419 Scam – Frequently asked Questions (FAQ)
What is this FAQ about?
This collection of frequently asked questions (FAQ) tries to answer questions about the Advance Fee Fraud ("419 scam"). The scam is named after the section of the Nigerian penal code dealing with fraud.
I received an email telling me I won in a lottery. Is this a scam?Yes. Fake lotteries are the most common type of "419" scam. Consider the following (if after reading the list below you're still not sure, try submitting it to the Scam-O-Matic. our Instant Online Fraud Check or visit the Scamwarners.com forum and ask for help there).
- Did you buy a lottery ticket from this company? Did you even hear about them before? If not, it is obviously a fraud. The primary purpose of lotteries is to raise money. Therefore they require people to buy tickets in order to have a chance to win. Lottery companies do not organize "promotional" lotteries, they advertise. A free "promotional" lottery that you only hear about if you win would only promote the lottery to a handful of customers. That doesn't make any sense.
Here is a search form for you to use:
- UK: +44-70xx (call redirection)
- Netherlands: +31-6xx (mobile)
- Spain: +34-6xx (mobile)
- Belgium: +32-4xx (mobile)
- South Africa: +27-7x or +27-8x (mobile)
- Nigeria: +234-80x (mobile)
Why would a major company give you a mobile phone as the first point of contact?
How do I know if an email is a scam?The general rule of thumb is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are a number of what we call "red flags", markers that show up in typical scam emails, such as certain phrases or certain ways of doing things. You can learn to spot these by yourself. For lottery winning notification scams, please see here. You can check any type of suspicious email by pasting it into the "Scam-O-Matic", our Instant Online Fraud Check form or by posting it in the Scamwarners.com forum where anti-fraud experts will be ready to give your their advice. The Scam-O-Matic will provide instant feedback and is able to recognize more than 80% of scams submitted to it. Its detection rate is even better if you supply a complete set of email messages and not just the most recent message or a portion of a message.
- "Is that a scam?" -- Ask the Scam-O-Matic!
Why did I received this email?Spammers send spam to make money. "419" scammers send spam to defraud people. To make as much money as possible, they hit as many email addresses as possible. If you received "419" spam or any other type of spam, it usually means a) your email address can be found on a website (try googling for it!) and b) that you are not using an effective spam filter.
- Most email addresses targetted by spammers are listed as contact addresses on a website, in a link such as this one. Spammers use special address harvesting software to search websites for email addresses and for links. Harvesting addresses off websites for the purpose of spam is actually illegal under US Federal Law. The software adds all addresses to a file and then repeats the process for all pages mentioned in links. The initial page for the search is usually found via a search engine, in order to start off with pages that contain many addresses. Guestbooks are a prime target for address harvesters (see "What is a "mugu"? ").
I have already given personal data to the criminals. What will they do with it?
It appears that the main purpose of asking the victim for personal data is not identity theft (i.e. a criminal comitting a crime in your name) but to lend the scam an aura of authenticity. The scammers print fancy looking "certificates" with the victim's name and postal address on it, data that he/she has previously gave to the scammers when first contacted. It's pure psychology.
Nevertheless, the chance of secondary abuse can not be excluded, especially for passport data and bank account information. Sometimes in Nigerian fraud the scammers send scans of passports or other forms of ID to "prove" their identity. We've seen copies of US, UK, South African and other African passports or driver's licenses used. This doesn't happen very often. We suspect some of these passport copies were supplied by victims of fake lottery scams.
There is a danger that bank account numbers are used for check fraud, i.e. for printing fake checks using victims' bank account information. This applies especially to North America, where personal checks are very common. Having said that, we have not personally come across such cases yet.
Other than passport scans we have not seen any evidence that the data collected during fake lottery scams is systematically used for other crimes. We can't give you any guarantees it won't happen, but at least it's not something that seems very common at this time.
