more-or-less sarcastic answers to frequently asked questions

updated september 16, 2010

Read this FAQ out loud to yourself before sending any questions.
If that doesn't slake your thirst for scamosity, buy the book!

Q: What the heck is this?
A: See the main page. If that didn't help, read on.

Q: What is advance fee fraud?
A: Advance fee fraud is when you (the victim) fork out money in anticipation of some (imaginary) benefit, such as inheriting money from an imaginary person, winning an imaginary lotto which you didn't enter, skimming imaginary public funds (shame on you!), helping an imaginary company process imaginary payments by receiving their rubber checks and sending them your (real) money. The only real money is yours, and the many variations on this scam all involve you losing it. The best-known Nigerian variant on advance fee fraud is called "419".

Q: Why is it called 419?
A: It's against the law in Nigeria, specifically section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code. More specifically, Part 6, Division 1, Chapter 38, Section 419.

Q: What is wash-wash?
A: One arrow in the scammer's quiver. It has a long international pedigree; the "419ers" are only the latest to use it. You (the victim) are shown "money" "defaced" for "security purposes" with surprisingly expensive chemicals. (Your) money is needed to buy more chemicals. They might send you a picture of the money. Often it's this one:

More pictures of money here: Show Me The Money

Q: How did they get my name?
A: In printed or online employee directories, robots (aka "scrapers" or "extractors") trolling through e-mail postings on newsgroups or electronic bulletin boards, personal ads, e-mail marketing companies, company web sites, chat rooms, etc., plus they buy lists from each other.

Q: But my e-mail account is new!
A: Directory harvest attacks send mail to every name in the dictionary or every combination of letters and numbers at,, Whatever doesn't bounce back is a valid e-mail address.

Q: What can I do about this, and about spam in general?
A: There are laws against spam, but the Lads are criminals and don't care. So:

  • report them to their ISPs:
    Responsible ISPs don't like being exploited, it wastes bandwidth and time, and could land them on black-hole lists. This means mail from their servers would be rejected by mail servers which subscribe to such lists. So examine the header, look up the Lad's ISP and maybe the account will be cancelled. Of course the Lads have multiple addresses, sigh...
  • Make it a bit harder to harvest your address automatically, by altering it:
  • Set up filters in your e-mail, i.e., reject anything with URGENT in the subject line.
  • If you have a web page, you could display your e-mail address as a graphic
Unrelated to e-mail but important: the Lads - and other crooks - go dumpster diving for credit card offers. SHRED STUFF! Criminals can sign up for the card in YOUR name and have a field day. (Same with checks from your actual credit card company. They are offering to lend you money at HIGH interest rates. Ask them not to send you those checks. Keep asking.) Buy a shredder, and SHRED.

Q: Where did the e-mail come from, physically?
A: The header may tell the story. These can be faked but the Lads often don't bother. While an internet cafe may be run or simply overrun by scammers, do not assume that the upstream ISP or satellite provider is a scammer. See above.

Q: Satellite what?
A: Up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane, it's internet connectivity! No wires, dicey telephone service? Companies in countries such as Australia, Israel, Sweden, the UK, or USA supply internet connections via satellites to less-wired places, such as West Africa.

Q: Can you suggest other spam resources?
A: Why yes! Spam Tracing, The Email Abuse FAQ, Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, The SPAM-L FAQ ... and many others

Q: How can I tell if a telephone number is in Africa?
A: Easily Googlable, here is one list:
    Thanks University of Pennsylvania!

Q: What can I do to spread the word?
A: If you have a web site, link to sites you consider useful. Tell your friends, relatives, colleagues. Post scam-o-grams over the office water-cooler. Include information in your e-mail signature. Wear a Scamorama t-shirt or carry a Scamorama tote bag.

Q: I got a letter like this, do you think it's a scam?
A: Yes

Q: My letter came from Musa Bello, not Idris Bello, Do You Still Think It's A Scam?
A: Yes

Q: My letter promised 10% of $32 million, not 20% of $16 million, DYSTIAS?
A: Yes.

Q: My letter came from someone with an actual telephone number. Could a scam artist have a telephone?
A: Yes.

Q: He had a fax number too! And a satellite phone!
A: Business must be good. By the way, don't call those 874 numbers, or any number they give you, it could be very expensive.

Q: But they used my name!
A: Yeah, so?

Q: They sent me documents, on actual paper. Could a scam artist print up phony certificates on actual paper?
A: Yes.

Q: I got such an e-mail from someone who says he's in a refugee camp in Togo. With broadband. DYSTIAS?
A: Yes. Don't make me come over there and smack you.

Q: Am I obliged to answer?
A: No.

Q: I answered it. Am I obliged to go on corresponding with them?
A: No.

Q: They want my bank account number. Am I obliged to give it to them?
A: No.

