Advance fee scams are designed to trick people into sending their money and personal information to criminals. These scams have been around in various forms for decades. In fact, they predate the Internet. Advance fee scams are commonly distributed via email, social media messages, and SMS. Occasionally, they may still be sent via surface mail and fax.
In years gone by, a great many of these scam messages were sent from the African nation of Nigeria. Hence, the scams were commonly called “Nigerian” scams. And, the scams were also known as “419 scams” after the appropriate part of the Nigerian criminal code.
These days, it is certainly not only Nigerian based criminals that send the scam messages. They may be sent from many different locations around the world.
In spite of the longevity of these types of scams and the large amount of publicity that they have received, many people still fall for them every day. Each year, substantial sums of money are lost to such scams. People who get involved in these scams can also become victims of identity theft if they have sent personal and financial information to the criminals.
How Advance Fee Scams Work
The scams work like this. You receive an unsolicited message that masquerades as some manner of business proposition, request for assistance, notice of a potential inheritance, or opportunity to help a charity. In fact, there is a seemingly endless array of cover stories that the scammers use in order to draw potential victims into the con. In spite of this diversity, virtually all of the scam messages share a common theme. The messages all claim that your help is needed to access a very large sum of money and promise that you will receive a significant portion of this money in exchange for your help.
The scammers use a variety of stories to explain why they need your help to access the funds.
- They may claim that political climate or legal issues preclude them from accessing funds in a foreign bank account and request your help to gain such access.
- They may claim that your last name is the same as that of the deceased person who owned an account and suggest that you act as the next of kin of this person in order to gain access to the account’s funds.
- They may claim that a rich businessman, who has a terminal illness, needs your help to distribute his wealth to charity.
- They may claim that a soldier stationed overseas has discovered a cache of hidden cash left by a fleeing dictator and needs your help to get the money out of the country.
As noted, the messages offer to let you keep a significant percentage of the funds in exchange for your assistance. This percentage is the bait that the scammers use to pull potential victims deeper into the scam. Once a recipient has taken the bait, and initiated a dialogue with the scammers, he or she will soon receive requests for “fees” that the scammer claims are necessary for processing costs, tax and legal fees, bribes to local officials, or other – totally imaginary – fees.
The scammers will warn the victim that these advance fees need to be paid before the funds can be procured. In reality, the supposed funds do not exist. The major purpose of these scam messages is to trick recipients into parting with their money in the form of these advance fees. Fraudulent requests for fees will usually continue until the victim realises he or she is being conned and stops sending money. In some cases, the scammers may gather enough information to access the victim’s bank account directly or steal the victim’s identity.
An alternative type of advance fee scam, discussed separately on another Hoax-Slayer page, uses messages claiming that recipients have won a large sum of money in an international lottery or promotion. Victims are asked to send advance fees and personal information, ostensibly to allow the prize funds to be processed and sent to the winner. In reality, there is no prize.
Typically, advance fee scammers will send many thousands of identical scam messages to recipients all around the world. It only takes a few recipients to fall for the claims in the messages to make the operation pay off for the criminals.
What To Do If You Receive an Advance Fee Scam Message
If you receive one of these scam messages, it is important that you do not respond to it in any way. The scammers are likely to act upon any response from those they see as potential victims. Although it can be educational and even entertaining to “bait” advance fee scammers, such endeavours should only be attempted under controlled conditions. These scammers are unscrupulous and unpredictable criminals. There have been violent attacks, abductions and even murders associated with advance fee scams and the criminals that run them should not be trifled with. The best thing to do with these scam messages is to simply delete them.
What To Do If You Have Submitted Information to Advance Fee Scammers
If you have supplied banking and credit card details, personal information, and/or copies of identity documents such as your driver’s licence and passport to the scammers, then you could become a victim of identity theft. For details on what to do, read the information about identity theft published by the Federal Trade Commission (US), ScamWatch, (Australia) or ActionFraud (UK).
What To Do If You Have Already Given Money To Advance Fee Scammers
Unfortunately, there is probably very little you can do to recover any money you have already sent. The first step is to cease all communication with the scammers and do not, under any circumstances, send them any more money or information. It is not uncommon for advance fee scam victims to fall into an escalation of commitment trap and continue to send money to the scammers even after they have been told they are being conned. This is because victims can become desperate and are unwilling to let go of the vain hope that the scheme that they are involved in is legitimate after all and that they will eventually get their promised windfall.
If you have sent money to scammers, you should inform your local law enforcement agency as soon as possible. Also, take steps to protect your identity by accessing information about identity theft published by the Federal Trade Commission (US), ScamWatch, (Australia) or ActionFraud (UK).
Advance Fee Scam Examples