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419 emails and letters

What it is

When a stranger contacts you and asks you to pay an admin fee to help move a large amount of money from one country to another with the promise you’ll be rewarded with a cut of the cash later on.

These emails can involve countries such as Iraq, South Africa or somewhere in west Africa such as Ivory Coast, Togo or Nigeria, where the name ‘419’ (an article of the country’s criminal code) originates.

Protect yourself

  • Don’t respond to any email like this. Delete it straight away.
  • Ask yourself "why me?". This person doesn't know you and has no reason to trust you with such a large amount of money.
  • Never travel anywhere if offered, even if it isn’t far to go. You won’t get any money and you’re putting yourself in danger.

Spot the signs

  • It’s a badly-written email or letter from someone claiming to be a distant relative or in a position of authority, telling you to act quickly and keep the request a secret.
  • You’re asked to pay fees to help release a larger amount of cash, even though governments or companies would never ask you to help with a money transfer money like this.
  • You’re contacted later on by different people with a new proposition, or by people pretending to be investigators or authorities. It’s the same people using a different email.

How it happens

Someone contacts you by phone, email, fax or post, saying they have access to a substantial amount of money, usually because of an invented story such as an inheritance or a government fund.

They say need your help to move the money, and then give you a reason why they can’t transfer it themselves. For example, they say they can’t open a bank account in another country. They'll also tell you why you’ve been chosen to take part and may ask you to open a new bank account to transfer the money.

Fraudsters will use a variety of techniques to make the offer look legitimate by getting in touch using many different names and invented characters. They’ll provide faked photographs, documents and letters with official-looking headed paper. In some cases, they’ll even offer to meet you, usually outside the UK.

A ‘419’ email or letter is a type of advance fee fraud. Fraudsters don’t have the huge sums of money they claim to be handling; they want to take the fees you pay them before cutting all contact.

If you pay, fraudsters will keep coming back with requests for more fees, pretending it's one more last-minute obstacle before they can release the money. 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 empty your account.

If you’ve responded to an email like this, you’ll probably be targeted again for other frauds. Sometimes the original fraudsters may try to contact you using a different name to try to defraud you again, because your details are usually sold on to other fraudsters or they may pretend to be police officers or lawyers, offering to help you recover your lost money, but then also ask for a fee. Genuine police officers in the UK never ask for payment to investigate crimes.

How to report it

Report it to us online or call 0300 123 2040. It may feel embarrassing if you’ve already replied to an email like this, but reporting it is the best thing to do.

End all further contact with the fraudsters. If they start threatening you when you stop co-operating tell your local police force.

If you’ve given the fraudsters your bank account details, contact your bank immediately. Don’t send them any more money.

Send a copy of any original emails to your own Internet Service Provider (ISP) and the ISP of the sender. Address it to ‘[email protected]’ followed by the email address.

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