At first I was reluctant to write an article on the widespread Nigerian rip-off scheme known as the “419”, but the fact that I keep getting these in my mailbox, coupled with new news stories every month about people getting taken in by this most obvious of ruses served to change my mind.
Now I knew this was a scheme the first time it showed up in my e-mail box, a letter from a wealthy foreigner who needs help moving millions of dollars from his homeland, promising you a substantial percentage of his fortune in exchange for helping him.
Of course the adage “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” should be ringing loud and clear in your head by now, but every year thousands of people are taken in, blinded by the thought of instant wealth for very little effort. So they agree to the proposal. Almost on cue, however, something goes wrong. Paperwork will be messed up; officials will need to be bribed, always something requiring that they send some money to correct. But it’s okay, in light of the load of cash that is about to drop in their lap, they do it, viewing it as a small but worthwhile investment. The scammers will continue to use these “obstructions” until the victim’s bank account is sucked dry or the victim starts asking questions. Either way, you will never see your money again.
There are also variations on this particular con, some coming from churches or other organizations operating under the guise of transferring considerable wealth from one location to another.
The strength of this particular ruse is based on the expectation of incredible wealth. Who wouldn’t part with $5,000 if they knew they were going to get a few million out of it? The thing is, the payoff is never going to come. All this is designed to do is take your money from you, not put anything in your pocket. If the scammers can get a person to swallow the whole “I’m going to get something great” concept, then the fish is on the hook and ready to be landed and cleaned.
And it is a highly successful endeavor, with over $100 million in losses every year in America. Given the fact that many are probably too embarrassed to report being the victim of such an obvious con, it is only logical to expect that the actual figure is considerably higher.
What is even more amazing is that it is not a new occurrence; with variations on the theme dating back to the 1920’s and propagated by the Postal Service. The main location of many of these criminal efforts is Nigeria, with the Nigerian government issuing a statement disavowing its involvement with these schemes.
Worse, some people have attempted to go to Nigeria and meet with the scammers in a bid to get their money back. This is extremely dangerous and has resulted in several murders, as well as folks who simply vanished, never to be heard from again. If you have been the victim of the Nigerian 419, your safest bet is to just take the loss, admit you were taken, and move on. It is not worth endangering your life over.
Of course the golden rule when it comes to protecting yourself and your assets is simple….never send money to anyone you meet online. Never provide personal information of any kind to online strangers (or any stranger for that matter). These guys are good, and can conceivably steal your identity from such innocuous information as your name and the town you live in.
Also, remember what I said earlier, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There is no free lunch, and no one is going to give you vast amounts of wealth for so little work. It doesn’t happen. Ever. You cannot reap what you have not sown, so don’t fall for the ruse that this time somehow you will.
When doing business online, always take time to make sure the company is valid and reputable. A ruse doesn’t have to come from Nigeria, and home grown rip-off artists are just as plentiful. Don’t allow yourself to become parted with your money.