(Investigator 106, 2006 January)


In 2001 a Brazilian bank lost A$417million when an employee transferred huge funds to Nigeria in an "advance fee fraud". Three people were put on trial in Nigeria in 2004.

The "advance-fee-fraud" starts with a con-artist introducing himself as a bank manager, lawyer, government official, or son or daughter of a deceased dictator. He offers to share an unclaimed fortune if the householder covers administrative or legal fees. It’s only a small fee. But if it’s paid there will be a hitch requiring a further fee and so on repeatedly.

The victim can accelerate his descent to poverty by sending his bank account and credit card details which, the con-artist says, are required to transfer the cash.

In a common variation the scammer claims that so-and-so died in a tragedy such as an air plane crash and has no heirs and the bank needs to clear his account — so please can you help by claiming to be the sole heir.

At some stage during negotiations your account/credit card details will likely be requested. The scammer may increase his credibility by referring to a genuine headline or Internet report about a plane crash.

Don’t fool yourself. No stranger from an impoverished country is going to add a billion dollars to your already fat bank account. Instead they’ll clean you out!

Variations on this theme include a bogus inheritance or a free holiday or bogus lottery wins:-

An e-mail arrives and announces you’ve won a lottery! Lucky you — and you didn’t even enter!

Guess what? You didn’t win, and if you try to collect you’ll lose! The trick is you have to pay fees, or processing costs or taxes before the prize can be sent. You’ll either wait indefinitely or find out there’s another hitch that requires a further fee to solve.

In 2002-2003 South Australia’s Office of Consumer and Business Affairs (OCBA) received 2,700 complaints from people targeted by frauds. (Doherty 2004)  One person lost $100,000, which he had borrowed from a neighbor who mortgaged a house to supply the money.

Western computer and e-mail users began to realize it’s unwise to trust anonymous Nigerians offering to make them richer. The anonymous Nigerians began to suck in fewer suckers.

Their solution was to outsource and operate from places more reputable such as South Africa, Spain and Iraq. After all, who would distrust an anonymous Iraqi or South African?

At least $20million flowed to South Africa in advance-free-fraud in 2003 — but this excludes everyone too embarrassed to report his losses.

One ploy promised a huge payment for help in smuggling diamonds out of Zimbabwe. Some 250 got arrested for that scam, many of them Nigerian immigrants.

Some fraudsters then operated from Spain. They sent e-mails telling recipients they won an international lottery. To collect the prize they have to send personal bank details. In the first half of 2005 the OCBA in South Australia got 146 complaints. (Cox 2005)

Some victims of fraud get duped repeatedly — for example the 87-year-old King of Tonga:

King Taufa’ahua Tupou IV in the past has lost his impoverished realm a fortune to foreign fraudsters.
Some fear he might be being duped again. He has surprised parliament with news unnamed foreign investors want to deposit $1.35 billion in its tiny central bank. (The Advertiser 2005)


Shonky offers don’t just come via e-mail but also by fax, phone and letters. The scammer gets householders names and addresses from internationally sold marketing lists.

Some householders get letters informing them they’ve won a huge cash prize. But to collect it they have to pay for costs and send a cheque or credit card number. Of course the huge prize never comes — what likely will come are requests for more money to cover further costs.

Fantastic offers may also come by phone. The anonymous caller might claim to be a South African who needs help to get diamonds out of the country.

Small businesses too are targeted. One scam is to send an invoice for advertising that either wasn’t done or wasn’t authorized.

The OCBA has a list of more than 1,000 types of scams!

What about "work at home" offers that promise loads of money for little work and no experience. Be smart and run. There are companies that let their employees work from home but such companies do interviews, require job skills and pay wages. Work-at-home scams ask you to purchase supplies and equipment. That’s how they make money. They make money by selling to you.


Cox, N. Sunday Mail 2005, July 31, p20
Doherty, E. Sunday Mail 2004, February 22, p34
The Advertiser 2005, November 5, p75
The Australian 2004, August 24, p3
The Weekend Australian 2004, February 7-8, p14
OCBA Website: