Mail Scams

Nigerian Letter or "419" Fraud

Nigerian letter frauds combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter, mailed from Nigeria, offers the recipient the "opportunity" to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author, a self-proclaimed government official, is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria. The recipient is encouraged to send information to the author, such as blank letterhead stationery, bank name and account numbers and other identifying information using a facsimile number provided in the letter. Some of these letters have also been received via E-mail through the Internet. The scheme relies on convincing a willing victim, who has demonstrated a "propensity for larceny" by responding to the invitation, to send money to the author of the letter in Nigeria in several installments of increasing amounts for a variety of reasons.

Payment of taxes, bribes to government officials, and legal fees are often described in great detail with the promise that all expenses will be reimbursed as soon as the funds are spirited out of Nigeria. In actuality, the millions of dollars do not exist and the victim eventually ends up with nothing but loss. Once the victim stops sending money, the perpetrators have been known to use the personal information and checks that they received to impersonate the victim, draining bank accounts and credit card balances until the victim's assets are taken in their entirety. While such an invitation impresses most law-abiding citizens as a laughable hoax, millions of dollars in losses are caused by these schemes annually. Some victims have been lured to Nigeria, where they have been imprisoned against their will, in addition to losing large sums of money. The Nigerian government is not sympathetic to victims of these schemes, since the victim actually conspires to remove funds from Nigeria in a manner that is contrary to Nigerian law. The schemes themselves violate section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code, hence the label "419 fraud."

Letter of Credit Fraud

Legitimate letters of credit are never sold or offered as investments.

Legitimate letters of credit are issued by banks to ensure payment for goods shipped in connection with international trade. Payment on a letter of credit generally requires that the paying bank receive documentation certifying that the goods ordered have been shipped and are en route to their intended destination.

Letters of credit frauds are often attempted against banks by providing false documentation to show that goods were shipped when, in fact, no goods or inferior goods were shipped.

Other letter of credit frauds occur when con artists offer a "letter of credit" or "bank guarantee" as an investment wherein the investor is promised huge interest rates on the order of 100 to 300 percent annually. Such investment "opportunities" simply do not exist.

Prime Bank Note

International fraud artists have invented an investment scheme that offers extremely high yields in a relatively short period of time. In this scheme, they purport to have access to "bank guarantees" which they can buy at a discount and sell at a premium. By reselling the "bank guarantees" several times, they claim to be able to produce exceptional returns on investment. For example, if $10 million worth of "bank guarantees" can be sold at a two percent profit on ten separate occasions, or "traunches," the seller would receive a 20 percent profit. Such a scheme is often referred to as a "roll program." To make their schemes more enticing, con artists often refer to the "guarantees" as being issued by the world's "Prime Banks," hence the term "Prime Bank Guarantees." Other official sounding terms are also used such as "Prime Bank Notes" and "Prime Bank Debentures." Legal documents associated with such schemes often require the victim to enter into nondisclosure and noncircumvention agreements, offer returns on investment in "a year and a day", and claim to use forms required by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). In fact, the ICC has issued a warning to all potential investors that no such investments exist.

The purpose of these frauds is generally to encourage the victim to send money to a foreign bank where it is eventually transferred to an off-shore account that is in the control of the con artist. From there, the victim's money is used for the perpetrator's personal expenses or is laundered in an effort to make it disappear.

While foreign banks use instruments called "bank guarantees" in the same manner that U.S. banks use letters of credit to insure payment for goods in international trade, such bank guarantees are never traded or sold on any kind of market.