If you would like to get further information about possible abuse of the data, take a printout of the form you filled in to your local police station or to your bank manager to get their professional advice.
I have already sent my phone number and address. What should I do?
Stop taking calls and don't reply to any emails from the scammers. You can tell them you know it's a scam and that you've talked to the police, if you want to get rid of them quickly. No need to mention our website to these criminals, though. The scammers want to make money. They can only make money by dealing with people who don't realize it's a scam. They would be wasting their time by staying in touch with you or doing anything other than look for new victims.
I have been asked for my bank account. Will the scammers steal money from it?
We don't have any current reports of any such thefts in the case of fake lottery scams, though there is no guarantee that the data you have provided will not be used for other scams in the future. Be warned that there are some such reports for "classic" 419 scams, even though they are not very commmon. For example, in scams were the 419 victim is offered to pose as an unpaid contractor or heir to a dead foreigner, the paperwork and ID submitted for those bogus claims is sometimes used in conjunction with bank account information for falsifying wire transfer instructions to the victim's bank to transfer money out of the account. To judge the risk of that, please discuss your concerns with your bank manager.
In general, the main purpose of asking for the bank account is only to encourage the victim's belief that he/she is really about to receive a fortune in that account very soon, in order to melt his/her resistance to sending money to the scammers. When the victim does indeed provide the number of an account, this indicates to the scammers that he/she has fallen for the scam and trusts them. Once the scammers find that a person is prepared to provide bank account details, name of the spouse and a copy of his/her driver's license or passport to them, it won't take long until they will ask him/her to send cash by Western Union because they think the person is firmly on the hook and ready to be reeled in.
I have not been asked for money or a bank acount. Is it still a scam?Probably. Fake lottery scams and other variants of "419" fraud follow a fixed script that works in stages. In most cases the victim is not asked for money immediately, so as not to alert the spam recipients, who might report the email addresses to the webmail providers and get them shut down. Here is a typical sequence:
- Victim is notified via spam that he/she won a lottery prize and is told to contact a "claims agent".
- Victim contacts "claims agent", who replies and tells victim to fill in a form with personal data.
- Victim complies and is told that the winning is confirmed and he/she can receive the money, but only after paying various handling charges to the agent.
- Victim sends money by Western Union, criminal takes money and ignores complaints after prize is not paid out.
I can't find the address in my email on your blacklist. Is it still a scam?
Probably. On average we add more than 250 addresses of "419" scammers to our list per day and there must be many more that we never see. This means there probably are thousands of criminals out there producing such scam emails, living off the proceeds.If the address in your email isn't listed yet, it doesn't mean it's genuine. It probably just means it hasn't been reported to us yet. See the following links:
- How to report 419 spam to us
- I received an email telling me I won in a lottery. Is this a scam?
Please also report 419 spam to the abuse department of the company that provides their email accounts. For example, if the mail originates from firstname.lastname@example.org then write to email@example.com. quoting the full text of the mail including message headers (in Outlook Express you get the full message source via Ctrl+F3; use cut+paste to insert that into your email).
I have received a Bank draft / cashier's check / Money order. What should I do?
Some fake lottery scams as well as other scams by gangs from Nigeria involve counterfeit monetary instruments, such as fake cashier's checks or US Postal Money Orders (MO). Counterfeit instruments are also used in other scams from Nigeria, such as fraudulent purchases of cars, motor bikes and other vehicles as well as horses and other animals. By pretending to first make a payment to the victim, the criminals overcome a reluctance by the victim to send cash to a total stranger in another country.So how does this work? Any funds made available by a bank against a deposited check or MO become due again when that check or MO bounces (i.e. is recognized as fake by the bank that supposedly issued it). This could be weeks or even months after those funds were wired to another country by the victim as requested by the criminals. The victim will in effect have wired money borrowed from the bank and will be fully liable for that amount. Here is an example:
- The criminals pose as a legitimate company seeking "representatives" to help process payments from customers of the company.
