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'Nigerian 419' scams

What are ‘Nigerian 419’ scams?

A ‘Nigerian’ scam is a form of upfront payment or money transfer scam. They are called Nigerian scams because the first wave of them came from Nigeria, but they can come from anywhere in the world. The ‘4-1-9’ part of the name comes from the section of Nigeria’s Criminal Code which outlaws the practice.

The scammers usually contact you by email or letter and offer you a share in a large sum of money that they want to transfer out of their country. They may tell you about money trapped in central banks during civil wars or coups, often in countries currently in the news. Or they may tell you about massive inheritances that are difficult to access because of government restrictions or taxes in the scammer’s country.

Scammers ask you to pay money or give them your bank account details to help them transfer the money. You are then asked to pay fees, charges or taxes to help release or transfer the money out of the country through your bank. These ‘fees’ may even start out as quite small amounts. If paid, the scammer make up new fees that require payment before you can receive your ‘reward’. They will keep making up these excuses until they think they have got all the money they can out of you. You will never be sent the money that was promised.

Warning signs

  • You receive an offer out of the blue to ‘help’ someone from another country transfer their money out of their country (e.g. Sierra Leone, Nigeria or Iraq).
  • The offer sets out a long and often sad story about why the money cannot be transferred by the scammer. This usually involves an inheritance or profits from natural resources that the scammer might say they are trying to protect from taxes or a corrupt government.
  • You are offered a percentage of the total amount transferred in return for your assistance.
  • The amount of money to be transferred, and the payment that the scammer promises to you if you help, is usually very large.
  • The email or letter is in very polite, but broken English.

Protect yourself from Nigerian scams

If it looks too good to be true—it probably is.

  • Remember there are no get-rich-quick schemes: the only people who make money are the scammers.
  • Do not let anyone pressure you into making decisions about money or investments: always get independent financial advice.
  • Do not open suspicious or unsolicited emails (spam): delete them.
  • NEVER reply to a spam email (even to unsubscribe).
  • Never send your personal, credit card or online account details through an email.
  • Money laundering is a criminal offence: do not agree to transfer money for someone else.

As well as following these specific tips, find out how to protect yourself from all sorts of other scams.

Do your homework

If you have been approached by someone who claims to need your help transferring money out of their country, delete the email, throw away the letter or hang up the phone.

Ask yourself—why would this person choose me to help them? You should also remember that money laundering could be a crime, and if you agree to help out the scammer you could be getting yourself in trouble.


This type of approach is ALWAYS a scam. You should NEVER give out your personal or banking details to somebody you don’t know. Don’t let the fact that a letter sounds enticing or genuine trick you. If you still think the letter may be genuine, make sure you seek the advice of an independent professional (lawyer, accountant or financial planner) before committing any money

Report them

If you have received a Nigerian scam offer, you can report a scam through the SCAMwatch website. You should also spread the word to your friends, family and colleagues to protect them.

If you have sent money to someone overseas, or given out your bank account details, you should contact your bank immediately. You should also report it through the report a scam page of SCAMwatch.


See a money transfer scam example

If you are able to recognise the warning signs, you can take an active role in reducing the likelihood of being a victim.

We have published a range of example scams so you can see how the scammers trick you. Visit see-a-scam to help you learn how to recognise the warning signs.

If you read the information on transferring money for someone else and study our money transfer scam examples, you will stand a much better chance of staying ahead of the scammers.

Prevention is the most effective tool against scams.

What to do if you've been scammed; Scams & the law; Report a scam.

Similar scams:

You are asked to send money upfront for a product or ‘reward’. You will end up with something much less than you expected, or nothing at all.

If you agree to transfer money for someone you don’t know, you let scammers use your bank account to ‘launder’ their dirty money. This puts you and your money in the firing line.

You are sent a cheque for something you have sold, but it is for more than the amount agreed. The scammer hopes you will refund the extra money before you notice that their cheque has bounced.

Phishing emails are fake emails usually pretending to be from banks or other financial institutions. They make up some reason for you to give your account details and then use these details to steal your money.

These scams play on your generosity and involve a scammer posing as a genuine charity in order to fraudulently collect money.

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