A classic scam that has been around for years --
with some variations in its wording -- is again making the rounds
among AAPG members.
The EXPLORER has received several inquiries from
members concerning the obtaining of addresses -- as well as reports
of members receiving these scam letters and e-mails.
According to the U.S. Secret Service, the perpetrators
of Advance Fee Fraud (AFF), which is what AAPG members are experiencing,
are often very creative and innovative.
AFF is known internationally as the "4-1-9" fraud,
named after the section of the Nigerian penal code that addresses
The e-mail/letter that members have received, almost
always a request for a person's bank account number where millions
of dollars can be "stored," actually is just setting the stage for
the scam's real purpose; it is simply the opening round of a two-layered
The primary reason for the account request is to
signal those involved that they have hooked another victim.
The scam e-mail or letter, while appearing transparent
and even ridiculous to most, unfortunately is growing in its effectiveness,
according to the Secret Service. The Financial Crimes Division of
the Secret Service reports approximately 100 telephone calls from
victims/potential victims and 300-500 pieces of related correspondence
Indications are that AFF grosses hundreds of millions
of dollars annually, and the losses are continuing to escalate.
In all likelihood, there are victims who do not report their losses
to authorities due to either fear or embarrassment, authorities
In response to this growing epidemic, the U.S. Secret
Service established "Operation 4-1-9," designed to target Nigerian
Advance Fee Fraud on an international basis.
Secret Service agents have been assigned on a temporary
basis to the American Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, to address the
problem in that arena. Agents have established liaison with Nigerian
officials, briefed other embassies on the widespread problem and
have assisted in the extrication of U.S. citizens in distress.
According to authorities, the criminals obtain the
names of potential victims from a variety of sources, including
trade journals, professional directories, newspapers and commercial
libraries. They do not target a single company, but rather send
out mailings en masse.
The most prevalent and successful cases of Advance
Fee Fraud involve the fund transfer scam. In this scheme, a company
or individual will typically receive an unsolicited correspondence
from a Nigerian claiming to be a senior civil servant.
In the letter, the Nigerian will inform the recipient
that he is seeking a reputable foreign company or individual into
whose account he can deposit funds ranging from $10-$60 million
that the Nigerian government overpaid on some procurement contract.
The sender declares that he is a senior civil servant
in one of the Nigerian Ministries, usually the Nigerian National
Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The letters refer to investigations
of previous contracts awarded by prior regimes, alleging that many
contracts were over-invoiced.
Rather than return the money to the government, they
desire to transfer the money to a foreign account. The sums to be
transferred average between $10 to $60 million, and the recipient
is usually offered a commission up to 30 percent for assisting in
Initially, the intended victim is instructed to provide
company letterheads and pro forma invoicing that will be used to
show completion of the contract. One of the reasons is to use the
victim's letterhead to forge letters of recommendation to other
victim companies and to seek a travel visa from the American Embassy
The victim also is told that the completed contracts
will be submitted for approval to the Central Bank of Nigeria. Upon
approval, the funds will be remitted to an account supplied by the
The criminal's goal is to delude the target into
thinking that they are being drawn into a very lucrative, albeit
questionable, arrangement. The intended victim must be reassured
and confident of the potential success of the deal. He will become
the primary supporter of the scheme and willingly contribute a large
amount of money when the deal is threatened.
The term "when" is used because the con-within-the-con
in the scheme will be threatened in order to persuade the victim
to provide a large sum of money to save the venture.
Victims are almost always requested to travel to
Nigeria or a border country to complete a transaction. Individuals
are often told that a visa will not be necessary to enter the country.
The Nigerian con artists may then bribe airport officials to pass
the victims through Nigeria Immigration and Customs.
Because it is a serious offense in Nigeria to enter
without a valid visa, the victim's illegal entry may be used by
the fraudsters as leverage to coerce the victims into releasing
Violence and threats of physical harm may be employed
to further pressure victims. In June 1995, an American was murdered
in Lagos while pursuing a 4-1-9 scam, and numerous other foreign
nationals have been reported as missing.
Several reasons have been submitted why the scheme
has undergone a dramatic increase in recent years, and the explanations
are as diverse as the types of schemes. The Nigerian government
blames the growing problem on mass unemployment, extended family
systems, a get-rich-quick syndrome and, especially, the greed of
If you have been victimized by one of these schemes,
forward appropriate written documentation to the U.S. Secret Service,
Financial Crimes Division, 950 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001;
or telephone (202) 406-5850.
If you have received a letter, but have not lost
any monies to this scheme, the Secret Service asks to receive a
fax copy of that letter or e-mail to (202) 406-5031.