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West African letter fraud

West African letter or 419 fraud is advance-fee scam where you are asked to help transfer money out of another country – such as Iraq, South Africa or somewhere in west Africa – in return for a percentage of the money you helped to transfer.

A fraudster who claims to be someone in a position of authority, such as a senior government employee or a lawyer, sends you an email, letter or a fax.

The fraudster says they have access to a substantial amount of money and explains where this money is supposed to have come from. They say they want to move the money out of the country, and then give you a reason why they can’t transfer it themselves. For example, they can’t open an overseas bank account.

The fraudsters will also explain why you have been chosen to take part in this venture. 

They will ask your permission to pay the money into your account before they transfer it onwards, after deducting your reward. The fraudsters may even ask you to open a new bank account to transfer the money.

The amount of money involved for transfer and the percentage you are offered will be extremely large.

They will also emphasise the need for secrecy, warning you not to tell anyone else about the deal while hurrying you into a hasty decision by stressing the need for urgent action.

To add an element of legitimacy to the fraud, the fraudsters may arrange to meet you, usually outside the UK.

However, there is no money to transfer.

If you respond to the fraudsters’ request, they will ask you to pay various fees that are supposed to release the money, such as legal fees, transaction fees or taxes.

When you pay the first fee, the fraudsters will keep coming back with further requests for additional fees, explaining that each one has cropped up as a last-minute obstacle to releasing the money.

If you start getting reluctant to pay or suggest you can’t afford it, the fraudsters will put pressure on you by explaining how close you are to receiving a sum of money far bigger than the fees you have been asked to pay out and reminding you how much you have already sent them.

The fraudsters may also ask you for details of your bank account so that they can transfer your reward. They will use this information to try and empty your account.

Are you a victim of West African letter fraud?

  • You’ve received an email, letter, fax or phone call from someone claiming to be in a position of authority and you’ve agreed to help transfer money from a foreign account.
  • You’ve already paid various fees to them to help release the cash but you’ve discovered there is no money.

What should you do if you’re a victim of West African letter fraud?

  • Report it to Action Fraud.
  • End all further contact with the fraudsters at once.
  • Don’t send them any more money.
  • If you have given the fraudsters your bank account details, contact your bank immediately.
  • If the fraudsters threaten you once you stop co-operating with them, tell the police immediately.
  • Send a copy of the original email to both your own Internet Service Provider (ISP) and the ISP of the sender. Address it to ‘abuse@’ followed by the email address.
  • Be aware that you will probably be targeted for other frauds. Fraudsters frequently pass on the details of people they have successfully targeted to other fraudsters. Or, they may approach the victim under different names to commit further frauds.
  • Often people who have already lost money to fraudsters fall victim to fraud recovery fraud. Here, fraudsters contact victims pretending to be law enforcement specialists or lawyers. They reassure the victim that they can help to recover their lost money – but they also ask for a fee.

Protect yourself against West African letter fraud

  • The first question to ask yourself is "why me?" This person doesn't know you and has no reason to trust you. The best way to deal with an e-mail like this is to delete it straight away.
  • Governments and large corporations do not transfer money through another person’s bank account. Any suggestion that they do so is a reliable indication that you have been approached by fraudsters.
  • Letters and documents sent by fraudsters are usually badly written. Look out for spelling mistakes and poor grammar.
  • If a deal seems to be too good to be true, then it probably is.
  • Beware of being told you must act quickly or you’ll miss out on this ‘one-time deal’.
  • Never send your bank or personal details. If you have done, contact your bank immediately to stop money being withdrawn and sent overseas.
  • Never send any money.
  • Never, under any circumstances, travel anywhere in response to one of these scams. You won't see your money again, and you could put yourself in physical danger.

If fraud has been committed, report it to Action Fraud.