What is a 'Nigerian Scam'

A Nigerian scam is a scheme in which a sender requests help in facilitating the transfer of a substantial sum of money, generally in the form of an email. In return, the sender offers a commission — a large amount, sometimes up to several million dollars depending on the perceived gullibility of the target. The scammers then request that money be sent to pay for some of the costs associated with the transfer. If money is sent to the scammers, they will either disappear immediately or try to get more money with claims of continued problems with the transfer.

Also known as "advance fee fraud" and "419 fraud."

BREAKING DOWN 'Nigerian Scam'

This specific type of scam is generally referred to as the Nigerian scam because of its prevalence in the country, particularly during the 1990s. There is also a section of the Nigerian Criminal Code Section 419 that makes this type of fraud illegal. However, this scam is not limited to Nigeria and is also perpetrated by many organizations in many different countries around the world. The origins of this scam are widely debated with some suggesting it started in Nigeria during the 1970s, while others suggest its origins going back hundreds of years to other confidence scams such as the Spanish prisoner scam.

How a Nigerian Scam Works

The scammers hope that the commission offered will be enticing enough to compel the recipient to take the risk of sending thousands of dollars to a stranger. The reasons given for the transfer can differ from a government freezing an account to the existence of an account with no beneficial owner. When it comes to this type of request, however, it is important to remember that if anything sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Nigerian scams continue because it only takes a handful of people to be easily fooled. Scammers know it's a numbers game. Hundreds or thousands of attempts will ensnare enough suckers over time to make the scammers' time worthwhile.

Warning signs of a Nigerian scam include a U.S. currency account in a foreign country, odd spelling and language in the body of the email and a promise of substantial compensation for little effort.

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