The most universal forms of these fraudulent business proposals fall into the following main categories:
- Disbursement of money from wills .
- Contract fraud (C.O.D. of goods or services)
- Purchase of real estate
- Conversion of hard currency
- Transfer of funds from over invoiced contracts
- Sale of crude oil at below market prices
The most common and successful cases of Advance Fee Fraud is the fund transfer scam. In this scheme, a company or individual will normally receive an unsolicited letter by mail from a Nigerian claiming to be a senior civil servant. In the letter, the Nigerian will inform the recipient that he is seeking a reputable foreign company or individual into whose account he can deposit funds ranging from $10-$60 million that the Nigerian government overpaid on some procurement contract.
The criminals achieve the names of potential victims from a variety of sources including trade journals, professional directories, newspapers, and commercial libraries. They do not aim a single company, but rather send out mailings en masse. The sender declares that he is a senior civil servant in one of the Nigerian Ministries, usually the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The letters refer to analysis of previous contracts awarded by prior regimes alleging that many contracts were over invoiced. Rather than return the money to the government, they desire to transfer the money to a foreign account. The sums to be transferred average between $10,000,000 to $60,000,000 and the receiver are typically offered a commission up to 30 percent for assisting in the transfer.
Originally, the intended victim is instructed to provide company letterheads and pro forma invoicing that will be used to explain completion of the contract. One of the reasons is to use the victim's letterhead to forge letters of recommendation to other victim companies and to request out a travel visa from the American Embassy in Lagos. The victim is told that the completed contracts will be submitted for approval to the Central Bank of Nigeria. Upon approval, the funds will be sent to an account supplied by the intended victim.
The goal of the criminal is to mislead the target into thinking that he is being drawn into a very lucrative, albeit questionable, arrangement. The intended victim must be reassured and confident of the potential success of the deal. He will become the most significant supporter of the scheme and gladly donate a large amount of money when the deal is endangered. The term "when" is used because the con-within-the-con is the scheme will be threatened in order to influence the victim to provide a large sum of money to save the venture.
The letter, while appearing transparent and even ridiculous to most, sadly is growing in its effectiveness. It sets the stage and is the opening round of a two-layered scheme or scheme within a scheme. The fraudster will eventually reach someone who, while skeptical, greatly wants the deal to be authentic.
Victims are almost always requested to travel to Nigeria or a border country to complete a transaction. Individuals are often told that a visa will not be compulsory to enter the country. The Nigerian con artists may then bribe airport officials to pass the victims through Immigration and Customs. Because it is a serious offence in Nigeria to enter without a legitimate visa, the victim's illegal entry may be used by the scammers as influence to coerce the victims into releasing funds. Violence and threats of physical harm may be employed to further pressure victims. In June of 1995, an American was murdered in Lagos, Nigeria, while pursuing a 4-1-9 scam, and frequent other foreign nationals have been reported as missing.
Victims are often influenced of the authenticity of Advance Fee Fraud schemes by the forged or fake documents bearing apparently official Nigerian government letterhead, seals, as well as fake letters of credit, payment schedules and bank drafts. The scammer may establish the credibility of his contacts, and thereby his influence, by arranging a meeting between the victim and "government officials" in real or fake government offices.
In the next stage some alleged problems about the “inside man” will unexpectedly arise. An official will demand an up-front bribe or an unexpected tax or fee to the Nigerian government will have to be paid before the money can be transferred. These can include licensing fees, registration fees, and various forms of taxes and attorney fees. Generally each fee paid is described as the very last fee required. Invariably, 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.
Numerous reasons have been submitted why Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud has undergone a dramatic increase in recent years. The explanations are as varied as the types of schemes. The Nigerian Government charged the growing problem on mass unemployment, extended family systems, a get rich quick condition, and, especially, the greed of foreigners.
Signs are that Advance Fee Fraud grosses hundreds of millions of dollars yearly and the losses are continuing to escalate. In all likelihood, there are victims who do not report their losses to authorities due to either fear or embarrassment.