How To Avoid A Nigerian Money Scam

This article will show you how to avoid a Nigerian money scam, a con that has been circulating (in various forms) for decades. Usually targeted at small businesses, but increasingly showing up in the inboxes of individuals, this scam follows the same basic formula with some details changed from time to time. An email purporting to be from a Nigerian official—in recent years, this has changed to Iraqi or Liberian, among others—requests your bank account number so that he can deposit some funds into it. In exchange, you will be allowed to keep a percentage of the funds. Once you agree, however, things start to "go wrong" with the transfer, and the scam artist may demand large sums of money up front or even require you to travel (illegally) to another country to complete the transaction. Knowing how to spot a Nigerian money scam is the first step to avoiding it!

  1. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Approach any unsolicited email that asks for your bank information or other personal information as suspect. Why would a Nigerian civil servant, or an exiled Iraqi prince, choose to email you for help? It sounds like common sense, but many people are drawn in by the prospect of easy money. If you receive one of these in your inbox, you can likely assume that it's the Nigerian money scam, even if the relevant details, such as the country or the identity of the writer, are changed.
  2. Do due diligence. If you're at all unsure, run a few phrases through an internet search. There are sites that keep up to date on the latest permutations of the Nigerian scam (as well as others). A quick search of the first sentence or two will also often bring up pages debunking the email as a scam.
  3. Know the signs. Even when the details are changed up, the Nigerian scam has some consistent traits. The first is that someone of status or power in a foreign country is coming to you for a "safe" account into which to deposit a large sum of money—typically between $10 and $60 million. Secondly, this person has a reason why this must be done through an account in the country where you live. Third, a percentage of the proceeds will be promised to you (typically around 25%). The writer will request your bank information, your personal contact information and your business letterhead (and if you don't own a business, this should be a huge red flag that the email is spam!). The email may also be written in overly formal English, or may contain multiple grammatical and spelling errors. Any combination of any of these factors indicates that you are dealing with some variant of the Nigerian money scam.
  4. Just don't. Never give your bank information in response to an unsolicited email—or over email at all, even when you know and trust the recipient. The easiest way to avoid being a victim of the Nigerian money scam is simply to hit delete (if the email came from the account of someone you know, notify him that he has been hacked, then hit delete).