- A victim responds and gets promised 10% of every transaction.
- A "customer" contacts the victim and sends a $40,000 check supposedly for goods supplied by the "company".
- The victim deposits the check and five days later receives $40,000 in his bank account.
- The "company" instructs the victim to keep $4,000 and wire $36,000 to some foreign bank account.
- One month later the bank calls the victim to report that the deposited check was a fake or stolen check and is void. The $40,000 credit is reversed immediately.
- The victim is now tens of thousands of dollars in debt and may face criminal charges and/or bankrupcy.
The fake checks or MOs are normally mailed from Canada, Nigeria or the UK, though other countries are possible too. They may be part of an elaborate scheme where some person or institution lends funds to a "lottery winner" (the victim), who is unable to come up with the amount demanded for bogus "processing charges" or a minimum deposit for a fake "private bank". They are also used in purchases of big ticket items such as cars. The buyer will send a check that vastly exceeds the value of the car and request the seller to cash it and wire the excess amount to a person who will take care of shipping the purchased car to the buyer. Other examples are "debt repayment" from a third party by check or collecting payments from customers on behalf of a bogus company in Europe, Asia or Africa.
Never deposit such checks or money orders or you could be charged with fraud yourself. In fact under US laws even possession of fake checks and money orders is illegal. Contact your local police and give them check as well as printouts of all emails you have received from the criminals. It's better not to touch the checks or MOs: There may be useful fingerprints on them.Forward us copies of the emails that preceeded the arrival of the check or MOs. We may be able to identify which other scams this is connected to. See:
- How can I report scams to you?
I already sent money. How can I get it back?
In most cases the answer is you can't.
Most online scams are not seriously investigated by the police. Basically as soon as they find out the criminals are based abroad they give up, because the effort to track down the criminals would be considerable and the chances of success too uncertain. In the United States the FBI only gets involved in online scams such as fake lotteries, fake inheritance claims, etc. with criminals based in Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire if damages exceed about $100,000. This unfortunately means that such crimes are almost without risk for the criminals. But even in cases where criminals are arrested and convicted in court it is rare that their victims are compensated, because the money has often disappeared by then.
Personally I don't know of a single case where a 419 victim has got his/her money back.
Realistically the only chance to get money back is if you have made a wire transfer a few hours ago and the money hasn't been picked up yet and you phone Western Union / MoneyGram / the bank to cancel the transfer. If this happens soon enough all you lose is the cost of transfer, with the remainder refunded. Once the money has been picked up, it is gone forever.
That's why we try to put as much information online as possible, so victims find out it's a scam *before* they send money.
Beware of any emails, often pretending to originate from official sources in West Africa, Europe or in the USA which tell you they know about the scam and request details about it to help you get your money back. These usually are sent by the very same criminals who cheated you in the first place. The objective is to get you to send even more money, because the "help" never comes for free. You won't get your money back. Instead you'll lose even more money. The criminals are extremely cruel and without conscience, driving many of their victims into ruin.
How can I help fight this scam?
What can I do to protect others from this scam?Since you've discovered this website, you know that a suspicious email you received is a scam. Many others do not know and are still at risk. Here is how you can help:
- Report spam: Report any 419 spam to the webmail provider used to send the spam or to receive replies (see abuse contact list ). For example, if the mail originates from firstname.lastname@example.org or if that address is listed as a person to contact then write to email@example.com. quoting the full text of the mail including message headers (in Outlook Express you get the full message source via Ctrl+F3; use cut+paste to insert that into your email).
In particular, report any contact addresses mentioned in
the body of the spam itself, such as "claims agents" of fake lotteries. These are the most important mailboxes the scammers use. The sooner we get them shut down, the fewer victims there will be.
If you need to contact law enforcement in Nigeria, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a body set up by the Nigerian government in 2002, may be helpful:
I want these guys arrested. What must I do?
