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419 Scams

West African Advance Fee Scams

The person at the other end of the computer usually isn't who they say they are when they're asking for your money (Graphic: US Embassy Cote d'Ivoire)

The person at the other end of the computer usually isn't who they say they are when they're asking for your money (Graphic: US Embassy Cote d'Ivoire)

The US Embassy is not able to assist victims of so-called 419 scams.

The Embassy does not have the resources, manpower, or assets to investigate these scams.

The Standard Scam:

Send me money, so that I can give you millions in return. This is an old con known as the “advance fee scam" and it dates back to the early 1900’s through the United States Postal Service. The principal lure is that someone has a large sum of money hidden somewhere (a secret bank account, a trunk held in storage house or in a foreign customs) and that they cannot get the money out of the country safely. However, if you provide them some small “advance fee”, the “attorney” will arrange to transfer a percentage of the money (usually in the millions of US dollars) to you if you pay certain “advance” fees to cover the expenses.

The American Embassy in Cote d’Ivoire receives many inquiries a week about such scams.  These victims have wired large sums of money to these “fraud baiters” posing as heirs (usually widows or orphaned children) to some lost fortune, whom they corresponded with through an unsolicited e-mail. The “orphaned children” will soon start to call victims “Uncle” or “Aunt”, and then soon move up to calling them “Dady” or “Momy” in an attempt to create an emotional bond to use the “adoption” or "marriage" ruse to lure you into their web with the promise of this hidden money. 

The Strategy of the Scams:

They will send you photographs, documents, files, court agreements, or anything you ask for to prove their legitimacy. They will pose as attorneys, government officials, embassy officials, religious figures, and sympathetic characters to further support this illusion. The bottom line is everything is in all likelihood false.  Every person is likely fictitious and probably the same person acting all roles. All documents provided are usually no more than worthless computer generated paper. Whatever proof you ask for, they will generate it on the computer, but in the end it normally will all be counterfeit.  All photographs provided can be of anyone – a stolen photo, or out of a magazine.  The photographs are all untraceable and anonymous. It is often true that it is not the real people behind these scams.

All addresses provided are likely illegitimate, fictitious, or non-existent. They will provide you fake websites or Yahoo! E-mail addresses (most preferred). They have created very authentic looking websites through domains located in other countries to protect their trail. They have even assumed the identities of real persons, attorneys, government officials, and even members of the clergy. This impersonation of real persons (identity theft) allows them to create further illusions to their bona fides should someone attempt to conduct a due diligence on them. In the end, they are all invisible, faceless people hiding behind the Internet anonymously in a West African country where the odds of them ever being identified, caught, or prosecuted are almost non-existent.

All telephone numbers provided will be cell phones. In Cote d’Ivoire, all cell phone numbers start with 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09, 40, 60, 65, 66, 67 . They do not generally provide landline telephone numbers, since these numbers can be easily traced to a physical location. Anyone in Cote d’Ivoire can easily purchase an inexpensive cell phone on a street corner and then purchase anonymously a pre-paid SIM card to operate their "business" out of this cell phone number, without ever having to provide any subscriber information. If they believe that they are being traced, identified, or near arrest, they can abandon their fake identities by tossing these pre-paid cell phone and any tools of their trade into a public trashcan and walk away, thus protecting their true identities.

For faxes, they will provide hard-line numbers to public Internet or Cybernet Cafes to further hide their clandestine operations and anonymity (and where they operate their e-mails and fake websites too). Over the Internet, they are "pretenders" and can assume the identity of anyone whom they want to be, and they can provide you any fake document or photo you want as proof. Since many names, stories, and modus operandi are similar to other scams here, it is suspected that the same ring is running several scams at once.

Many victims refuse to believe that they have become a target or a victim, or that they can "out con" these professional scam artists. Whenever a victim instructs the “attorney” or “heir” to contact the US Embassy, they will always provide the victim reasons why they cannot do this. The victim must realize that if these people have cell phones, have access to their e-mail and the Internet, and travel freely to a bank or Western Union / MoneyGram to retrieve wired funds, then they certainly are capable of contacting or visiting the US Embassy. It is usually at this time that the scam artists know the scam has been recognized, and will quickly abandon the scam and break off communications with the victim, or then pose as law enforcement officials to “assist” them further with retrieving their lost funds. Of course, there will be new additional “advance fees” to do this.
Any money wired to them will be forever lost and irretrievable. If they hook a victim, they will always insist money be wired through WesternUnion or MoneyGram.  They prefer WesternUnion and MoneyGram because these funds can be easily retrieved at any branch (thousands of them) throughout the country using their false ID. The branch location where they retrieve the wired funds are virtually impossible to identify or locate in Cote d’Ivoire. And, without a subpoena, WesternUnion and MoneyGram (in the US) will not provide any information to the victim or law enforcement agency.

The 419 artists will seldom provide legitimate bank account numbers as these can be traced back to tangible locations. If they provide a specific account to a specific bank, successful surveillances have been made to arrest the “fraud baiters.” They learn from their mistakes, and their share “lessons learned” within their sub-cultured network.  These 419 “fraud baiters” are smart, devious, and heartless.  They are also dangerous and ruthless. They have lured victims to West Africa where they have kidnapped them for ransom, killed them, or both. They will not hesitate to bribe judges, officials, or witnesses, and they will not hesitate to kill anyone who interferes with their organized crime operations, or anyone who cooperates with the police investigating them. They operate invisibly and are nearly impossible to identify, locate, arrest, and prosecute. This is why 419 scams are the fourth largest industry in West Africa.

They prey upon the greed, gullibility, loneliness, and the sympathies of their intended victims, many of whom are quite educated. Most 419 “fraud baiters” are Nigerian Muslim males who often pose on singles websites (Matchmaker or Christian singles websites) posing as Christian women or men. These are also known as 419 "Lonely Hearts" scams, and have successfully duped many trusting and lonely Christians out of large sums of money.

They have posed as priests, ministers, evangelists, missionaries and even nuns being persecuted in Muslim countries, and they are trying to find ways to get the tithes of their church out of the country. Of course, these riches they promise will require you to provide them some "advance fee" for the attorney, licenses, and new unforeseen bureaucratic requirements that will be never ending.

The first fees will be small, but one bureaucratic problem leads to another requiring just "one more" payment to create the illusion that you are almost there. This dangle or "carrot" of just one more payment to receive all of these millions will eventually add up to thousands of dollars. By then, it is too late.

If such money did exist, they will not share it with a complete stranger they met over the Internet in exchange for assisting them. If such money existed, they would have family, friends, and political contacts who would gladly help them. Remember; if you send any money to these people consider it lost forever.

Regretfully, some have contacted us too late after losing their entire life's savings (hundreds of thousands of dollars) expecting to receive these millions in return, to adopt an orphaned refugee, or find a new love, spouse or companion they met over the Internet.