Sound familiar? You may have gotten an email with a similar subject line from someone claiming to be from Nigeria who needs your help. The sender of these emails claims to have a treasure left behind by a wealthy, recently deceased relative (read: Nigerian Prince) and they need your help to get it back from the government, the bank, pirates, etc. If you send them the funds they need to retrieve their inheritance, they promise to send you a percentage of the money. These blatant frauds, known as Advance-Fee or 419 scams, seem impossible to fall for, but gullible people have been sending supposed Nigerian Royalty money for much longer than we realize.
The senders of these emails are often referred to as “419 Men,” which comes from Article 419 of the country’s criminal code, the section that addresses crimes of fraud. Today, people associate 419 men with these well-known email scams, but the first recorded Nigerian Advance-Fee Scam occurred in 1920. A series of letters signed P. Crentsil, Professor of Wonders, were sent to a British colonists touting Crentsil’s own magical powers that, for a fee, could be used to benefit his correspondent. Crenstil was later charged with three counts under various sections of Code 419, but faced no punishment as all charges ended in acquittal. A Nigerian police chief had that had known of Crenstil for years claimed that he “had slipped through the hands of the police so often that I shall soon, myself, begin to believe in his magic powers.” This ‘Professor’ Crenstil and his magical powers started a tradition of scamming that has continued for a century.
If you receive an email from Becky or someone like her, here is what you should do:
- Don’t believe ANYTHING they say
- Look up their name or number online
- Don’t send them money
- Don’t give them your financial information
- Don’t meet up with them
- Stop all communication
- Report the scam to your local FBI officer or register a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission