“Give me $1 to receive $5 later. You pay first.”
Are you familiar with the “419?” A naive person gets blinded by the huge reward, trusting a stranger more than they should. They give money for a promise, and the con man runs away.
Believe it or not, these schemes still profit over $700K a year, many of which come from, well, Nigeria?
Stories have endless variations: charities, inheritances, get-rich-quick, romance, or e-commerce. The Nigerian Prince Letter or 419 name comes from the same country, which registers the highest number of advance-fee scams.
But why do so many schemes derive from this country?
- Nigerian Scammers: Conning To Survive
- Types Of Nigerian Scams
- How To Know If The Scammer Is Actually From Nigeria
- How To Prevent Nigerian Scams
- Wrapping Up
Nigerian Scammers: Conning To Survive
Whenever you look at the causes of a scam, it helps to analyze the fraud triangle.
Many Nigerians believe that:
- Scamming is by far the best way to get paid.
- Scamming is socially accepted, practiced, and encouraged.
- Confidence tricks aren’t strictly fraudulent or immoral.
Aside from the terrible living conditions, most Nigerians who graduate never get an income stream. Since they want the best for their community, they seek for money opportunities regardless of the ethical point.
Most Nigerians don’t like what they do, yet they don’t think they’re doing anything bad. When comparing their situation to a rich country, it’s easy to rationalize scams as a way to compensate for the injustice.
Although the pressure comes from the social structure, opportunity comes from victims’ responsibility. Human nature is simple: you will get through in one way or another. If victims become aware and scamming becomes difficult, some Nigerians may start looking for legit income tactics.
Types Of Nigerian Scams
Nigerian con men don’t require much creativity. They default to a bunch of popular schemes; if you share it enough, someone will buy into it!
Nigerian Prince Letter
The Nigerian Prince Letter, aka 419, appears as the most broadly used advance fee scam. Some authority (the prince) will ask you for urgent help related to money — send funds, share sensitive data.
In this fishy inheritance, the con man promises a huge return if you help him first. Simple logic, right? “I’ll give back ten times more than what you pay me.”
- A foreign businessman/inheritor requires your help to unlock his funds.
- A bogus lottery needs you to pay upfront to send the prize check.
- A fake charity asks for your money in exchange for a bigger reward later.
- A retailer offers to send you the product for an upfront fee, trusting you pay him the full amount later.
What’s next? You give them the amount, and you never hear from them again.
#2 Romance Scams
Over time, it’s become harder to fool people with the advance fee scam. One more effective way involves manipulating emotions; people ignore the red flags and just do what they feel like.
Romance scammers create fake identities to incite love and hope. If someone loves you enough, they won’t mind sharing money with you, just as a father loves his son or a girlfriend asks her boyfriend.
Why money? Because:
- They were fired from their job
- Their familiars have health issues
- They want to start a business
- They want to buy a plane ticket to get together
- They want to test whether you trust them/ are serious with the relationship
- They promise to share a familiar inheritance
Victims fantasize about future stories with the fabricated identity, and the con man lures them to take their money and leave.
#3 Brand Imposter Email
With a few bucks, a Nigerian can buy a cloned phishing website and start pitching victims with a fake email.
- Your product has been canceled/returned. See more details.
- Leave us a review via this link to get a lifetime guarantee.
- We’ve suspended your account for security. Verify in the form below to unlock.
- Someone has accessed your account from Vietnam. Re-login/change password now to stay safe.
- Register here as a tester of our new-generation product.
What follows next is the same that happened with the Nigerian Prince Letter. You never received anything, but now the con man has your data and soon your money as well.
Other Useful & Relevant Guides:
#4 Payroll – Check Agency
International scamming isn’t easy. You need complicated methods to hide your IP Locations, send checks, and get people to send you money. Living in countries like the USA makes the task a lot easier.
If you lived there, you could accept more payment methods. The victim feels safe because they are sending money in the country.
For a price, a Nigerian scammer can organize some freelancers to do the work for him and pay them based on their success.
Essentially, you’ll manipulate checks and mail them to people, then get paid from those you’ve scammed. They sold you the “fund manager job.”
A US or UK scammer could be working for a Nigerian conman.
Sometimes, he fools them with a fake charity program. The victims send them money and get paid based on how the scammer has leveraged that money:
- A victim donates to the charity
- The donation funds the checks the workers will mail
- Other victims who fall for the check scam lose their money.
- The con man takes the money and gives a part to freelancers and donors.
- Both donors and freelancers trust the program more now that they made money. Donors invest more, and freelancers work harder.
In Nigeria, scammers work with well-though hierarchies, sometimes better organized than a corporation.
#5 Brokerage Scams
The con man sells you a deal that doesn’t exist. It could be hotel reservations, real estate, or moving services. What do all have special?
- It’s easier to justify prepayments
- Buying real estate with middlemen is habitual
- You may never talk to the real business owners until the very last minute.
You’re trusting a middleman to negotiate with the owners. Sometimes, you think the broker is the owner, so you buy with false expectations.
