Nigerian Internet Schemes

Cover Image for Nigerian Internet Schemes
By Corey Turner, Kunal Parikh, Shourov K, Ethan Martinez

7 min read

What is a Nigerian Internet Scheme

Nigerian internet schemes usually refer to a type of advance-fee scam where a victim is sent an email from someone claiming to be a Nigerian government official who is trying to illegally transfer millions of dollars out of the country. The sender will offer the recipient a fraction of the wealth — which doesn't really exist — in exchange for their assistance in relocating the money. This assistance typically involves the victim giving increasingly larger amounts of money to the sender, who claims it's being used to bribe officials and pay legal fees and promises the victim their share of the money once the "transfer" is over. In reality, the sender usually keeps asking for payments until the victim wises up and stops sending money, netting a loss. At this point, some perpetrators will use the personal info of the victim that they have gathered throughout these interactions to impersonate them and empty their bank accounts.


"80 Indicted In ‘Sophisticated’ Nigerian Online Fraud, Money Laundering Scheme" August 2019

History of Nigerian Internet Schemes

These types of advance-fee scams have a long and somewhat odd history dating back as far as the French Revolution. Over time, as the capabilities of the internet and technology have grown, so have the capabilities and notoriety of these scams, as comically references of "Nigerian Prince" scams have been seen throughout American pop culture, making their way to major TV shows such as "The Office".

Original Spanish Prisoner Scam Letter


As previously stated, the nature of such scams was first seen following the events of the French Revolution. A letter would be sent to hundreds of people, describing an exiled French aristocrat who had tossed a chest of jewels or gold in a lake during his escape from violence. The so-called "servant" of the aristocrat would reach out for help with his bail in exchange for a piece of the treasure after his release.

The scam came to be known as the "Spanish Prisoner Scam" as it gained popularity during the Spanish-American War. The scammer would act as a prisoner trapped in Spain with money hidden away in the United States. Again, in exchange for some monetary help, the recipient was told he/she would receive a piece of the cash.


"The Spanish Prisoner Swindle - a 19th Century Advance Fee Fraud".

It would not be until the 1980s that the name "Nigerian Prince Scam" or "Nigerian Internet Scheme" would be widely known around the world. During the 1980’s scammers in corrupt and oil-rich Nigeria sent millions of advance-fee scam letters around the world. Today, as these schemes have met the age of the internet, scammers can send out massive amounts of emails with the click of a button. They also now have the ability to include links and falsified documents. At the current moment, Nigerian Internet schemes seem to be taken as more a joke than a real threat, but Americans lost $700,000 in 2018 to the scam and now that scammers continue to grasp the capabilities of technology they can adapt and make schemes tailored to taking sensitive information, not just money. Scammers will continue to try to take advantage of and quickly adapt to any new crisis around the world, as they did throughout history from the French Revolution to the Spanish American War.


"The Nigerian Prince in Your Inbox has Been Around for Over 500 Years".

Why people fall for it

  • Self-selecting scam, only the extremely vulnerable reply to the initial email
  • Perpetrator builds a relationship, albeit fake, with the victim throughout their interactions
  • Some perpetrators claim they've had to sell their belongings to make money to bribe officials. This can cause the victim to feel pressured to take extreme actions, like stealing, to pay their share of the bribes
  • Or, they talk about what they'll do with their share, like leave the poor living conditions of Nigeria for the United States. This can make the victim more emotionally invested in the scheme, since they feel an obligation to help the perpetrator.

How you can avoid being a victim

Many of these scammers can be extremely convincing when it comes to getting you to send them money. Because of this, it's imperative to always be aware when talking to someone you've never met online. Keep an eye out for the following warning signs:

  • The new contact showing strong and sudden feelings for you.
  • Inconsistencies in the stories they tell you.
  • Asking you to suddenly send money for an expense despite you never meeting them.
  • Them sending you a check and asking you to wire them money back
    • This can inadvertently involve you in a money laundering scheme once the check bounces as it is being deposited by your bank
  • Someone pressuring you into making decisions in a hurry
    • They're trying to pressure you into making a quick decision without thinking about it.

In addition to these warning signs, make sure to do reverse image searches on all of their photos that they send you to see if they are fake and have just been copied from somewhere else on the internet.


Click the camera icon in the search bar when on the google images website to reverse image search

Finally, if you feel like you have been scammed despite using all the strategies mentioned, be sure to contact the IC3, or the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center, in order to report what happened. You most likely will not get your money back, however, you can prevent scammers like these from committing the crime again in the future.

The different variations of Advanced-Fee Schemes

  • Romance Scams - Scammers will join online dating-platforms, and manipulate potential victims by telling them they are in love or have an interest in them. Once the scammer has formed a relationship with the victim, they proceed to ask them for money and resources and may use deceptive lies to trick them.
  • Employment Scams - Scammers will attempt to target people who are seeking employment, and who may have submitted a resume or any other employment documents on a website. The scammer will proceed to tell their victims that they have been accepted for a job/position, providing fantastic salary and benefits to lure the victim. The scammer may require a victim to obtain a work-permit from a scammer, who is pretending to be a "government-official", and subsequently require the victim to pay a certain amount of fees to obtain the permit.
  • Lottery Scams - Scammers will tell their victims that they have won the lottery, even though the victim hasn't even entered the lottery in the first place. The scammer will then proceed to ask the victim to release sensitive information such as name and residential address. Additionally, the scammer will tell the victim that in order to release the lottery prize, they must pay some sort of fee. The scammer may proceed to create an additional fee that the victim pays. The scammer may approach the victim through a letter or email.
  • Investment Scams - Scammers posing as Investment companies will contact victims and ask them for help in making investments, possibly in an "overseas project." The scammer will send an email or letter that makes it look like it came from an established and respected investment firm. The email/letter will tell the victim to pay a fee in return for some form of monetary compensation that is guaranteed by the scammer, but that they do not end up paying to the victim.