Many people in other countries hate Americans, which may seem natural because the only contact most overseas countries have with Americans is through the actions of American tourists (whom they don't like) and American politicians (whom we don't like).
Other countries also get their information about Americans through American television shows. So after watching shows like Baywatch or Sex and the City, most countries believe that Americans are not only rich and beautiful, but lousy actors as well.
But no matter how people in other countries perceive Americans, the fact remains that America is one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. Given the wide disparity between the average American's income and that of people in other countries, it's no surprise that other countries feel no guilt or shame in conning Americans out of their money at every available opportunity.
For some odd reason, not only have many of these scams originated in Nigeria, but the Nigerian government has often been involved to the point where many people believe that international scams make up the third-largest industry in Nigeria. The general view in Nigeria is that if you can cheat an American out of her money, it's the American's fault for being gullible in the first place.
Nigerian scams are often called "Advance Fee Fraud," "419 Fraud" (four-one-nine, after the relevant section of the Criminal Code of Nigeria), or "The Fax Scam." The scam works as follows: The victim receives an unsolicited email, fax, or letter from Nigeria containing a money-laundering proposal, a seemingly legitimate business proposal involving crude oil, or a proposal about a bequest left in a will.
The fax or letter usually asks the victim to facilitate the transfer of a large sum of money to the victim's own bank and promises that the recipient will receive a share of the money if he (or she) will pay an "advance fee," "transfer tax," "performance bond," or government bribe of some sort. If the victim pays this fee, complications mysteriously occur that require the victim to send more money until the victim either quits, runs out of money, or both.
With the growing popularity of the Internet, Nigerian con artists have been very busy, so don't be surprised if you receive email from Nigeria asking for your help. The following is a sample letter sent from Nigeria offering the lure of fantastic wealth in exchange for little work on your part:
I am working with the Federal Ministry of Health in Nigeria. It happens that five months ago my father who was the Chairman of the Task Force Committee created by the present Military Government to monitor the selling, distribution and revenue generation from crude oil sales before and after the gulf war crisis died in a motor accident on his way home from Lagos after attending a National conference. He was admitted in the hospital for eight (8) days before he finally died. While I was with him in the hospital, he disclosed all his confidential documents to me one of which is the business I want to introduce to you right now.
Before my father finally died in the hospital, he told me that he has $21.5M (twenty one million five hundred thousand U.S. Dollars) cash in a trunk box coded and deposited in a security company. He told me that the security company is not aware of its contents. That on producing a document which, he gave to me, that I will only pay for the demurrage after which the box will be released to me.
He further advised me that I should not collect the money without the assistance of a foreigner who will open a local account in favor of his company for onward transfer to his nominated overseas account where the money will be invested.
This is because as a civil servant I am not supposed to own such money. This will bring many questions in the bank if I go without a foreigner.
It is at this juncture that I decided to contact you for assistance but with the following conditions:
That this transaction is treated with Utmost confidence, cooperation and absolute secrecy which it demands.
That the money is being transferred to an account where the incidence of taxation would not take much toll.
That all financial matters for the success of this transfer will be tackled by both parties.
That a promissory letter signed and sealed by you stating the amount US $21.5M (twenty-one million five hundred thousand US Dollars) will be given to me by you on your account and that only 20% of the total money is for your assistance.
Please contact me on the above fax number for more details. Please quote (QS) in all your correspondence.
DR. AN UZOAMAKA
To learn more about scams originating from Nigeria, visit one of your favorite search engines (see Chapter 1) and use one or more of the following keywords: 419 fraud or Nigerian scam.
Since the United States sent troops to Afghanistan, a new variation of the Nigerian scam has emerged where potential victims receive an email supposedly from an American soldier who has discovered a large stash of money and needs the help of an American citizen to sneak the money back to the United States. Other than using the name of an American soldier instead of a Nigerian official, the scam is the same.
(For an entertaining analysis of various Nigerian scam letters, visit http://archive.salon.com/people/feature/2001/08/07/419scams/index.html.)