The con man may say: “The seller has agreed to make a 50% discount if you make a 10% prepayment to this account.”
After the confidence trick: “Thanks for the prepayment. You can now go visit your property/contact the seller.” That’s when you never hear of the broker again.
- If you pay to reserve a hotel with these agents, you will need to pay again when you arrive.
- If you prepay a moving company with a broker, the movers will arrive and ask for a much higher amount.
- If you pay upfront for a house, you could be paying a fake realtor.
You think you’re buying, but the business owner never heard of you, never created such a low offer, and never got any money! They neither knew about this bogus middleman, who will probably be enjoying the stolen money by that time.
#6 Money Laundering
Not all scammers dedicate themselves to advance fee fraud. Local criminals could be selling drugs/counterfeit medication, racketeering businesses, or human trafficking. That “drug money” has to turn into legit money before they can use it.
Victims who want easy money may be involved in money laundering schemes without knowing it. Innocent people who get paid end up linked to criminal operations.
A Nigerian criminal can afford to lose a few percent of his funds to launder money. They hire fund managers to remove the traces and make it look the money came from legal transactions. The laundering business goes well and their managers make good money until law enforcement knocks at their door one day.
How To Know If The Scammer Is Actually From Nigeria
As legit sellers and buyers, we expect others to be sincere with us and deliver on what we’ve agreed. Think of legit companies where you once paid upfront, the seller offered the service, and you paid the remaining amount.
That doesn’t have to go that way necessarily. If the person reaches out to you instead, what will happen is:
- You pay with no buyer’s protection.
- The con man walks away with cash: the end.
So many scams come from Nigeria that living in that country has become a red flag itself. But how do you spot a Nigerian scammer online? Six details to look for:
#1 Broken English
This test isn’t hard to do: ask them something (anything) and let them talk. The more they say, the more evident their style will be:
- Do they use contractions, slang, and misspellings all the time?
- Do they use out-of-context expressions that make no sense?
- Do they use a direct urgent tone?
- Do they use fishy words? Kindly, sir/madam, guarantee, serious, trust, willing to, and so on. Check an example right here.
Any of these clues show the person comes from a non-English country, or probably far from them.
#2 Overly-Busy Businessman
You must do what they tell you, otherwise you’re “disturbing” or wasting their time. For them, trusting in business is fundamental, if that means taking moronic risks like paying large sums up front.
Once you start negotiating with them, you’ll quickly find them rejecting any other option, regardless of logic. They all start with the same faulty excuses:
“It’s too complicated.” “We’ve already surpassed our withdrawal limit for this method with other clients this month.” “It’s not as secure as our payment method, which brought us success for the last three years.” “We can’t afford to waste time on long procedures.”
If you insist with arguments, the conversation turns into this:
“We will only accept our method and nothing else.”
“We can’t trust for business people who can’t follow a simple instruction.”
“We consider risk as much as you do, but you won’t listen to us.”
“Our method helps us tell serious buyers from the ones who aren’t will to do it.”
“If you really wanted the deal [addresses emotions], you’d do it our way.”
What usually happens is:
- They ignore your questions and send you their invoice/instructions.
- They ask you to stop messaging or they’ll block you.
- They (might) follow up with imposter phishing messages to steal the identity and force you to do what they want.
#3 Check The IP Location
One free, ingenious tool— Grabify— will camouflage a link with an IP location detector. Just as phishing scammers fool victims with fake links, you’ll send the person a link, so when they click, you see where they come from.
You can make them click it with simple redirection techniques:
- I’m about to send you the funds. Is this the direction you asked me? [link]
- Is this the form I need to fill up? [link]
- I made the changes you asked. Can you check on the site if they’re already live? [link]
- Hey, when I follow the instructions, this error pops up. What would you do? [link]
It may sound ridiculous how a scammer can fall on his own trap. But they fall for a confidence trick:
- They don’t expect victims to scam a scammer.
Back to the Grabify website, you’ll see the time, city, and country where they opened.
Another little hack is the language. They could say: “Are you going to send the funds tonight?” or “Will you go to the post office tomorrow?” If they refer to a timezone that’s not yours (Nigeria vs the USA), you’ll get an idea of where they’re living.
#4 Misspelled Address
Misspelled emails & domains are the only grammatical errors scammers make on purpose. You can also use abbreviations and prefixes to pose as your favorite brand.
When misspellings don’t work, they use IP numbers or random extensions.
To make it more suspicious, they created the email addresses last week. The websites they send you in links— also misspelled— appeared on the same day.
Another way to check for real sites is to use a web rank/worth calculator like Similarweb.com. Mind that fake domains aren’t always obvious for the naked eye.
Let’s say you’re in a clone of a reputable site. If you enter the URL in Similarweb, Alexa, or WorthOfWeb, the page will show “Error. We couldn’t find that site.” or “This site doesn’t have enough information to display.” Then it may be fake. Not necessarily, since they might just be blocking their crawlers for privacy reasons, but it is an indicator.
The real site will show traffic per month, revenue, and other statistics.
One last hack to spot phishing emails is Hunter.io, which shows what emails they created for the site.
