The Nigerian scam is a trick perpetrated through email. Itís also known as the Nigerian bank scam and the Nigerian money offer, depending on the person whoís been scammed. This scam originally began back in the 1980s before most of the world knew of the internet. The economy in Nigeria was slowly fading and a group of unemployed locals tricked investors into sending them money by promising shares in a fake oil company. They switched from postal letters to fax in the 1990s and then to email as it became readily accessible.
Scammers work by sending emails to a large number of people. Typically they buy a mailing list and contact everyone on that list. The email contains an individualís name at the top, to make the recipient think it came from a human. Sometimes the name is someone famous such as a Nigerian political figure or claim to be a former prince.
The Nigerian scam always contains some variation of the same story. They claim that the sender has a large sum of money, but canít access it for political, social or personal reasons. They usually claim the sum is a large amount, over a million dollars at least and for some simple help, the recipient can get a percentage of the final amount.
The sender waits for a response from the recipient and then asks for advances to help speed the process along. If the recipient sends money, the sender will ask for more money and keep making excuses as to why they havenít seen a return on their investment yet. Eventually the money sender will stop sending money and after trying a few tricks, the scammer will give up and move onto the next victim.
Those who have been scammed should begin by contacting local law enforcement. Often times the police will encourage the person to contact someone else such as the U.S. Secret Service or the U.S. Treasury Department or even the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The victim should include copies of all emails and transactions to help the authorities identify the scammer. In some cases there may be an ongoing investigation surrounding the original sender.
A great place to find more information is the Fraud Gallery, which lists all variations of the Nigerian scam and sample letters sent to real people. Snopes, the urban legend website also has its own page devoted to the Nigerian Scam. Other helpful sources include Nigerian Email Frauds, Nigerian Scam Letter Exhibit, The Nigerian Scam Defined and 419 Eater.
There are other helpful websites such as Nigerian Scams, Central Bank of Nigeria Scam Email, and Nigerian Scams Keep Evolving. To read about those who have been scammed in this way, visit The Perfect Scam and Oregon Woman Loses $400,000 to Nigerian Email Scam.