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The scam messages often claim to originate in Nigeria, but usually this is not true.The number "419" refers to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud, the charges and penalties for offenders.

THE SOURCE OF THIS FUND IS AS FOLLOWS; DURING THE LAST MILITARY REGIME HERE IN NIGERIA, THE GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS SET UP COMPANIES AND AWARDED THEMSELVES CONTRACTS WHICH WERE GROSSLY OVER-INVOICED IN VARIOUS MINISTRIES. IT IS FROM THE 70% THAT WE WISH TO COMMENCE THE IMPORTATION BUSINESS.

THE PRESENT CIVILIAN GOVERNMENT SET UP A CONTRACT REVIEW PANEL AND WE HAVE IDENTIFIED A LOT OF INFLATED CONTRACT FUNDS WHICH ARE PRESENTLY FLOATING IN THE CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA READY FOR PAYMENT. PLEASE, NOTE THAT THIS TRANSACTION IS 100% SAFE AND WE HOPE TO COMMENCE THE TRANSFER LATEST SEVEN (7) BANKING DAYS FROM THE DATE OF THE RECEIPT OF THE FOLLOWING INFORMATIOM BY TEL/FAX; 234-1-7740449, YOUR COMPANY’S SIGNED, AND STAMPED LETTERHEAD PAPER THE ABOVE INFORMATION WILL ENABLE US WRITE LETTERS OF CLAIM AND JOB DESCRIPTION RESPECTIVELY.

HOWEVER, BY VIRTUE OF OUR POSITION AS CIVIL SERVANTS AND MEMBERS OF THIS PANEL, WE CANNOT ACQUIRE THIS MONEY IN OUR NAMES. THIS WAY WE WILL USE YOUR COMPANY’S NAME TO APPLY FOR PAYMENT AND THE CONTRACT IN YOUR COMPANY’S NAME.

If a victim makes the payment, the fraudster either invents a series of further fees for the victim, or simply disappears.

There are many variations on this type of scam, including the 419 scam, the Spanish Prisoner scam, the black money scam, Fifo's Fraud and the Detroit-Buffalo scam.