A 419 scam is an attempt to steal money from people based on the premise that a person will gain extra money if they advance a small amount. The 419 scam derives its name from the Nigerian legal code 419, which is violated by perpetuating this deception. In the 1990s, such scams, especially through email, seemed to originate in large part from Nigerian criminals. The 419 scam is also called advance fee fraud.
Generally, the 419 scam operates in two different ways. In one instance, a person receives an email from a person who claims they have huge amounts of money that they need to transfer into an out-of-country bank account. They may claim to be from any one of several Arab or African countries, though they often claim they live in Nigeria.
Another variation of the 419 scam involves paying an amount over cost for an item at an auction site, or on sites like Craig’s list. The purchaser requests that a certain amount be forwarded back to them. This forwarding generally takes place before the bank realizes the check has been canceled and that the seller receives no funds, and has in fact lost funds.
The 419 scam may seem quite realistic. However, if it is seems too good to be true, it usually is. Any letter asking one to transfer money, give out one’s bank information, or pay up front for a prize is usually a 419 scam, and should be ignored.
Both businesses and private individuals are subject to 419 scam letters. New users of the Internet are particularly susceptible to what seems like reasonable claims. Often individuals are now more at risk than businesses because it is cheaper to send bulk emails to private individuals. Also individual users do not have the same level of security built into their systems as do most businesses.
Alternately, one can forward such scams to one’s Internet company. This may help block the 419 scam in the future. One can also report a 419 scam to the Federal Trade Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org. In fact the US Federal Trade Commission has issued statements specifically requesting notification that one has been targeted by a 419 scam.