How to Protect Yourself from the Infamous Nigerian Email Scams

Don't fall for these new twists on an old con

Nigeria is home to a wide variety of online fraud variants including Fifo’s fraud, black money scam, Detroit-Buffalo scam, Spanish Prisoner scam, and  Nigerian scam emails. A Nigerian email scam generally involves a victim taking a leap of faith and transferring money online in anticipation of receiving a valuable good or service like a gift, a loan, or as an investment. In most cases, the victim doesn’t receive anything. These email scams are also known as ‘419 Scams’ according to section 419 of Nigeria’s Penal Code.

Nigeria has a track record of being home to email scammers since the 1990s. You can view some examples of real Nigerian scam emails at Hoax-Slayer. The FBI has noted that these scams are costing American citizens billions of dollars each year.

How Nigerian Scam Emails Work

There’s one common fiction created by Nigerian scammers to take advantage of the unsuspecting. They send their target an email that tells the victim that they (the scammer) are in communication with a Nigerian prince. For the scammer to lure the victim, an intricate, tragic story is crafted to inform the victim that they have been chosen to inherit a certain amount of wealth from the “prince.” The victim is asked to send a few thousand dollars to the prince before receiving the money as a gesture of goodwill before the full sum is distributed. Once the scammer receives the money from the victim, the “prince” disappears without a trace.

New Techniques for Online Scams

Email is not the only medium used by Nigerian scammers. They also contact their victims via text messages, letters, and fake online dating profiles. Here are some of the different techniques they use:

Fake Dating Profiles

The objective of the scammer is to open a phony dating account and create a love connection with someone who can send money. The good thing about this plan is that most scammers do not know how to engage in dating sites. It is easy to spot a fake dating profile if you are careful enough.

The American Soldier Variant

Scammers are smart people. They pose as an American soldier from Iraq who needs to use your account to keep a large sum of money they have found while serving abroad. They’ll ask you to show a sign of commitment by sending them some money. After you’ve demonstrated your trustworthiness the ‘soldier’ disappears.

Phishing

Although the Nigerian prince narrative works with some people, other scammers are more advanced. Some use phishing techniques like an official-looking email from your bank or Paypal. One of these Nigerian scammer emails might state that your Paypal account is limited and you need to log in to your account using a specified link. Once you click the link included and provide your account access details (username and password), that’s it. Instead of logging into your Paypal account, a virus will infect your computer. The scammer will now have access to all your computer passwords through the computer-virus. Your identity will now be at the mercy of the scammers, and your credit cards maxed out.

Same Technique, New Name

The basic structure of a scam is the same through the different variations of scams; you share your account details or send money, in exchange for a fake gift.

What Happens if You Fall into a Scammers Trap?

If you become a victim of online fraud, contact your bank and the local law enforcement unit immediately. You can also file a complaint with the FTC when you receive a strange email (they handle millions of email scam reports every year).

How to Avoid Falling Victim to Scammers

If you become suspicious of someone you’ve come across online, run a background check on their email address. Spokeo has a tool you can use to uncover potential scammer email addresses for what they really are. This reverse email search can help you to lookup Nigerian scammer email addresses and other scammers by their email address. You may be able to see the pictures and social media profiles attached to the email address. The search tool is confidential, instant, and may be able to give you the peace of mind you seek.

If you don’t recognize the sender, the safest course of action is to stop communicating with them and just block their email address. It’s important to never share your email address with someone online. Avoid sharing essential details through email because it is highly unlikely for a registered institution like a bank to request the details through mail.

When it comes to the general scamming that occurs online; it is best to always be on the safe side by ensuring your account details are stored far from your computer. Exercising caution is crucial.