Originally published to Helium.net
The 411 scam is generally known to most of the world as Advance-fee fraud, or a 419 Scam. Traditionally 419 scams originate from Nigeria, and the name refers to the section under the Nigerian criminal code that such a crime applies to. Quite when the term 411 scam became popular is unclear, but the American Dialect society has traced the term '419 Fraud' back to 1992.
A 419 Scam is a confidence trick intended to persuade the mark to part with money in order to reap greater rewards. The original 419 scams were sent by Letter, Telex and Fax as a result of the Nigerian Oil Crisis in the 1980's. The original marks were businessmen wishing to make money from illegal deals, but this soon expanded to include Western Businessmen. With the advent of wider E-mail use came a new form with which a scam could be executed, the target audience also grew to include the population as a whole.
Although there are many forms of 419 scam, a popular incarnation includes a message about a trapped dignitary who requires your help in escaping the country. Should you reply to this message, you are likely to receive either an e-mail asking for your bank details, or a note to state that money is needed to speed things up.
The amount requested is scarcely large, however repeat requests come though, especially once the scammers realise that the mark is willing to pay. If the mark provides their bank details, the scammers move quickly to empty the account and any credit facilities attached.
Although the initial correspondence changes, sometimes it is a letter informing the mark that they are the sole beneficiary of a will, the Modus Operandi scarcely changes. The scammers want you to pay a 'Handling Fee', and once they have drained your resources they disappear.
There are other scams that are often confused with 419 scams, some offer huge payments for goods on auction sites, and then fake a payment to receive the goods.
However, it is important to understand that not all Nigerian e-mail is fraudulent, some mails are genuine. The simple rule of thumb to apply to any unsolicited offer is that if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. Ask yourself why you have been singled out, what do you have to offer that dignitary, why are you a beneficiary in the will of someone you didn't know, and why have you got to pay to receive the estate?
There are rumours online that a much more sinister style of scam is being perpetrated, allegedly people are being convinced into travelling to the scammers home country only to be kidnapped or robbed. Whilst this is not a true 419 scam by definition, it's serious enough to be well worth mentioning.
419 scams rely on the mark believing everything they are told, and gone are the days of broken English in these e-mails. Some can be very compelling, however if you know of no cause to be receiving such a mail consider forwarding it onto your local cybercrime lab so that they can be made aware. There are also various websites available that will allow you to submit the e-mail. These e-mails are sent out to a vast number of addresses, whilst the style of writing may infer that you have been picked out, you will be one of thousands to receive it. Some will be convinced, and it may cost them dearly.
Don't include yourself in those figures, report the e-mail and then delete it. Resist the temptation to see how far along the scam you can take them before they ask for cash, not only will you confirm that your e-mail address is genuine, but you will highlight yourself as a viable mark for future attempts.
In conclusion, a 419 scam is perpetrated by convincing a mark to pay an advance fee in order receive a larger sum. The larger sum never materialises and the mark may be left with nothing. When receiving e-mail play it safe, report and delete anything that asks you for money. No financial institution, Government or organisation should be asking for financial details or discussing financial matters across such an insecure medium. If it is a company you use, telephone them and tell them you are not willing to discuss such matters.
Never, ever respond to a suspected scam, you may get a pride boost from telling them you've sussed it, but the last laugh will be theirs.