An advance-fee fraud is a self-assurance trick in which the target is convinced to advance sums of money in the hope of realizing a considerably larger gain. Among the variations on this type of scam, are the Nigerian Letter (also called the 419 fraud, Nigerian scam, Nigerian bank scam, or Nigerian money offer), the Spanish criminal, the black money scam as well as Russian/Ukrainian scam (also enormously widespread, though far less popular than the former). The so-called Russian and Nigerian scams stand for wholly dissimilar organized-crime civilization; they therefore tend to use altogether different breeds of approaches.
Although similar to older scams such as the Spanish Prisoner, the modern 419 scam originated in the early 1980s as the oil-based Nigerian economy declined. Several jobless university students first used this scam as a means of influence business visitors interested in shady deals in the Nigerian oil sector before targeting businessmen in the west, and later the wider population. Scammers in the early-to-mid 1990s targeted companies, sending scam messages via letter, fax, or Telex. The spread of e-mail and easy access to e-mail-harvesting software extensively lowered the cost of sending scam letters by using the Internet. In the 2000s, the 419 scam has spurred imitations from other locations in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, and, more recently, from North America, Western Europe (mainly United Kingdom and Netherlands), and Australia.