419 scams still arrive by postal mail
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419 scams: the more you know

419 scams all pose a common proposition. Someone you don't know promises you a large sum of money. All you need to do is temporarily handle a small processing or facilitation fee in advance to release to assist the scammer in gaining access to a very large pile of money. In return,  the scammer promises to compensate you with a large sum to you upon completion of his transaction. But there is no large sum of money waiting for you, no matter what you may be told; moreover, your small advanced fee or more is lost.

Some colleagues commented on my recent column about 419 scams delivered by postal mail.  We collaborate on a number of mail lists where the Chatham House Rule applies. I won't disclose the source of these comments but they are not my original work. I'm grateful for the opportunity to share them.

In particular, my colleagues suggest that the following points are noteworthy

  1. Investigation and prosecution of the 419 scams is hindered by official corruption at very senior levels in some west African countries.
  2. 419 scams may include substantial props, including ocumentation with letterheads, seals and other eye candy. These all fail under careful scrutiny. As I illustrated in my earlier column, 419 scam letters make clever use of journalistically reported events to substantiate the scam or make their please credible.
  3. Replying to or baiting 419 scammers is generally not a good idea. Some 419 scammers have been known to be violent. At the very least, if you contact them they will very likely persist in contacting you.
  4. Certain 419 scams may invite you to travel overseas. In certain cases, the fraud can escalate into a kidnapping. (This adds a new dimension to the axiom, "Don't go there".)
  5. While it doesn't hurt to report 419 scames, set expectations low. Unless you can provide a documented loss, it is unlikely individual complaints will result in an investigation or arrest.

Lastly, my colleagues offered some interesting 419-related Youtube selections:

Nkem Owoh, "I Go Chop Your Dollar"

M.I.A., "Paper Planes (All I Want to Do Is Take Your Money),"

Banky W, "Maga No Need Pay"


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