With the horrific stories of successful scammers making millions from fraudulent activities online, efforts are now in full force to crack down the 419 scammers. An ABC documentary on the subject traced a scam to its origins in Nigeria.
The ABC documentary was just one of many efforts, now getting more concerted, to crack down on the fraudsters perpetuating this activity on a massive scale. The Nigerian police has created the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a special division specifically to enforce the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code, 419. The code makes it illegal to obtain money by false pretenses. It was not enforced until recently.
The scams happen worldwide. The old, traditional post mail scams have now escalated to million-dollar, worldwide fraud business because of the availability and accessibility of internet facilities. What authorities find out though, is that a lot of these scammers are not part of an organization. While there may be highly organized master scammers, many are small scale schemes looking to make an easy buck.
A lot of the scams have been traced back to parts of Western Africa. Nigeria is a hot spot. The decline in Nigeria’s oil-drive economy has left millions desperately poor. But instead of looking for decent jobs, thousands of computer-savvy Nigerians are making a living off of thousands of gullible people from the West, many of whom are Americans.
Spam emails are the most widely used method of fraud. Spammers send varied types of fraudulent emails. It begins with the use of email extraction programs that scour internet websites for email addresses. In some instances, fraudsters obtain a list of email addresses from the black market.
The scammer would usually pose as a widow or heir of a corrupt government official who has left his family with embezzled money stashed away in some hidden account. The widow would ask help to get their money on the funds and in exchange, promise millions of dollars in reward money.
Sometimes, a scammer will pose as a diplomat or a corrupt government official looking to make for a partner-investor in a business. The proposal is usually to ask help to funnel dirty money and “cleanse” it. The money is supposedly stashed somewhere inaccessible. If one helps release the funds that would require advancing a small sum of money, the victim will supposedly receive a million-dollar reward and business deal.
Scammers will sometimes notify a victim of winning a lottery online. The amounts would be anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars purportedly held in trust somewhere pending your accomplishment of some paper work. Typically, the victim will be asked to pay a small sum to cover facilitation and processing fees before the money could be released.
Some scammers will identify themselves as a bank officer knowing of a deceased depositor who has died without a next of kin. He would ask the victim to help them get the funds before others do by posing as next of kin and filing a claim. The victim will then be promised a commission, a reward for the help.
More recent forms now involve romance angles and a lot of them now operate in dating sites and online communities. They pose as desperate women wanting to fall in love and scam lonely, gullible men for cash.