“In Nigeria, we are always amazed that anyone could be so stupid as to respond to such an offer.”

The fact is that many people do believe these letters – enough to make 419 crime quite a lucrative money earner. It has been estimated that there are well over 250,000 scammers involved in 419 scams worldwide and that they reap in over US$1.5 billion annually. The average victim pays out US$20,000.

People who already know that it’s a scam tend not to get taken in. But there are so many variations from ‘help me get this dead man’s money out of the country before the nasty government confiscates it’ to ‘I’m dieing. Please look after my children when I’m gone’ that it is quite easy for someone who does not know to get sucked in. And of course once the scammers have their claws into their victim they use every trick they know to make them pay more and more until there is nothing left.

ScamPatrol comes across between 15-20 victims per week, many of who have already sent money at the time they were warned. Sadly, many of those are already so convinced by the story that they refuse to believe the warnings and continue to contact the scammers.

“But only people who are greedy and a bit dishonest themselves would get sucked in. After all most of the letters require you to pass yourself off as a relative on legal documents so they deserve what they get.”

Many of the early letters did state either that person x (usually a foreign national) had died without relatives and the corrupt government would confiscate this money if person Y (the victim) doesn’t impersonate a relative to claim the money. Another variation was that the money had been obtained by over-invoicing oil contracts and they needed help to sneak it out of the country. But usually these letters had a disclaimer to the effect of, “This is a completely legitimate transaction. It will be carried out legally, and you will be protected from any breach of the law.” This was to reassure more honest victims that everything was above board and legal.

Now letters come in hundreds of different formats – just check out the Surplus Letters Forum! There are the well-known next-of-kin letters, the orphan scams, repentant dying sinner needs help giving fortune away to charity, tsunami victim donation appeals, fake cheque scams, wash-wash, anti-scam scams (been a victim of 419 crime? We’ll get your money back for you – at a price!) and more.

More here.