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Home > Risks > Email Scams

Email Scams

Nigerian Scams

"... My aim of contacting you is to seek your assistance in transferring the sum of thirty five million united states dollars only out of Nigeria and into your trusted bank account abroad...."

We have probably all seen the Nigerian scam letter. Also called "419 scams," these letters combine the threat of identity theft with the old "advance fee scheme."

A letter or email--sometimes from Nigeria, but it might claim to be from anywhere--offers the recipient the "opportunity" to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author is trying to transfer illegally out of his or her country. The recipient is encouraged to send information to the scammer—blank letterhead stationery, bank name, account numbers, and other identifying information using a fax number provided in the letter.

Be advised that this is a scam and not a legitimate offer.
Don't fall for it!

Unfortunately, these scams usually originate outside of the United States, and American law enforcement has great difficulty in pursuing the criminals. In addition, many of these email solicitations contain computer viruses, making them even more of a menace—so be very cautious. Be sure to maintain current anti-virus software.

Nigerian Variants and other Scams

There are several variations of the Nigerian Scam that criminals may use to exploit their victims. Here are some examples:

Beneficiary of a Will:

The victim receives an email that claims they are the named beneficiary in the will of an estranged relative, and stand to inherit an estate worth millions. In order to complete the inheritance, the victim's personal financial information is needed to "prove" that they are the beneficiary and to "expedite the transfer of the inheritance."

"Over" Paying:

The victim advertises an item for sale on the Internet, and is contacted by an interested buyer from Nigeria or another African country. The scammer then sends the victim a check or money order for an amount much larger than the asking price of the item. The victim is then asked to deposit the difference back to the scammer. If the victim does not wait for the bank to verify the check, they can end up losing thousands of dollars. published a news article that refers to this type of scam.

Donation Solicitations:

The victim receives an email requesting "donations" to fight an evil government or dictatorship in Africa. The scammer requests that the victim provide bank account information so that the "donation" can be directly withdrawn from the bank.

Fake Web Site:

The scam artist sets up a fake online bank and "deposits" the amount of money referenced in the scam email. When the victim expresses any misgivings about the existence or size of the fund transfer that is to take place, they are directed to the site, which shows a multi-million dollar deposit.

American Soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq:

The victim receives a letter purporting to be from an American soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan who has discovered a treasure of terrorist currency and needs help to embezzle the funds out of the country. The victim needs only to provide their personal and financial information for the soldier to deposit the funds into the victim's account.

The Secret Service asks if you have been victimized by the Nigerian scam to forward appropriate written documentation to the United States Secret Service.

While the Nigerian scam has flourished with the increasing use of email, it has actually been circulating for many years through snail mail and fax.

To contact the U.S. Secret Service:
US Secret Service
Financial Crimes Division
950 H Street N.W.
Suite 5300
Washington, DC 20223
Phone: (202) 406-5850
Fax: (202) 406-5031

If you receive a letter from anyone asking you to send personal or banking information, do not reply in any manner.

Pyramid Schemes

Pyramid schemes (sometimes called "Ponzi schemes") are illegal in Florida, and in many other states. Pyramid schemes are scams in which large numbers of people at the bottom of the pyramid pay money to a few people at the top. Each new participant pays for the chance to advance to the top and profit from payments of others who might join later.

Please note that pyramid scheme emails are frequently disguised as chain letters advertising new and legitimate business opportunities. We urge you to carefully consider any potential investment advertised on the Internet. For more information concerning pyramid schemes, please visit the Florida Division of Consumer Services.

"Miracle" Products with most things in life – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!...

You have probably seen the junk e-mail that makes outlandish claims: to earn you thousands of dollars each month, to make you look years younger, or to guarantee your popularity with the opposite sex. Treat these claims with the same skepticism you use when evaluating any product.

E-mail is very inexpensive to write and send. The scam artist can send thousands of e-mails for pennies, and if only two or three people take the bait, he has earned his money back. Don't be one of those people.

Look at it from this angle: if any of these products could really do what they claim to do, why haven't you heard of them before—on television, in the news, or from a friend? If these "miracle" products could do what they claim, the makers wouldn't need the spam!

Comprehensive list of Internet scams.

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