Q: I gave them my bank account number. Can they rob me?
A: Not necessarily, but CONTACT YOUR BANK ANYWAY. It is possible for scammers to raid your bank account, even if this is not their first option. (What they really want is a money order, sent by you voluntarily.)

For victims in the UK: Action Fraud, the attorney general's fraud reporting centre, want to hear from victims, by phone or via the online form. Don't be too embarrassed to contact them. The website has a directory of types of fraud, and scam alerts.

Q: They haven't asked me for money. Just a photocopy of my passport.
A: Not yet. And don't send it.

Q: But they say they need the passport photo to process my visa.
A: Visas are issued by embassies. They want the passport image to mock up other fake passports to scam other people. Or they want to clutter your brain with extraneous details. Or both.

Q: But isn't it possible that someone in a refugee camp carried $20 million across stormy seas and has chosen me, out of 100 million people with e-mail, to receive great wealth, through a divine plan?
A: No.

Q: Is there a Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation?
A: Yes.

Q: Does that mean my scamalicious letter is legitimate?
A: No.

Q: You mean they're lying?
A: Yes.

Q: Would they actually impersonate officials?
A: Yes. They also set up fake bank and company web sites. Sometimes these are sites for fake entities - sometimes they are copies of pages from web sites of real entities. They can sometimes even 'borrow' the use of real government offices from corrupt cronies.

Q: You mentioned web sites - they showed me one with slick graphics and an actual login page. And it shows MY account full of MONEY! Are you saying it's still a scam?
A: Yes. Yes. You could code up a page full of imaginary balances. It's just text. And - even if your scammer is one of the bigger fry, with real money to shift between accounts, that money will not be yours. Sorry!

Q: Could they impersonate officials even if I went to Nigeria to meet them (which I know, in a cognitively dissonant way, is dangerous) ?
A: Yes. And it would indeed be dangerous.

Q: But this is a nice man or lady who loves me and needs my help to pay his or her bills and come to my country where we will live happily ever after! DYSTIAS?
A: Yes.

Q: What did DYSTIAS mean again?
A: See above.

Q: I got scammed with the 'sales' scam. I was just trying to sell something. They had someone else (someone who owed them money, it was complicated and made my head ache) send me a check, which I cashed. And it bounced. What should I do?
A: FILL OUT A "FRAUD AFFIDAVIT" AT YOUR BANK. If the bank's local branch held the check, then cleared it, and THEN their central clearinghouse said the check bounced (which could take weeks), maybe you are not responsible. Note, this is NOT qualified legal or financial advice. This is an OPINION. AN ATTORNEY MAY BE OF MORE HELP.

Q: The bank clerk accepted the 'check' but I haven't withdrawn any of that money yet. I'm getting a funny feeling about this.
A: Good! DON'T CASH IT. Tell your bank you may be the target of a fraud.

Q: Can a bank help me get my money back?
A: Try them. Banks do not like being scammed either. Banks have fraud examiners. Examiners know examiners in other banks. Scammers must bank somewhere. Perhaps the correspondence will provide a clue. Note, this is NOT qualified legal or financial advice. This is an OPINION. AN ATTORNEY MAY BE OF MORE HELP.

Q: I got scammed and now the scammers say I can 'earn' the money back by helping them scam others - my family, friends and colleagues - or by embezzling from my company or congregation. Should I do it?
A: Are you really asking this question?

Q: They keep calling me at home, what should I do?
A: That's creepy. We would ask the phone company and the police for help.

Q: They want me to meet them somewhere. Should I?
A: No!!

Q: But they're not asking me to go to Nigeria - only the country next door -
A: No, no!!

Q: But they want to meet me right here in the good old (name your good old nation). Isn't it safe to meet them here?
A: No, no, no!! Even worse. If they're in your neck of the woods and they're bothering you, call the police.

Q: If I am scammed, am I guilty of a crime?
A: No, the people who scammed you are guilty of a crime. But this doesn't mean you won't get in trouble. Scamorama knows of a case in which someone was arrested and (as of Sept. 2006) is still in pre-trial detention for cashing a check sent to him by a scammer. The check was real and stolen.

Q: What if I agreed to do something criminal?
A: Irrelevant if you haven't done anything criminal. Anyway, scam letters are often not appeals to your greed (note, greed is not a crime). They may have asked you to help rescue somebody, or in other ways played on your naivete or helpfulness.

Q: But what if scammers are threatening me?
A: If they are cursing at you from far away (check the IP address in the header to see how far), don't worry. If they threaten to sue you, have a good laugh. In what court? For what? Interfering with a scam? If they say they will sic the thunder god on you, and use words like "oooooooooo", it's your call. We don't think supernatural retribution is in the cards.
If people near you are threatening you, go to the police.