This almost never happens - arrest rates for this type of crime are very low. There are a number of reasons for this. This type of crime crosses national borders and uses a relatively anonymous medium, the internet as well as cellphones. There is no crime location as such and investigations are very technical in nature. There is still too little specialized expertise within the police forces. Also, as a white collar crime it does not get the same kind of resources as violent crime or the ideologically driven so-called "war on drugs".
To get an investigation started you have to report the case to law enforcement in your own country, no matter what phone numbers are listed in the emails. Some countries have institutions that specialize in fraud or online crimes. For example, in the United States the Secret Service investigates financial fraud cases. In other countries special sections of the regular local or state police force will handle reported cases.An overview of reporting addresses for various countries can be found at the
- 419 Coalition website
If this a known scam, why are these guys not arrested?
If you want to find out for yourself, take a printout of a 419 scam email to a police station and try to report a criminal fraud. The officers will basically tell you to delete or ignore such emails when you get them, but not do much more. The sad fact is, the police does not have the resources or the training to cope with the current volume of online scams (though billions of dollars seem to be available for fighting a fruitless "war on drugs", arguably itself an advance fee fraud, but I digress. ).
There is no real crime location in online fraud, which raises issues of under which jurisdiction the crime was committed. In most cases the victim and the criminals live in different countries, which means multiple police forces have to cooperate. This is complicated by the fact that classic 419 havens such as Nigeria or other West African countries have major corruption problems. Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is in the middle of a civil war and some cities in Nigeria are basically "no go"-areas for the Nigerian federal police.
419 fraud is an industry that on some estimates makes hundreds of millions of dollars per year. It employs thousands of crooks, who vastly outnumber the police officers who investigate their scams. This is not just a few young guys going to an internet cafe to cheat some foreigners. In many cases, African internet cafes are owned by the gang bosses, who pay young men hourly wages for "working" in 419-sweatshops. These bosses are politically well connected and pay off the right people.
Therefore, don't expect this problem to go away any time soon. Instead, expect it to get worse. To use a classic phrase from Nigeria scams, these scams are almost "100% RISK FREE" for the scammers.
How can I report scams to you?
We have received many emails from near-victims who backed out of a fake lottery or other advance fee scam or fraudulent business transaction after they did a search for an email address, name or phone number and came across it on our 419 blacklist. We publish such data to warn potential victims about such scams. The more scammers we can get listed, the more crimes will be prevented. You too can help!
If you've received what looks like a 419 spam (basically, any email from a stranger that promises an unexpected fortune), you're welcome to send us a copy. Please make sure to include the five character string  in the subject line of the email (you can follow this with further details, such as name of the fake lottery or other company, alias or email address of the criminal, phone numbers, etc). Examples:
We strongly prefer mails that are submitted as an attached email. That way we will receive an exact copy of the mail you received, as an attachment. We will put that into our database and process it with our spamfilter, which not only lets us verify it looks like a real 419 mail, it also extracts the 419 sender address automatically and we can find out which email provider the criminals used and other information useful for tracking them. Alternatively, you can use copy and paste using the Scam-O-Matic webform, see further below.
How to report fraud by e-mail using Outlook Express
If you are using Outlook Express, open or select the fraud email, then click "Message" and "Forward as Attachment". Type our address <firstname.lastname@example.org > into the To: field, use  and optional extra information as the subject (see examples above) and click the "Send" button.
How to report fraud by e-mail using Yahoo mail
If you are using Yahoo mail (Classic), open the email, hold down the Control key and click on the "Forward" button. Type our address <email@example.com > into the To: field, use  as the subject and click the "Send" button.
How to report fraud by e-mail using Incredimail
- Use File / Save As to save the email somewhere on your hard disk (name doesn't matter).
How to report fraud using the "Scam-O-Matic" webform
- Highlight the message body of the suspect mail with your mouse and press Ctrl+C to copy the text into the clipboard.
- Go to the "Scam-O-Matic" webform and paste it there.
- You can also provide the email address from which you received the mail, subject lines or header information.
- If you leave an email address where we can contact you then we can get back to you later if we find more information for you or if we need more information about the scam from you.
Please do not use the normal "Forward" function of your email program, if possible. Please do not paste email contents into Word documents. If you do not know how to forward an email as an attachment or none of this makes any sense to you, use either use the "Scam-O-Matic" webform or the normal "Forward" function. With the latter, please make sure to include the five character string  in the message subject. If you do use the "Forward as attachment" function, you should still mark the message subject as .
Note: If you forward a 419 scam mail in the body of your email to us (inline forward) without marking the subject then in some cases the mail is indistinguishable by software from a real 419 email. It may get intercepted by our filter because it looks too much like spam from a spammer. You sure don't want that to happen, because in effect you would have accidentally submitted your own email address to the blacklist ;-)
Therefore, submit the mail as an attachment, or to the webform or mark the subject and you'll be safe!
You should also report 419 scam addresses to the abuse-department of the email provider they used. In addition, you can contact law enforcement or appropriate government institutions in your country. See the following for more details:
How can I help you gather evidence?If you receive a fraudulent "lottery winning notification" or "business proposal" (i.e. any offer of easy money as described on our website), you can help us gather evidence by "pinging" (see definition ) the scammers and forwarding the response to us. This wastes the scammers time and helps us to track them. Follow these steps carefully:
- Create a Yahoo email account using an assumed name (you only need to do this once for multiple scam emails you receive). Either the main Yahoo.com website or national variants (yahoo.co.uk, yahoo.ca, yahoo.fr, yahoo.de) are fine. You should probably turn off the Yahoo spamfilter. Not all webmail services are suitable (e.g. Hotmail is not), but Yahoo is perfect for this.
- Open Yahoo! Mail, select "Compose" and paste the body of the scam email into the new email. Paste the email address from either the body of the message ("claims agent", "confidential private email address", etc.) or from the sender address, if there no explicit reply address, into the "To:" field.
- Add a suitable subject line (this can be copied from the original scam email, maybe with a "Re: " prefix). Then add some brief text at the beginning to make this look like a "real" response, but don't overplay it. Examples (please vary these and use your imagination):
- "Hello, I'd like to claim my lottery prize, see message below"
- "This business proposal sounds interesting. Please send me more information!"
- "Is this a joke or is it real?"
- "how soon can i get this money? i could really do with it. "
- "I RECEIVED THIS MAIL. WHAT DO I NEED TO DO. "
- You should get a reply within 24-72 hours, often from a different email address. Open that reply from the scammer and forward it to us (we only need the scammer's reply, NOT your email to the scammer ):
- Mark an identifying portion of the mail, such as the lottery name or alias of the scammer and copy it to the clipboard.
- Hold down the control key while clicking the "Forward" button.
- Change the subject to the five characters  followed by a space and then paste the lottery name or alias of the scammer from the clipboard (anything after  is optional).
- Address the email to firstname.lastname@example.org (it's quickest if you add this address to the Yahoo address book.
- Click "Send".
The term "ping" originally meant the high pitched sound used by a submarine to measure distances to objects, such as the seabed or another vessel. By bouncing sound off an object and measuring the runtime the sonar system could determine how far apart it was. The same term is used on the internet to describe a minimal packet sent to another host to test connectivity and speed.
"I HAVE TO INFORM YOU THAT I AM VERY DISSAPOINTED WITH YOUR ATTITUDE ON ALL ISSUES CONCERNING THIS TRANSACTION AS I HAVE NOT HEARD FROM YOU ALL THIS TIME.
I HAVE CONTACTED THE SECURITY COMPANY WERE THIS GIVEN FUND IS DEPOSITED FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE AND I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU TO RESPOND TO MY MAILS AS I AM NOT HAPPY WITH YOU.
PLEASE IF YOU WISH TO CONTINUE WITH THIS TRANSACTION SIMPLY SEND YOUR INFORMATIONS TO ME IN GETTING THE NECESSARY LEGAL DOCUMENTS THAT WILL ENABLE US TO FACILITATE THE IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF THIS GIVEN FUND AS AT THIS TIME."
from 220.127.116.11 by by107fd.bay107.hotmail.msn.com with HTTP;
Tue, 03 May 2005 11:39:47 GMT
Since when has this scam been around?Current 419 fraud emails involving "Nigeria fraud" and fake lotteries trace back to an idea known as the "Spanish prisoner scam", which goes back to before 1914 (World War I) and before it the "Letter from Jerusalem scam" documented by Vidocq after the French Revolution:
- "The Spanish prisoner" (Arthur Train, 1910)
- Lettre de Jérusalem
Modern variants of the scam started circulating from Nigeria by fax and postal mail in the 1980s and netted quite a few, often quite wealthy victims worldwide during the 1990s. The scam crossed over into email in the late 1990s. The oldest 419 email in our own collection was sent in March 2000. By May 2001 we were getting more than one 419 email per week already. In January 2002 we started receiving more than one per day. Now it's about 40 per day in our main email account and 400-900 per day in our total spam feed.
What is a "mugu"?The word "mugu" (which means "fool") is used by junior "419" scammers who collect addresses for 419 scams from website guestbooks. These so called "guymen" use the term in non-sensical entries to mark guestbooks already harvested for spamming. The idea is to prevent fellow scammers from offering competing but equally dubious "BUSINESS PROPOSALS" to the same victims (which might alert them to the fact that both proposals are scams). Email addresses in such gustbooks, or at least all addresses in entries posted before the "mugu" posting are supposed to be off-limits to other scammers.
- Typical names:
- "mugu Lome Togo"
- mugu don come
- mugu keep offffffffffffffffffffffffffff
- KKKKKKEEEEEEEPPPP OFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF
- MUGU@MUGU.COM MUGU@MUGU.COM MUGU@MUGU.COM MUGU@MUGU.COM
Scam terminology: "Guymen", lads, mugus, baiters and "jokers"Who is who:
- The scammers refer to themselves as "guymen". They call their victims "maga". The term "mugu" (found in guestbook spam) is a Nigerian word for fool.
- Scambaiters (people who make it their hobby to wind up scammers and waste as much of their time as possible) refer to the scammers as "lads" (as in "lads from Lagos") and to themselves as baiters.
- Lads tend to call baiters "jokers". Many of them are not even aware of active scambaiting communities that are fighting them.
- A boss of a 419 scam ring is called a "oga", the Nigerian word for boss (not just a crime boss). Both lads and baiters use this expression.
- Eastern European scammers tend to be called "vlads" (as in "Vladimir") by the baiters.
Is anybody really so stupid as to fall for this scam?
This is not a matter of intelligence. Some of these scammers are actually very good at what they are doing. They know what buttons to push, psychologically speaking. The techniques used by the scammers have been developed and refined over many years.
You would be surprised just how many people from all walks of life have become victims of this scam. Some are businessmen or academics. In some cases people have even committed other crimes, such as stealing money from their employers, to cover the advance fee payments, hoping they would be able to repay the money from the promised fortune before anybody would notice.
It is not merely a matter of intelligence, but of circumstances and psychology. If you are an immigrant or someone for whom English is not your first language it is more difficult to pick up on signs of fraud. We have found that some people who contact us about the scam really need to be talked out of it. This is especially true if someone is in a difficult economic situation. A sudden lottery win would appear like the solution to all their problems. If you are a mother with a handicapped child or a husband with a sick wife without medical insurance, or if you run a small business going though hard times then a million dollars dangling in front of your nose can develop a magic attraction that gets the better of common sense.