To a large extent, the Nigerian prince scam has become a victim of its own success. It’s now seen as a joke and is widely recognized for what it is – an outdated con that was used by fraudsters in the early days of email and the internet. Surely nobody these days would fall for such an obvious scam, would they?
It might surprise you to learn that as recently as 2018, the Nigerian prince scam was estimated to have raked in over $700,000 – and that figure was just from unsuspecting Americans. Even today, there are people who still believe the story of the generous prince who promises to share his untold millions with you, if only you’ll send him a small advance, or your bank account details.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Nigerian prince email scam is still as relevant as it ever was. In its original form, it still has enough appeal to take in unsuspecting victims. But more importantly, it serves as a reminder that the scammers haven’t gone away – they’ve merely refined their methods, changed their tactics, and moved on to additional platforms.
So read on for a brief history of Nigerian prince scams, the most common tactics, and advice on how you can protect yourself from this and similar internet frauds.
How did the Nigerian prince scam start?
Would you believe that the Nigerian prince scam dates back hundreds of years? At the time of the French Revolution (the end of the 18th century), handwritten letters were sent out, begging for money to help release a nobleman languishing in a Spanish jail. In return, the grateful nobleman would repay you lavishly for your help in securing his freedom. But, of course, there was no nobleman, and any funds forwarded simply disappeared.
The so-called “Spanish Prisoner” con was an early example of an advance-fee scam, where a huge sum was promised in return for a relatively small upfront investment. Then, as now, the story appealed to our human nature – risky, yes, but with just enough credibility that it could be true, mixed in with the romantic ideal of helping a noble person who’d fallen on hard times, and above all, the chance of untold riches!
So the basic scam has been with us for many years, although the Nigerian prince has long since replaced the Spanish Prisoner. But some things never change. Once the fall-guy has sent the money, the scammer either disappears or says that they’ll need just a little more cash in order to release the funds… which, naturally, never happens.
Moving swiftly forward to the 1980s, people began to receive international scamming letters through the post. Such letters were often sent using counterfeit stamps. Then in the 1990s, we saw the rise of email and the internet, which suddenly made communication a whole lot easier and cheaper. And that’s when the Nigerian prince email scam really started to take off.
In response to the growing number of advance-fee and money laundering schemes originating there, the Nigerian government established the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2003. The creation of this law enforcement agency underlined the fact that many of these crimes were centered in Nigeria. However, it’s important to remember that many similar style scams originate from other countries.
How to recognize a Nigerian prince scammer?
If you have an email address, then at some stage in your life you’ve probably received a Nigerian prince email. In many respects, email is the perfect format for a Nigerian prince scammer. It’s relatively cheap, easy, and convenient to send out a spam email, and scammers only need a few respondents to make everything worthwhile.
But the Prince of Nigeria scam isn’t just about email. Other electronic forms of communication like SMS and fax machines are also just as convenient for crooks. And that’s before we even mention popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. All of these platforms make it relatively simple for one person to contact huge numbers of potential victims.
By now, most of us are wise to the tactics used by Nigerian prince scammers and can see them coming a mile off. Here’s a list of some of the more obvious red flags:
- The original email, tweet, SMS, or contact is unsolicited
- The sender has a royal title or claims to be a foreign dignitary. More recently, this has evolved to include Middle Eastern bankers, US soldiers fighting overseas, lottery winners, rich orphans, and sons of Russian Oligarchs
- The scam is usually linked to a country or region where there’s corruption, confusion – and plenty of money!
- The sender says they’ll share a huge amount of money with you, but only after you’ve sent them funds or your bank details
Key characteristics of the Nigerian prince email
Although we might laugh at the idea of the Nigerian prince scams, in essence, they’re no different from all the other forms of internet fraud, from a “double your Bitcoin” swindle to a fake, money-grabbing online date. In every case, the aim of the scammers is the same: to cheat you out of your hard-earned cash.
Because the Nigerian prince email scam has been around for so long, it’s a relatively simple matter to identify the key characteristics and form of the content. If you receive an email containing any of the features below, the alarm bells in your head should start ringing immediately!
- An emotional appeal to your better nature: this may take the form of a seemingly small request for help, and is often designed to tug at your heartstrings. The language used may be personal and emotionally-charged
- A small initial request: the scammer may ask an apparently innocent and innocuous question in order to establish contact with you. Only later on will the true motive appear
- Poor English and grammatical errors: this may appear obvious after the event, but ask yourself this question: if someone was a prominent member of a royal family or a top international banker, wouldn’t they be able to spell correctly?
- The promise of unreal returns: whilst some of the content may be designed to engage with your higher nature, there’s also an appeal to your baser instincts – namely, the chance to make big money for a small investment
- A request for personal information: you can only help the person – and secure your returns – if you share private information, like your bank details
- Increasing demands: once you’ve been hooked, you may find yourself facing additional requests for more and more funds
- The trail suddenly goes cold: this is typically accompanied by unusual activity in your bank account, alongside the sickening realization that you’ve been conned
How to protect yourself from Nigerian prince scams?
With a little common sense, it’s not too difficult to reduce the risk of being scammed. Don’t trust emails or communications from people you don’t know. If you’re tempted to reply, before you do, seek a second opinion from someone you respect.
Learn the obvious warning signs that come with internet scams. Never, ever give your bank details to strangers. Look for the truth behind the hype. Make sure your computer security is up to date (this will often prevent fraudulent spam from getting anywhere near your inbox). And above all, remember that if something looks too good to be true, it usually is.
Many people who’ve been victims of internet scams let things lie, either because they believe that their money must be gone forever, or because they’re too ashamed to admit that they fell for such an obvious hoax.
This is where Payback comes in. We’re one of the first companies to wise up to what was happening on the darker side of the web, and we’ve made it our business to recover funds for people who’ve been affected by any sort of cybercrime, including Nigerian prince scams.
You may think that you have no chance of getting your money back. But at Payback, we have the specialist knowledge, technical expertise, financial experience, and legal muscle to help you reclaim what’s rightfully yours. We’ve recovered many millions of dollars for victims of internet fraud, and our professional, confidential, and market-leading service has helped people across the globe. So if you’ve been scammed on the internet, call us now to discuss how we might be able to help you.