History[ edit ] The modern scam is similar to the Spanish Prisoner scam which dates back to the late 18th century. In exchange for assistance, the scammer promised to share money with the victim in exchange for a small amount of money to bribe prison guards.
There are many variants of the letters sent. One of these, sent via postal mail, was addressed to a woman's husband, and inquired about his health. According to Cormac Herley, a Microsoft researcher, "By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible, the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select.
They refer to their targets as Magas, slang developed from a Yoruba word meaning "fool". Some scammers have accomplices in the United States and abroad that move in to finish the deal once the initial contact has been made. The details vary, but the usual story is that a person, often a government or bank employee, knows of a large amount of unclaimed money or gold which he cannot access directly, usually because he has no right to it.
Such people, who may be real but impersonated people or fictitious characters played by the con artist , could include, for example, the wife or son of a deposed African leader who has amassed a stolen fortune, a bank employee who knows of a terminally ill wealthy person with no relatives, or a wealthy foreigner who deposited money in the bank just before dying in a plane crash leaving no will or known next of kin ,  a US soldier who has stumbled upon a hidden cache of gold in Iraq, a business being audited by the government, a disgruntled worker or corrupt government official who has embezzled funds, a refugee,  and similar characters.
The money could be in the form of gold bullion , gold dust, money in a bank account, blood diamonds , a series of checks or bank drafts, and so forth.
The sums involved are usually in the millions of dollars, and the investor is promised a large share, typically ten to forty percent, in return for assisting the fraudster to retrieve or expatriate the money. Although the vast majority of recipients do not respond to these emails, a very small percentage do, enough to make the fraud worthwhile, as many millions of messages can be sent daily. To help persuade the victim to agree to the deal, the scammer often sends one or more false documents which bear official government stamps , and seals.
Often a photograph used by a scammer is not a picture of any person involved in the scheme. Multiple "people" involved in schemes are fictitious, and in many cases, one person controls many fictitious personae used in scams.
Could you help us with a loan? This is the money being stolen from the victim; the victim willingly transfers the money, usually through some irreversible channel such as a wire transfer , and the scammer receives and pockets it. More delays and additional costs are added, always keeping the promise of an imminent large transfer alive, convincing the victim that the money the victim is currently paying is covered several times over by the payoff.
Sometimes psychological pressure is added by claiming that the Nigerian side, to pay certain fees, had to sell belongings and borrow money on a house, or by comparing the salary scale and living conditions in Africa to those in the West.
Much of the time, however, the needed psychological pressure is self-applied; once the victims have provided money toward the payoff, they feel they have a vested interest in seeing the "deal" through. Some victims even believe they can cheat the other party, and walk away with all the money instead of just the percentage they were promised. During the course of many schemes, scammers ask victims to supply bank account information. Usually this is a "test" devised by the scammer to gauge the victim's gullibility ;  the bank account information isn't used directly by the scammer, because a fraudulent withdrawal from the account is more easily detected, reversed, and traced.
Scammers instead usually request that payments be made using a wire transfer service like Western Union and MoneyGram. The real reason is that wire transfers and similar methods of payment are irreversible, untraceable and, because identification beyond knowledge of the details of the transaction is often not required, completely anonymous. Telephone numbers used by scammers tend to come from burner phones.
In Ivory Coast a scammer may purchase an inexpensive mobile phone and a pre-paid SIM card without submitting any identifying information. If the scammers believe they are being traced, they discard their mobile phones and purchase new ones.
Recipient addresses and email content are copied and pasted into a webmail interface using a stand-alone storage medium, such as a memory card.
The police seized thousands of Nigerian and non-Nigerian passports, 10, blank British Airways boarding passes, 10, United States Postal money orders , customs documents, false university certificates, printing plates, and computers. One individual estimated he sent emails per day and received about seven replies, citing that when he received a reply, he was 70 percent certain he would get the money.
They hoped to have the service, dubbed "Eagle Claw", running at full capacity to warn a quarter of a million potential victims. One particularly notable case of scam baiting involved an American who identified himself to a Nigerian scammer as James T. When the scammer — who apparently had never heard of the television series Star Trek — asked for his passport details, "Kirk" sent a copy of a fake passport with a photo of Star Trek's Captain Kirk, hoping the scammer would attempt to use it and get arrested.
The time between the funds appearing as available to the account holder and the check clearing is known as the "float", during which time the bank could technically be said to have floated a loan to the account holder to be covered with the funds from the bank clearing the check. Even after it has cleared, funds may be reclaimed much later if fraud is discovered.
The check given to the victim is typically counterfeit but drawn on a real account with real funds in it. With correct banking information a check can be produced that looks genuine, passes all counterfeit tests, and may initially clear the paying account if the account information is accurate and the funds are available. However, whether it clears or not, it eventually becomes apparent either to the bank or the account holder that the check is a forgery.
This can be as little as three days after the funds are available if the bank supposedly covering the check discovers the check information is invalid, or it could take months for an account-holder to notice a fraudulent debit. It has been suggested that in some cases a genuine check, from the payer's account, is issued with intent to defraud: Regardless of the amount of time involved, subject to certain limits, once the cashing bank is alerted the check is fraudulent, the transaction is reversed and the victim's account debited; this may lead to it being put in overdraft.
Western Union and MoneyGram wire transfers[ edit ] A central element of advance-fee fraud is the transaction from the victim to the scammer must be untraceable and irreversible. Otherwise, the victim, once they become aware of the scam, can successfully retrieve their money and alert officials who can track the accounts used by the scammer. Wire transfers via Western Union and MoneyGram are ideal for this purpose.
International wire transfers cannot be cancelled or reversed, and the person receiving the money cannot be tracked. Other non-cancellable forms of payment include postal money orders and cashier's checks, but wire transfer via Western Union or MoneyGram is more common. Anonymous communication[ edit ] Since the scammer's operations must be untraceable to avoid identification, and because the scammer is often impersonating someone else, any communication between the scammer and his victim must be done through channels that hide the scammer's true identity.
The following options in particular are widely used. Web-based email[ edit ] Because many free email services do not require valid identifying information, and also allow communication with many victims in a short span of time, they are the preferred method of communication for scammers.
Some services go so far as to mask the sender's source IP address Gmail being a common choice , making the scammer more difficult to trace to the country of origin. While Gmail does indeed strip headers from emails, it is, in fact, possible to trace an IP address from such an email. Scammers can create as many accounts as they wish, and often have several at a time.
In addition, if email providers are alerted to the scammer's activities and suspend the account, it is a trivial matter for the scammer to simply create a new account to resume scamming. The fraudster impersonates associates, friends, or family members of the legitimate account owner in an attempt to defraud them.
Fax transmissions[ edit ] Facsimile machines are commonly used tools of business, whenever a client requires a hard copy of a document.
Thus, scammers posing as business entities often use fax transmissions as an anonymous form of communication. This is more expensive, as the prepaid phone and fax equipment cost more than email, but to a skeptical victim it can be more believable.
SMS messages[ edit ] Abusing SMS bulk senders such as WASPs , scammers subscribe to these services using fraudulent registration details and paying either via cash or stolen credit card details. They then send out masses of unsolicited SMSes to victims stating they have won a competition, lottery, reward, or like an event, and they have to contact somebody to claim their prize. Typically the details of the party to be contacted will be an equally untraceable email address or a virtual telephone number.
These messages may be sent over a weekend when the staff at the service providers are not working, enabling the scammer to be able to abuse the services for a whole weekend. Even when traceable, they give out long and winding procedures for procuring the reward real or unreal and that too with the impending huge cost of transportation and tax or duty charges. A recent mid innovation is the use of a Premium Rate 'call back' number instead of a website or email in the SMS.
On calling the number, the victim is first reassured that 'they are a winner' and then subjected to a long series of instructions on how to collect their 'winnings'. During the message, there will be frequent instructions to 'ring back in the event of problems'.
The call is always 'cut off' just before the victim has the chance to note all the details. Some victims call back multiple times in an effort to collect all the details. The scammer thus makes their money out of the fees charged for the calls. Telecommunications relay services[ edit ] Many scams use telephone calls to convince the victim that the person on the other end of the deal is a real, truthful person.
The scammer, possibly impersonating a person of a nationality, or gender, other than their own, would arouse suspicion by telephoning the victim. The scammer may claim they are deaf, and that they must use a relay service. The victim, possibly drawn in by sympathy for a disabled caller, might be more susceptible to the fraud.
FCC regulations and confidentiality laws require operators to relay calls verbatim and adhere to a strict code of confidentiality and ethics. Thus, no relay operator may judge the legality and legitimacy of a relay call and must relay it without interference.
This means the relay operator may not warn victims, even when they suspect the call is a scam. In a common strategy, they bind their overseas IP address to a router or server located on US soil, allowing them to use US-based relay service providers without interference. TRS is sometimes used to relay credit card information to make a fraudulent purchase with a stolen credit card. In many cases however, it is simply a means for the con artist to further lure the victim into the scam.
Invitation to visit the country[ edit ] Sometimes, victims are invited to a country to meet government officials, an associate of the scammer, or the scammer themselves. Some victims who travel are instead held for ransom. Scammers may tell a victim that they do not need a visa , or that the scammers will provide one;  if the victim does this, the scammers have the power to extort money from the victim. According to a U. State Department report, over fifteen persons were murdered between and in Nigeria after following through on advance-fee frauds.
Internet fraud , List of email scams , and phishing There are many variations on the most common stories, and also many variations on the way the scam works. Some of the more commonly seen variants involve employment scams , lottery scams , online sales and rentals, and romance scams.
Many scams involve online sales, such as those advertised on websites such as Craigslist and eBay , or property rental. This article cannot list every known and future type of advanced fee fraud or scheme; only some major types are described. Additional examples may be available in the external links section at the end of this article. The scammer sends a letter with a falsified company logo. The job offer usually indicates exceptional salary and benefits, and requests that the victim needs a "work permit" for working in the country, and includes the address of a fake "government official" to contact.
The "government official" then proceeds to fleece the victim by extracting fees from the unsuspecting user for the work permit and other fees. A variant of the job scam recruits freelancers seeking work, such as editing or translation, then requires some advance payment before assignments are offered.
Many legitimate or at least fully registered companies work on a similar basis, using this method as their primary source of earnings. Some modelling and escort agencies tell applicants that they have a number of clients lined up, but that they require some sort of prior "registration fee", usually paid in by an untraceable method, e. The scammer contacts the victim to interest them in a "work-at-home" opportunity, or asks them to cash a check or money order that for some reason cannot be redeemed locally.
In one cover story, the perpetrator of the scam wishes the victim to work as a "mystery shopper", evaluating the service provided by MoneyGram or Western Union locations within major retailers such as Wal-Mart. Later the check is not honoured and the bank debits the victim's account. Schemes based solely on check cashing usually offer only a small part of the check's total amount, with the assurance that many more checks will follow; if the victim buys into the scam and cashes all the checks, the scammer can steal a lot in a very short time.