back to me as soon as possible stating your wish in this deal. Please get in touch with me through. my direct is line: +228-919-22-84

Yours faithfully,

Fred Adams

419 scams are an increasingly attractive option to scammers due to the very low risks involved. A scammer is not committing an offence until money is actually obtained from the victim under false pretences. So they can send as many emails as they like without breaking the law. Nigeria in particular is not known for making arrests when 419 scammers are actually traced, and so they enjoy relative immunity. This may be due to the estimate that 419 scams account for as much as20% of the Nigerian economy. So once your money is gone, it's gone for good.

On the right is another recent example. Again a similar technique is used, only this time the scammer poses as a solicitor trying to find a recipient for the estate of a recently deceased client who has left no traceable family. This story and variations are particularly common, often following current world events, with victims of the war in Iraq and 9/11 just some of the 'clients' used.

If you ever receive a 419, do NOT reply! You should delete the email or send it to us. Although the majority of these scams are carried out purely through correspondence, some scammers take it further and arrange face to face meetings, where victims will be wined and dined, treated to glamorous hotels, and met with well dressed 'businessmen' and 'officials', all in an elaborate ploy to gain their trust. Sometimes the victim is invited to fly to the country they are dealing with, but once there can robbed and threatened to sign over their life savings. These cases are rare, but are a chilling reminder of the potential dangers involved.

The only defense against these scams is to ignore them completely. Don't be tempted to reply just to see what happens. This flags you and your address as 'susceptible' and you will most likely receive a torrent of scams.

There are plenty of websites dedicated to warning people of the dangers. If you have been a victim you should visit the 419 coalition at They have detailed country specific information about what you should do next if you have fallen victim.

Hopefully this article will help you spot any 419's you receive, and just remember that awareness and vigilance are the best defence.

Thanks for visiting millersmiles!


28th August 2004

Click here to read Part 1: The Beginners Guide To Phishing

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