4-1-9 TASK TEAM
The 419 scam is a so-called advance fee fraud.
It gets its name from Section 419 (chapter 42) of the Criminal
Code of the Federation of Nigeria and Lagos which states:
“Any person who by any false pretence and with
intent to defraud obtains from any other person anything capable
of being stolen or induces any other person to deliver to any
other person anything capable of being stolen is guilty of a
felony and liable to imprisonment.”
In simple terms the object of the exercise for
the tricksters is to use greed and the lure of easy money to
cause unsuspecting victims to hand over large sums of cash in
the belief that they will in return receive very large sums of
The reality is that the people who are taken in
by these scams always end up losing a lot of money.
Indications are that schemes of this nature
gross hundreds of millions of rands annually. The most common
forms these scams assume are the following:
419 schemes frequently follow the following
The first step is for the fraudsters to contact
a potential victim. This is usually done by letter, fax or
email. Choosing whom to send a letter to can be as arbitrary as
going through names in a telephone book or scouring the Internet
for likely choices, but the letters are distributed in a variety
of ways to millions of potential victims. Sometimes hundreds of
letters are sent out merely to get one potential victim.
In one way or another, the letters all say the
When a potential victim replies, the criminal
immediately makes contact, either by fax or email and ask the
victim for details such as his/her telephone numbers, bank
account details and so on. The victim is then likely to receive
a telephone call. The caller explains the process of the ‘deal’
and stresses the need for both urgency and secrecy. The criminal
also raises the issue of an advance payment to facilitate the
deal. This money, he or she explains, is required to pay
lawyers’ fees, bribe corrupt officials, obtain the required
documents or for a variety of other reasons.
Letters, faxes and official-looking documents
are sent to the victim to support the criminal’s story and his
or her request for payment. These documents, which can include
letters from law enforcement agencies, the South African Reserve
Bank, lawyers, the police, top government officials and so on,
appear authentic and are highly convincing.
By this stage the victim has bought into the
‘deal’ hook, line and sinker. The urgency of the matter
escalates: suddenly there is a chance that the deal will fall
through or be cancelled if the victim doesn’t come up with the
required money immediately. One way or another the victim hands
over the money, which usually amounts to between $5 000 and $100
The victim is invited to travel to South Africa,
if a foreign national, or out of South Africa, if a South
African national. This journey is necessary, it is explained,
either to open a non-resident account overseas, or to conclude
the deal by signing all the relevant documents. The criminals
may also go so far as to arrange visas - sometimes fraudulent,
sometimes genuine - if necessary. All expenses are paid by the
victim with the promise that he or she will be refunded when the
‘deal’ is concluded.
On arrival in the foreign country in question,
the victim is met at the airport and taken (at his or her own
expense) to a hotel, where they stay until the ‘deal’ is
concluded or they run out of money. During this time, the victim
usually meets the person who initiated the ‘deal’ or a
‘delegate’ sent in his or her place. The two parties discuss
details of the transaction, the programme for the victim’s stay,
any ‘fees’ still outstanding, how the victim’s money will be
transferred out of the country, travel arrangements, and a host
of other matters that seem relevant. The victim is also likely
to meet with ‘lawyers’, ‘bank managers’, and possibly even a
‘Governor of the Reserve Bank’, all of whom will be at pains to
convince him or her that the deal is genuine.
Using a variety of excuses such as that money is
required to bribe corrupt officials or pay holding fees, the
victim is milked of any remaining money he/she has in his/her
possession. An official-looking receipt of some kind is given
for each ‘payment’ to ‘prove’ the legitimacy of the transaction.
The criminals provide ‘reasons’ why the victim
needs to transfer more money into the country. This might be for
chemicals, in case of a black dollar scam or demurrage fees, for
the release of a fictitious vehicle that has been ‘delayed’ by
To further convince the victim of the
authenticity of the deal, he or she will be taken to a bank to
open a non-resident account. The criminals may even forge a
transfer confirmation slip to prove that the money in question
is being transferred to the victim’s new bank account. Only when
the criminals are convinced that the victim has no more money to
give, do they vanish.
All recipients of scam letters must be warned to
exercise extreme caution to prevent them from becoming victims
of advance fee fraudsters. The following advice can be given to
WHAT NOT TO DO
Do not respond to the scam letter by mail,
fax or telephone.
Do not, under any circumstances, part with
any money or reveal or give out your bank account
Do not be convinced or enticed by documents
carrying forged insignia or logos.
Do not entertain or engage in any form of
communication, as this may convince and lure you into an
WHAT TO DO
Stop all communication.
Ensure the security of vital documents.
Check the credentials of the person or
Never provide blank letterheads or invoices.
Never part with your banking details.
Never pay anything in advance.
Ensure that your travel documents are in
Consult with the Commercial Branch.
All 419 scams can be reported to Snr Supt Fani,
tel 012 393 1203 or 082 779 8565 or email
email@example.com. or email
Numerous arrests have been made by the 419
investigating officers and other cases are still being
investigated. There is a strong possibility that these
investigations will be successful.
The public is requested to assist the SAPS in
the fight against 419 scams.
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