Overseas Fraudulent Business Proposals

"4-1-9" SCAMS 

Report Incidents

Americans have lost millions of dollars to creative scams perpetrated by Nigerian criminal enterprises. E-mail messages promoting similar scams are now being widely sent from other African locations or the middle east and Asia, as well.  According to some estimates, individuals and businesses in this country may receive up to 10,000 solicitations weekly from "Nigerian officials."  Internationally recognized, these various crimes are collectively known as "4-1-9" fraud after a relevant section of the Nigerian penal code they violate. Such schemes generally rely on convincing a victim to send money to Nigeria for a variety of reasons.

Advance Fee Scam:

In the most common scenario, a company or individual receives an unsolicited letter, fax or e-mail from a Nigerian who claims to be a senior civil servant or a bank official. (In a closely related scam, the writer may use a South African address and claim to represent a "prime bank" in Africa). Names of potential victims are obtained from various sources, including professional directories, newspapers, trade journals and libraries. Such lists are used for mass mailings; not to target individuals.

The letter writer says he is seeking a reputable foreign company or individual to provide a bank account to receive millions of dollars in Nigerian government overpayments on a procurement contract or money from a dormant bank account. In compensation, the recipient is typically offered a substantial commission, ranging up to 30%, for assisting in the transfer.

At first, the victim is instructed to provide contact information, company letterheads, bank account numbers and pro forma invoicing to purportedly show completion of a contract. (A return response actually serves to signal that the recipient will be susceptible to the scam. The victim's letterhead is also used to forge letters of recommendation to other victims and to seek travel visas from the American Embassy in Lagos.) The victim is told that the completed contract will be submitted to the Central Bank of Nigeria for approval.  Once the approval is received, the funds will be remitted to the victim's account.

The criminal's goal, at this point, is to delude his target into thinking that he has been singled out from the masses to take advantage of a very lucrative, albeit questionable, windfall deal. While this arrangement appears transparently ridiculous to most, the scam is unfortunately effective. Eventually the letter will reach someone who, while skeptical, desperately wants the deal to be genuine. Victims are often convinced of the authenticity of schemes by receipt of forged or false documents bearing apparently official Nigerian government letterhead and seals, as well as false letters of credit, payment schedules and bank drafts.

This sets the stage for a con-within-a-con. Once the victim is hooked and firmly believes in the scheme, the deal is threatened in order to persuade the victim to provide money - often considerable sums - to save the venture. An urgent problem will suddenly arise. An official will demand an up-front bribe or an unforeseen tax or licensing fee to the Nigerian government will have to be paid before the money can be transferred. Each fee paid is normally described as the "very last." Promises are made that all such expenses will be reimbursed. Yet invariably more oversights and errors in the deal are discovered by the Nigerians, necessitating additional payments and allowing the scheme to be stretched out over many months. All this, moreover, must be kept confidential to avoid sabotaging the deal.

This is the heart of the scam - there is no "deal" and victims are fleeced by paying these never-ending "fees."

Victims are almost always asked to travel to Nigeria or a border country to complete the transaction. Individuals are often told that they won't need a visa to enter the country. Nigerian con artists may then bribe airport officials to pass the victims through local Immigration and Customs. Since it is a serious offense to enter Nigeria without a valid visa, the victim's illegal entry may then be used by the fraudsters as leverage to coerce victims into releasing further funds. Violence and threats of physical harm may be employed to additionally pressure victims. (An American was murdered in Lagos, Nigeria in 1995 pursuing a 4-1-9 scam and numerous other foreign nationals have been reported as missing). Victims typically find that the Nigerian government is not sympathetic, since they are perceived as foreigners conspiring to illegally remove funds from the country.

Finally, once the victim stops sending money, the perpetrators have been known to use a victim's personal information and checks to impersonate the person, further draining bank accounts and credit card balances until the victim's assets are entirely wiped out.

In a variation of the scheme, an intended victim is contacted and requested to deposit checks into his or her bank account that are issued by supposed customers or contractors. Once these checks are deposited, the perpetrator will ask for an advance against the checks. The checks will eventually turn out to be fraudulent; in the meantime, the victim may have provided the Nigerian with an advance and up-front fees. Similar scams may involve offers of disbursements of inheritance money from wills (often targeting charitable or religious organizations), real estate ventures, currency conversion deals and sale of crude oil at below market prices.

Avoid These Frauds:
  • If you receive a letter from Nigeria asking you to send personal or banking information, do not reply. DO NOT GIVE PERSONAL INFORMATION TO STRANGERS.
  • Send the letter to the U.S. Secret Service or the FBI.
  • If you know someone who is corresponding in one of these schemes, urge that person to immediately contact the U.S. Secret Service or the FBI.
Report Solicitations or Crimes:

If you have received a letter, fax or e-mail inviting you to participate in a 4-1-9 scam or if you have been victimized in such a scheme, please contact:

U.S. Secret Service, New Haven Field Office
Telephone: 203-865-2449

Federal Bureau of Investigation, c/o Supervising Agent
600 State Street, New Haven, CT 06511-6505
Telephone: (203) 777-6311

Information used in compiling this warning was adapted from alerts previously issued by the US Secret Service and the New York field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).