Q: Aren't Nigerian officials sick of this scam?
A: Quite possibly many are. It doesn't promote international business confidence. Nigerian government agencies and banks post warnings about it. On the other hand, it has been claimed that official entities are involved and that much of Nigeria's GNP comes from such scams. The Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission have made some bold moves to fight fraud (check out their cowboy action on YouTube), but have encountered a backlash - anyone fighting fraud is labeled a political tool, and there's a huge legacy of corruption to overcome.

Q: Have you got something against Nigerians?
A: No, the letters are posted because they're funny and inventive, and because they keep coming. If a flood of scam e-mails came from Venezuela or Greenland you can be sure they would find a forum.
There've been some from India but they weren't funny. A few from Moldova were interesting and different, and were posted. Some were supposedly from Yugoslavia or the Philippines but came from Nigeria.
Anyone who posts racist comments on the web and claims to be a "friend" of Scamorama, isn't.
If you discover a scam of equal literary merit(?) from some other country, you can start your own web site.

Q: Who sends the versions in languages other than English?
A: There is a French version which chiefly comes out of francophone West African countries.
Nigerians aren't the only ones doing what we call '419' - they are just the ones most visible to English-speakers, which includes more than just native English speakers.
Strangely, there is a French version which actually does come from Nigerians - they are nothing if not ambitious. But if you answer in French they find it an inconvenience and will refer you to their son or barrister who, because he was raised in exile, speaks only English.
The Spanish, Dutch, German and most of the French versions seem machine translated from English, make about as much sense and are about as funny as you'd expect, and anyway they come from Nigeria.
And yes, the scam-o-grams which come from the "Chinese" bankers are also from Nigerians.
Yes, we have this from Chinese law enforcement.

Q: So why the fascination with the Nigerian variant?
A: Because of the political satire in their letters. Look up the names of the (often real) people they impersonate to see what I mean.

Q: Are the scammers racist?
A: Many "419ers" despise non-Africans. They also despise Africans. They despise anyone they can cheat. They are rotten to everybody.

Q: Is Scamorama meant to be a resource on West African culture?
A: Goodness no! There are some cultural links but Scamorama is just a comedy site.

Q: How can I learn something serious about these countries?
- African newspapers' web sites
- Africa Online - articles about politics and personalities
- the BBC - ditto
- Writers! Wole Soyinka (Nobel laureate), or Chris Abani, as just a few examples
- West African oriented chat sites
- - aggregates blogs from Nigerian geeksters
- CIA World Factbook - facts and figures
- Embassy web sites

Q: Is there an "Abacha"?
A: Yes, General Sani Abacha was a recent president of Nigeria. There also was (and is) a President Kabila of Congo (formerly Zaire, formerly formerly Congo) (his son is now president). The Lads are great name-droppers.

Q: How many wives, sons, lawyers/barristers, loyal or disloyal family retainers, toadies, flunkies, loyal or disloyal army officers or confidantes have the Abacha and Kabila families got?
A: If we believed all the letters we received, maybe 700? That is, if we believed the letters came from or had anything to do with those families. Which we don't.

Q: But my letter comes from the "widow" of President Mobutu. DYSTIAS?
A: Yes.

Q: But my letter is from the Philippines or Yugoslavia.
A: Maybe. Check the header (see above). Also they operate out of other countries. Anyway, you now know the theme of the scam. Don't be led astray by details.

Q: The grammar in my letter isn't so bad, heck, I don't write so well, could these guys be legitimate?
A: No.

Q: The letter I got today is a little different from the one I got last week, could it be legitimate?
A: If you've received more than one, what does that tell you?

Q: But they mentioned God.
A: Like we said, they're great name droppers.

Q: They haven't asked me for any money.
A: Not yet.

Q: Is this phishing?
A: Phishing means getting people to supply personal data. A victim may click on an e-mail from a 'bank', which goes to an evil web site. He enters account information which becomes fodder for identity thieves, directly or through resale.
"419ers" also stage fake bank web sites. So far these have seemed to be meant strictly to create the appearance of legitimacy, rather than to extract information. However, there is nothing to stop 419ers from using or reselling any personal information you give them. Also, a Kindly Contributor sent the following opinion:
"I got this from people working at a bank that shall remain nameless.
"moneyless" scams also work - where they pay you and you never pay them anything.
THEN they may be being set up for a third-party attack on a bank.
They have you open accounts at a bank, you are told money will be transferred to it and then to Britain, Nigeria, etc. etc. (to "get around financial regulations").
All true.
What they're not told:
Phishers will transfer money from fished accounts at the target bank to their accounts then on to Britain, Nigeria, etc. etc.
The fact that they pay you "just to open an account" is NOT a good sign.
You will be left holding the bag as the nominal scammer, and you most certainly are an accomplice."

Q: But they offered to lend me money to pay the advance fees! DYSTIAS?
A: Yes yes yes! They lend you a bit of real money which you pay right back to them, and then if nothing else you pay them interest!

Q: But another fellow e-mailed me and offered to help me recover my money! Why, he says he's an investigator, or a policeman! DYSTIAS?
A: Sigh...

Q: What's a "mugu"?
A: What the 419ers call their victims. Slang for fool or rube.

Q: Isn't the scam justified because it takes advantage of someone's greed?
A: Many letters do play on greed. It's still a crime.
    Other letters play on a sense of need ("your orphanage has inherited $20M!") or charity ("help a widow!"). Others present a fake request for proposal - the "RFP" through which governments invite vendors to bid on contracts - this looks like a regular business offer. A scammer may reply to your sales ad. He has a 'colleague' (who supposedly owes him money) send you a phony check for way over the amount, and asks you to return the difference. You were just trying to sell a car.

Q: Isn't the scam justified because everyone on continent A somehow owes everyone on continent B because of, uh, stuff from history?
A: No. And by the way, scammers will scam anybody. Our correspondents include ticked-off people from Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, Sierra Leone and Zambia. 419ers will also happily scam African-Americans, and insult them into the bargain. They don't bother lecturing African victims on colonialism, they just rob them. The first time we saw the word "mugu", it was in a threatening e-mail from a scammer to a Kenyan who wouldn't buy the act.

Q: Are scammers ever arrested?
A: Yes. See the law enforcement links.

Q: Why don't you do something about this scam?
A: Well, uh, there's this web site. And see the law enforcement links.

Q: Wanna pull a sting on these guys?
A: Well, uh, there's this web site. And see the law enforcement links.

Q: But don't you have friends in various police agencies?
A: We can't tell you that. Oh who are we kidding, yes, we know lots of police, in lots of places.

Q: I got such a letter! How can I send it to you?
A: Congratulations on not being fooled. Send it to, as plain text in the body of the e-mail; try to include the header. Thanks! Or just delete it - it might be better for your mental health.

Q: What's a header? Isn't it the From: and To: ?
A: It's that and more. See

Q: Would you like to receive large attached files containing viruses?
A: No. Plain text in the body of the e-mail will do nicely. If you think your graphic is important to full appreciation of the letter, please ask first.

Q: Why not post everything you receive?
A: Quality over quantity.

Q: Why not post all the scammer e-mail addresses you've ever seen?
A: It doesn't MATTER what the e-mail address is. How many times must your mother and I tell you it's a scam?

Q: How do you decide what to post?
A: A lone letter usually goes in the ScamBase. If it's different, or especially funny, we might post it. If it's a back-and-forth correspondence (we used to discourage this, but no one listened), and funny or quite interesting, we might post it. If it's out-and-out racist we aren't interested. If it's extremely sexually crude we will probably not post it. One person's naughty is another's filthy. We suit ourselves.

Q: Who designed your web site, Helen Keller?
A: Design? We don't need no stinkin' design.

Q: What else can you tell me?
A: Good heavens, what more do you want?

Q: Must you be so sarcastic?
A: No. We're working on it.

Q: My friend (well OK it was me) nearly lost a bundle to those Lads. How can I repay you?
A: Your subscription will be appreciated and put to good use. You could also buy the book, or related swag (see the Cafepress links on the main page) for yourself and/or scam-o-challenged friends, relatives and colleagues [your IT department? bank board of directors? make it a prize for the employee who posts the funniest scam-o-gram of the month over the watercooler!]

Q: We think this is a threat to national security. What do you think?
A: Maybe, but real terrorists have easier ways of making money, like asking rich sympathizers, or carding. [The big carders, though, seem to be in Eastern Europe. So 'religious' carders will have competition.] It's been claimed, so far without examples, that terrorists use "419" scam letters as templates for transmitting plans. The idea being that so many of these letters are in circulation that it would be hard to pick out one which is code. Informed opinions are welcome. The 'original' 419ers just seem like old-fashioned crooks, driven by old-fashioned greed. They will start out with flashy cars and loud clothing. Their children will go to prep school and become lawyers. Look for the TV mini-series.

Q: Thanks for the laugh! How can I help y'all keep this going?
A: Subscribe, buy swag, buy the book, or all three. Doesn't your uncle who gets all those telemarketing calls need a mug? [Note to ultra-secret government agencies: $10 million grants happily accepted. Bring cash to the abandoned warehouse. Trunk boxes full of currency 'defaced for security reasons' not accepted. Be attractive and dress sharp. The code word is "mugu".]

Q: I was too lazy to read any of this. Do you think my letter is a scam?
A: Subscribe and find out. Otherwise you'll get the standard "subscribe and find out" mail.