Watch Out for 419 Scams!

Advance-fee fraud, also commonly known as “West African letter scams” or “419 scams,” are when a fraudster targets victims to make advance or upfront payment for goods, services, and/or financial gains that do not materialize. The reason they are called as such is because these types of scams originated primarily in Nigeria, with the Ivory Coast, Togo, South Africa, and Benin having high incidences of this type of fraud. The “419” refers to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code which deals with fraud, the charges, and the penalties for offenders.
Scam come in all sorts of variants. One is through the use of purchase orders that appear to a merchant or business owner to be legitimate. The scammers set up fake websites with domain names almost identical to those of real businesses and do the same for email accounts. Next, they pose as an officer/agent of the business and contact a retailer’s customer service center to gather information about the organization’s purchasing account. The targeted business is then contacted and a quote for products is requested. The scammers use forged documents, complete with letterhead and sometimes with the name of the organization’s actual product manager. A U.S. Shipping address that may be a warehouse, or self-storage facility is provided and then directed to re-ship the merchandise to Nigeria and are provided with shipping labels to facilitate the process. The vendor eventually bills the real institution and discovers the fraud. But by then, the items have been re-shipped abroad, and the retailer is left to absorb the financial loss.
When scammed, time is of the essence. If a report of the theft to local authorities or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is made before the merchandise is shipped out of the country, there is a chance that the items may be located and returned. More than $1 million worth of merchandise has been recovered due to businesses quickly discovering the fraud.
However, being scammed can be prevented. Businesses can independently verify shipping addresses and be vigilant about emails containing unusual phrases or spelling, indicating that the message may not be written by a fluent English speaker. Awareness is the key to help prevent cyber scams from spreading, therefore it should be a topic of conversation amongst business personnel.

Best regards
und viele Grüße aus Charlotte
Reinhard von Hennigs