Imagine you get an imposter message from a well-known brand, and you want to investigate it. The message tells you to click the link and “take action now.”
Instead, copy the link and paste it on Hunter.io. If it’s a fake website, it will:
- a. Show nothing. That means they created the website recently.
- b. Show the email address attached to the website. Probably a first and second name, which has nothing to do with the one who messaged you.
Now, you can browse the official website directly on Google and copy the URL. Paste the link on Hunter.io, and you will see every single (real) address linked, customer support included. These are the contacts you can email and expect responses. Everything else is fake.
#5 They Aren’t Responsible For The Business
Smart con men use to work as an organized team, meaning someone does the work while others think. Recently, we’ve explained how scammers stick to their rules no matter what.
Well, it could be because they are middlemen. The “con man” you’re talking to may know nothing about the scam. He just sees it as doing his job, but he ignores that a scammer hired him to con together.
What does this mean?
A scammer you meet may indeed live in the US. But if you dig deeper into the scheme, you usually find organizers behind it, most of which come from— that’s right— Nigeria! International agency scammers.
If they’ve ever shown you their website, you can use Alexa and Hunter.io to investigate who created it. You may find multiple addresses connected from remote countries.
#6 International Payment Methods
Nigerians may have subordinated workers, but they still collect the payments themselves. Using buyer-protection methods wouldn’t work because victims would find their location. Just think how fishy it would look:
- You receive a Moneygram check from Nigeria
- Western Union blocks your transaction due to multiple recent Nigerian scams. You thought you were sending it to the US.
- You get a message as you send money via Paypal: “This receiver’s wallet defaults to NGN. Do you want to convert your dollars to Nigerian nairas?”
Scammers avoid methods that could reveal their location/identity. That’s why they use decentralized methods like Bitcoin.
- They won’t accept Paypal’s Goods And Services method.
- They won’t accept Escrow unless you use the escrow company they want (see Escrow fraud)
- They won’t send the goods until you wire transfer your prepayment.
How To Prevent Nigerian Scams
One fact about Nigerian scammers is, they use similar methods all the time: advance fee fraud, fake checks, and identity theft. That predictability allows us to prevent 90% of the cases.
#1 If you need to send money/enter data…
Beware who you’re sending it and what website you’re using. Nigerian con men use promises as a guarantee that you will receive the reward only to dupe you later.
Look at the payment website and notifications. Is the domain the official? Do the website links work? When you get an email telling you to follow instructions with a link, browse the website directly instead.
When a person wants to use wire transfer, Paypal, or money orders, default to escrow for buyer protection. At the same time, check for phishing red flags on the escrow messages.
Avoid clicking any links on email or SMS. Real brands will likely send you a list of steps, not a bit.ly link.
If the seller can’t do business following the secure practices, it’s better to drop the offer and assume it’s fake.
#2 If you get money by accident…
Nobody is that fool to send you money by mistake. Guessing a lottery prize is easier than that. You can take that money as a gift IF:
- You don’t get any suspicious messages after you receive it
- It’s not a fake check
If you can’t validate it but still want the amount, cash it in and don’t spend it. If the money stays for the next few weeks, it could be real.
Avoid overpayment scammers who didn’t pay attention to the sum amount. Also, if someone sends free money online, learn more about who this person is to avoid money laundering scams.
#3 If someone reaches out of the blue…
Be skeptical. You will hear a myriad of stories: it’s a business opportunity, romance, a familiar, a refund, the government, a job offer, and so on.
Legit messengers have no problem explaining what they want, or how they found your contact data. A con man will avoid those questions and focus on the hook instead.
“Ignore the fact that I’m a stranger with questionable intentions.”
Besides, people who reach out used to have proof to verify what they say.
- A familiar emailed you because he told you by phone he’d do so last week.
- The IRS mails you because something’s wrong with your form, which you can check on the official page.
- An e-com site asks you to verify your order, and you can check the changes on the official site.
- A “stranger” sends you a business/finance opportunity because you opted into their email list first.
Although unexpected, all have a reason to contact. A scammer can never prove any of them to you, meaning he was hunting for contacts and found you randomly.
In short: he doesn’t care about who you are or what you want. A person like that can’t work on your best interests, so ignore/delete/block it.
Are all scammers Nigerians? Are all Nigerians scammers? It depends on one’s values, principles, and the environment. Nigeria creates an environment where scamming is socially accepted, even formally organized like a company.
Nigeria has, at this present moment, problems that magnify the fraud triangle. As citizens from rich countries, we don’t care much about their situation because it looks so distant, just as Nigerian con men scam for similar reasons.
Although it’s easier to find Nigerian scammers than legit Nigerians online, that doesn’t deny the many entrepreneurs that appear every year. No matter how tough the social situation is, one can choose whether to survive by stepping on others or make an honorable name of oneself.
As for us, the best way to stop Nigerian scams is to prevent and make them harder to succeed, so they abandon and start looking for legit initiatives.
For the end we can let our guard down for the moment and look at the Nigerian scam scheme with a bit of humour: