You may receive emails telling you about some wonderful business opportunity. There’s a large sum of money stored in a bank account, maybe several millions. The original owner may have died or been imprisoned. The guy emailing you just needs your help to move the money out of that country, and into his account. He’s promising you a good share of the money, maybe 10% or more, if you’ll just allow the money to pass through your account.
You’ll probably be told that this is a legitimate business plan, though you’ll also be told to keep things confidential. There might be a sense of urgency in the email. You might be told that you’re a really reliable and honest person, and that’s why you were chosen.
If you decide to respond, you’ll be asked for many things. They will want your bank account details. They may ask you to send them company letter heads, telling you that’s necessary to let them export the money. You may in return start getting some very official looking documents, complete with stamps, seals, photographs. The correspondence will continue.
Sooner or later you’ll be told that there’s a problem. An export licence is needed, or a lawyer needs a fee. You’ll be asked to pay.
If you decide to pay these people, they will keep on asking for money. Each request for cash will be followed by another request, maybe for storage fees, or to cover legal issues. Each time you’ll typically be told that this fee is the absolute last fee needed, and you’ll receive the money as soon as you pay this last request.
The bad news is that there is no pot of gold. There are no millions stored in some foreign bank account. The whole area is a scam, designed to squeeze as much out of you as possible.
Even worse, the scammers have some details about you. They can sell your name on to other scammers, and create false identity documents with your name on, making it look like you are trying to defraud other people.
And people have been taken in. The fees requested by the scammers typically rise as the scam progresses, and people will borrow on their houses, borrow from friends, take out loans and even steal from employers to keep up with the scammer’s demands. Some victims have been coaxed into travelling to foreign countries, usually in the developing world, to “seal the deal”. Some of these people have been imprisoned while on these trips.
The best thing to do with these scam emails is to delete them as soon as you receive one. Tell your friends about this scam. Many of these emails come from Nigeria, where the law dealing with this type of fraud is called Section 419. Because of this, the scams are usually called the 419 scam.
Remember, on the internet as in real life, the golden rule. If it looks too good to be true, it is.”