"Nigerian Scam" has become the generic name for a variety of scams that try to trick you into sending money in hopes of obtaining a much larger sum in return. After a decline in the Nigerian oil industry in the 1980's, some university students supposedly started sending letters to business visitors to try to scam them. The development of email, allowed the scam to spread around the world.
For Nigerian Scams, there are many variations on the theme. Here are some of the more common ones.
1) The classic Nigerian Scam - The victims gets a letter from someone claiming to be a government official who knows of a large amount of unclaimed money or gold (or a bank employee that knows a terminally ill millionaire with no living relatives or a wealthy person who deposited a large amount of money before dying in a plane crash) and will share it with the victim after they send $5000 or so to cover fees and taxes. The money almost always is required to be sent by using a wire transfer. The real reason, wire transfers are irreversible and untraceable.
2) International Lottery Scam - The victims is sent a check that is supposed to be part of the jackpot and told to cash it and send back a certain portion to cover fees and other expenses before the full amount of their winnings are sent. The check from the scammers is fraudulent and worthless. By cashing it, you'll be breaking the law. When you wire them money to cover the fees, that's real money being drained from your account that you'll never replace with any lottery winnings because it's a scam. And by the way, it's illegal for Americans, living in the U.S. to participate in international lotteries.
3) Repackaging Scam - The victim is contacted after the scammers get their information from an online job posting. They offered a job repackaging and shipping goods for an electronics company where the business is so good that the warehouse can't handle all the orders. The scammers send the victims all the shipping materials they'll need and periodically a box comes in the mail with a variety of high end electronics equipment that are to be put in individual boxes and shipped out. What's really going on here is that the crooks are buying up stuff with stolen credit card numbers, however it would look suspicious if large amounts of electronics were continually bought and shipped to the same address in Eastern Europe, Russia or Nigeria. So they find a "Regular Joe" in Middle America to ship the stuff without raising suspicion. And that person dutifully ships it on to the addresses of the crooks, in order to earn their paycheck. Unfortunately, they can also earn an arrest if they get caught.
4) Administrative Assistant Scam - The victim answers an online job ad to work as an administrative assistant to a highly successful and very busy doctor or lawyer in a city outside the U.S. It should be immediately suspicious that the person posting the job opening, can't find anyone in their own city to do the work. Then, it should also be fishy that the job seeker never gets to meet or even speak to the person that they'll be working for. The employee is told there will be a variety of duties, but the only thing they're asked to do is deposit a check from their boss, into their personal bank account and then wire the money to one of the boss' favorite charities. The check from the boss is counterfeit and worthless. So, when the victim wires the money to the charity, they're draining their own money out of their account and turning it over to the scammers.
There are variations on these types of scams, such as other "work-at-home" schemes and the "mystery shopper" scam, but almost always contain these easily identifiable red flags.
- It's too good to be true.
- The victims is lured by the promise of big money.
- The person or business you're dealing with is in another country.
- Letters, emails or job postings have poor grammar and misspellings.
- It involves wiring money.
The FBI has a lot more information about frauds and scams. Being able to spot the warning signs could save you from being suckered into a scam and tricked into sending out thousands of dollars of your hard earned money.