As silly as some of these letters are -- with their outlandish claims (a nation's leader has chosen you to hold his money), grandiose promises (you get 10% of his $25 million) and broken English (wiring your fund to the Bank informations) -- an awful lot of people lose any awful lot of money to this scam.
One of the latest, most amusing and most distressing variants delivers you an email that appears to be coming from the FBI. Even a moderately skeptical, slightly word-challenged reader ought to realize this is bunk.
But way too many people are going to reason otherwise. "Hey, this came from the FBI, signed by Director Robert S. Mueller III himself. I might really be able to come into free money." Sad, but it really happens. So, please, please, please, if you get an email like this, do not believe it, do not send your personal information, do not become a victim of this very old and very tired scam.
Instead, let's use this opportunity to educate about the Nigerian letter (aka 419 fraud, named after the section of the Nigerian criminal code dedicated to it). Over the course of your email life you likely will receive dozens of these letters, most of which will hopefully drift harmlessly into your spam folders.
If this warning comes too late, don't hide in shame, do what you can to out the crooks. Lodge a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. And consider both learning more and complaining to the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which is, of course, at ground zero of this long-running scam.
Not every Nigerian letter will involve someone from Nigeria. Some will come from the Ivory Coast or other African nations. Some will appear to involve people from Hong Kong. The scenarios really could involve anyone from anywhere.
But here's the scenario: Someone will contact you expressing the hope you can help them out of a jam by holding some money for them. You will be richly rewarded for your good deed. As a good faith gesture you need to send along some relatively small (by comparison to what you'll be receiving) sum.
If you fall for it and send the payment in round one you'll likely be hit for another round. In the worst cases, they keep pressing and pressing and pressing until finally pushing the victim to fly to another country with the last installment before you get to collect your princely payout.
Sadly, I've met highly educated people, who to my shock, fell for this to that extent -- actually flying to Africa. One of them told me that all he wanted to do was help out the man who had written him since his situation seemed so dire as described in that first email.
Have you ever been tempted by one of these emails? Do you read them for fun? Have you or anyone you know actually responded to one, or actually sent money? Please post a comment and let me know.