Different types of fraud include confidence tricks, lottery fraud and advance-fee fraud (including so-called Nigerian Letters or 419 Fraud), as well as insurance fraud, tax avoidance, offshore investment scams, marriage fraud, pyramid schemes and payment card fraud.
These crimes often have an international dimension and are committed through a variety of media, for instance by the Internet, telephone, fax and post.
Sophisticated social engineering techniques are carried out on the Internet to trick people into revealing personal data, banking details and passwords. One of these techniques is “phishing”, in which fraudsters create fake communications – such as emails, instant messages and pop up windows – that may appear to come from a legitimate source.
At INTERPOL, we are fighting fraud through several projects which aim to gather information, build up networks between law enforcement bodies and seek possible cooperation with the commercial sector, such as in a current private sector initiative against lottery scams.
For several years, private individuals, as well as organizations and commercial companies, have been receiving unexpected communication through letters and faxes, but mainly through e-mails, from senders claiming to be Nigerian or African citizens and promising high profitable business.
Commonly known as 419 Fraud, after the relevant section of the Criminal Code of Nigeria, these communications are also referred to as Nigerian Letters. They are a form of advance-fee fraud in which a victim is persuaded to pay money upfront for further financial reward which never materializes.
A false request
In general, the solicitation for a profitable money deal is very simple and usually follows the scenario below:
- The unknown sender claims to be the family relative or close friend of a former member of the government or an important and rich businessman who lost his life during political changes or during the September 11 attack or an accident.
- Before the person died he deposited a large amount of money in a bank account in Nigeria. The alleged amount ranges typically from USD 800,000 to 1 million or more.
- The sender of the letter maintains that he has legal access to the account and intends to transfer the money to a foreign account.
- The sender found the name and address of the receiver through recommendation or by chance and the receiver is the only trustworthy person able to assist him in the successful transfer of the money.
- For his assistance the email recipient is promised between 15 and 50 per cent of the total amount.
The steps of the fraud
The mail sender requests discreet and confidential handling of the deal while the expectation of a huge profit makes the receiver forget or ignore all rules of secure and professional business.
The victim is asked to open a special bank account to allow the correct remittance of the money.
The next phase of the fraud is intended to convince the victims that the money transfer is in progress. Several documents are provided bearing apparently official Nigerian government letterhead and seals, as well as false letters of credit, payment schedules and bank drafts. The name of the victim is almost always already mentioned in the documents.
An extensive exchange of e-mails, faxes and telephone calls takes place between the perpetrators and the victims in order to gain the victim's confidence and to collect as much private information about him as possible. The information, such as bank accounts, ID documents, addresses and contact persons, is often used later on to commit further criminal offences in the name of the victim.
In the next stage, the intended fraud takes place. The fraudsters convey that some problems have suddenly arisen which can only be solved with the assistance of the victim. For instance, an official is demanding an up-front bribe, or an unforeseen tax payment or fee to the Nigerian government has to be paid before the money can be transferred. These can include licensing fees, registration fees, and various forms of taxes and attorney fees. Each fee paid is described as the very last fee required. Invariably, oversights and errors in the deal are discovered by the Nigerians, necessitating additional payments and allowing the scheme to be stretched out over a long period until the victim is no longer willing to invest any money.
In a possible follow-up stage, victims are requested to travel to Nigeria or a border country to complete a transaction. The perpetrators maintain that a visa is not necessary to enter the country, while arranging with airport officials for the victims to pass through Immigration and Customs. As it is a serious offence in Nigeria to enter without a valid visa, the victim's illegal entry may be used by the fraudsters as leverage to coerce the victims into releasing funds. Violence and threats of physical harm may be employed to put further pressure on victims.
Victims might also be asked to travel to a neutral country where the money could be handed over in a hotel room. European capitals as London, Madrid and Amsterdam have been identified as common venues for this purpose
The "black money" scam
During such meetings, the fraudsters present suitcases which are allegedly full of genuine money to the victim. The notes usually have the size of USD 100 bills and are all coloured black. The victim is told that they have been coated with a special substance in order to smuggle these out of the country. A special cleaning liquid is required to wash the notes in order to return them to their original state which costs between USD 10,000 and 500,000. Having initial physical contact with the enormous amount of promised money seems for the victim to be the final step required to enter into possession of the money. All the victims obtain in the end is worthless paper.
Another possible step is as follows. When the victim is no longer willing to pay advance fees, the team of fraudsters may disappear and contact is interrupted. After a while the victim may be contacted through the same channels by a new generation of fraudsters maintaining that they are investigators, aware of the fraud and willing and able to assist the victim in getting his lost money back. However, this is only another criminal attempt to ask the victim for more money to cover the unexpected cost of the investigations.
What to do
If you receive one of these fraudulent messages:
- Do not reply to any of these messages;
- Do not give details of your bank accounts;
- Do not give details of your company.
- Do not send or hand over ID documents and letters with your personal or official letterheads and logos – not even copies.
If you are already in contact with perpetrators or have already paid advance fees:
- Save all received and sent messages;
- Save all documents of transactions and remittances;
- Do not agree to attend meetings where money is promised to be handed over to you; you will not receive any money and you may be putting yourself in danger.
- Contact your local police immediately and follow their advice.
If you receive an email from someone claiming to represent INTERPOL, requesting personal information or bank account information, you should ignore it and treat it as spam.