The scam starts with a bulk mailing or bulk faxing of a bunch of identical letters to businessmen, professionals, and other persons who tend to be of greater-than-average wealth. A typical letter might look like this:
FROM: Mr. Ben Ahore
Central Bank of Nigeria
Lagos, Nigeria[Phone Number]
TO: Dupe Address
I have been requested by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company to contact you for assistance in resolving a matter. The Nigerian National Petroleum Company has recently concluded a large number of contracts for oil exploration in the sub-Sahara region. The contracts have immediately produced moneys equalling US$40,000,000. The Nigerian National Petroleum Company is desirous of oil exploration in other parts of the world, however, because of certain regulations of the Nigerian Government, it is unable to move these funds to another region.
You assistance is requested as a non-Nigerian citizen to assist the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, and also the Central Bank of Nigeria, in moving these funds out of Nigeria. If the funds can be transferred to your name, in your United States account, then you can forward the funds as directed by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company. In exchange for your accomodating services, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company would agree to allow you to retain 10%, or US$4 million of this amount.
However, to be a legitimate transferee of these moneys according to Nigerian law, you must presently be a depositor of at least US$100,000 in a Nigerian bank which is regulated by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
If it will be possible for you to assist us, we would be most grateful. We suggest that you meet with us in person in Lagos, and that during your visit I introduce you to the representatives of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, as well as with certain officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Please call me at your earliest convenience at [Phone Number]. Time is of the essence in this matter; very quickly the Nigerian Government will realize that the Central Bank is maintaining this amount on deposit, and attempt to levy certain depository taxes on it.
Yours truly, etc.
At its essence, this is a scam for those who think they are too smart for scams. The strategy is to lure one into thinking that they are actually scamming the Nigerian government, when it may be just the opposite that is occuring. Those foolish enough to follow the instructions and send money will at best lose their “investment”. Should they actually be so bloody stupid as to go to Nigeria (or whatever God-forsaken place they are lured to), they may lose their life as well.
There have been numerous reports of high-level officials of the Nigerian government and the Central Bank of Nigeria personally participating in this scam, even to the extent of giving dupes tours through government buildings and showing them piles of cash in the vault of the Central Bank!
You have to wonder why Nigeria of all places has become the home for this garbage. Foxnews.com says:
The Nigerian government says the country is a hotbed for scammers because of mass unemployment among an educated population and large extended families for whom people have to provide for, according to an advisory issued by the Secret Service.
That could apply to any third-world country. But that doesn’t for one minute justify criminal behaviour such as this. Robin Hood mentality, anyone? How about the government helping people get jobs instead of helping them scam foreigners? Somehow, this has become part of the underground culture in Nigeria, and apparently it is well-integrated into the upper eschelons as well.
For what it’s worth, other scammers have adopted this approach to separating you from your money, and they operate out of a number of nations.
On a personal level, about all you or I can do is to report the spam/scam to the proper authorities (forward the email with full header to firstname.lastname@example.org). I also use spamcop.net to report the email back to the originating ISP. Not that this will do much good if it actually comes from Nigeria, but every hole we can plug is a start.
I’m not sure there is much our government can do here. I suppose it would be possible to cut off all internet traffic to Nigeria, but in the end that would probably hurt more innocent people than criminals. Sanctioning and fining Nigerian ISP’s probably wouldn’t work either. I’m not sure how much aid the US sends to Nigeria, and maybe the threat of its withdrawl would get someone’s attention, but again this would likely hurt those who have no involvement.
So, I guess the only solution is to report and delete. Again, and again, and again.