The Nigerian 419 Scam is a form of advance-fee fraud, a confidence trick in which the target is persuaded to advance sums of money in the hope of realizing a significantly larger gain. “419” refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with fraud.
Almost everyone has been targeted by this type of scam at some point. Most would be surprised by how many different versions of this scam exist and how reasonably intelligent people have been fooled into participating in them. Entire cities have had their bank balances drained, and families have lost their life savings.
Recently a close friend called to tell me that he had sold a $22,000 piano on a specialty site specifically for piano sales. His piano, which he had sold to an out of town buyer, was to be picked up by a mover. He called me because the buyer was sending $26,000, $4,000 above the asking price. My friend was to pay the movers with this extra $4,000. He was a little concerned about this plan, and so he asked me for my thoughts.
I explained that this was a scam. The $4,000 that he was supposed to wire to a mover accounted for the “advanced fee” element of the scam. Once my friend wired the money, the scammer would probably ask for more. In advance-fee fraud, the promised money from the scammer never happens. The scammer relies on the fact that, by the time the victim realizes this, the victim may have sent thousands of dollars of their own money, sometimes millions, to the scammer via an untraceable and/or irreversible means such as wire transfer.
My friend reminded me that the buyer had negotiated the price, requested more pictures, was adamant about the quality of the piano, and seemed legitimate. At this point, my friend became argumentative. He didn’t want to believe me, and insisted that I was wrong and that he would go through with the sale.
I reminded my friend that he’d called me based on an instinct that something was fishy, and he calmed down and agreed that I was right, after all. Nobody likes to admit that they are wrong. In this case, my friend was right when he sensed something suspicious.
This is a simple but vicious scam that can easily take you by surprise. This scam can have many different twists and varieties, and you must avoid being taken in by any of them. The simplest solution is to never send money, for any reason, to anyone, in response to a phone call or email.
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