Q: I received a suspicious email. How do I know if it's a scam?
A: Visit our "Is this email a scam?" FAQ page.
Q: I received a check from someone I met through an email. The check looks very real! How can I be SURE it is a fake?
A: I've received several fake checks from scammers and, yes, they do LOOK real. In fact I have showed a couple to my local chief of police and even he could not tell the difference by just looking at them. He informed me that it is not as hard as I thought to forge checks. The special paper that checks are printed on, as well as the equipment used to print them, can be bought (legally) online. If you want to learn more about how to tell if a check is fake or not - I recommend that you read this page: http://www.fraudaid.com/check_liability.htm ... However I must stress that the best defence from check fraud is common sense. If someone you met through an email wants you to cash checks for him - there is a 99.999% chance that it is a fake.
Q: I have already deposited the check into my account and it has cleared - so that means that the check was good - right?
A: Wrong. The check is still likely a fake. The money you see in your bank account is called "flash money". It is imaginary money that will appear, temporarily, in your bank account following the deposit of a fake check. The purpose of flash money is to convince you that the scammer is legitimate. Often the scammer wants you to send him a percentage of the flash money as real money, usually by money transfer. When the bank eventually discovers that the original check or electronic transfer is fraudulent (could take days or even weeks) the credit will be reversed and you will be held accountable for the loss. If you think this has happened to you - contact your bank's manager right away and explain the situation.
Q: The money was deposited directly into my account by electronic transfer - so that means the money is good - right?
A: Wrong. As in the example given above, the money you see in your bank account is just flash money. Eventually the bank will discover that the electronic transfer is fraudulent. If you withdraw the money before then - you will be held accountable for the loss later. Again, if you think this has happened to you - contact your bank right away.
Q: Can victims of email scams take stolen money off their taxes?
A: Yes, usually fraud victims can deduct stolen money as a "casualty loss" tax deduction. For example, if a victim is cheated out of $10,000 (and he is in the 20% tax bracket) then the deduction will save him about $2,000. So it is worth doing. Victims can use transfer receipts, canceled check stubs and printed copies of emails as evidence of their loss. To claim a casualty or theft loss, one must complete
"Casualties and Thefts", and attach it to his tax return. Even if the theft occurred many years ago, a victim should still be able to take the loss off THIS year's taxes, provided he has not taken it off during any previous years.
Q: The scammer sent me an email attachment. Is it safe to open it?
A: No. It might contain a virus or spyware. Safe attachments are in the follow formats: .gif .jpeg .jpg .bmp .png
.tiff .tga. If the extension is something else, especially if it's a .exe or .scr, do not open it!
Q: How did the scammer get my email address?
A: Scammers use computer programs called "bots" to troll the Internet for emails. Guestbooks, for example, are one of the places that bots look. Go to Google and search for "firstname.lastname@example.org" (with quotes around it). You can then see where on the Internet your address can be found. A good way to prevent this - is to not post your email address online and to be very careful who you share it with. If you do post it online - try to disguise it in a way that will fool the bots. For example: "your(AT)emailaddress(DOT)com", "your/at/emailaddress/com" or "your @ emailaddress com"
Q: The scammer has invited me to visit him. Would it be safe for me to do that?
A: Fuck no! No good can come from a face-to-face confrontation with a scammer. If you are lucky - you will just get robbed and beaten. If you are unlucky - you could be tortured and murdered. 419 scammers are unscrupulous men of the worst kind. Don't go! If you are still not sure if an email is a scam or not - please print it out and show it to a cop before you send money or travel.
Q: I have recently become aware that I have been scammed (or am in the process of being scammed) by a email fraudster. What should I do now?
A: Stop all communication with the scammer. Just "freeze him out". If he emails, just ingnor it. If he calls, just say "I'm not interested" and hang up. You don't owe the scammer an explanation for why you are ignoring him and sending a hateful reply will not help anyone. So just freeze him out.
Q: The scammer has my Social Security number. Do I need to get a new one? CAN I get a new one?
A: Probably not. Most of the time 419 scammers don't really want your SS# - they only ask you for it as a way to make themselves appear professional and legitimate. So most of the time giving your SS# to a scammer is not a big deal. However, on rare occasions, scammers will attempt to use the number to apply for credit or work visas. You can only get a new Social Security number if you have evidence that someone else has it AND is actually misusing it. So basically, with SS# theft, you are required to wait and see before you can do anything about it. If you have good reason to believe your SS# is being misused - you can contact the Federal Trade Commission here: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/
Q: The scammer has my drivers licence number. Is there anything that i should do to protect my identity being used?
A: There is very little that a scammer can do with just your drivers license number. (For example he will not be able to have a new licence issued to him or get a credit card with it.) So there is really nothing you need to do to protect yourself.
Q: The scammer has a scanned copy of my drivers licence. What should I do?
A: Again, not as big of a deal as you might think. There is not much that a scammer can do with a scanned copy of a drivers licence. In theory he could use it to make a functional duplicate - but that would require skills far beyond those of typical 419 scammer.
Q: I suspect that a scammer has somehow used the information I have given him to steal my identity! What can I do?
A: You can check your credit report here: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp and contact the Federal Trade Commission here: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/
Q: I have given my bank account number to a scammer. Can he steal money from it?
A: The short answer is probably not, but it is still a good idea to call your bank and tell the manager what has happened anyway. In general, the main purpose of asking for the bank account number is only to reenforce the victim's belief that he is really about to receive millions of dollars in that account soon. Most of the time banks have safe guards in place that prevent scammers from withdrawing money from someone's else's account. I have noticed a disturbing trend among 419 scammers to specifically attempt to acquire detailed "Equity Line of Credit Account" information. Presumably the scammers want this information so that they can create bogus documentation and then apply for a home equity loan in the victim's name. If you believe you have given such information to a scammer - you should contact your bank right away.
Q: I gave the scammer my credit card number! What should I do?
A: You should immediately contact your credit card company. Their 24-hour toll free number will be on the back of the card. The sooner you do this the better, as the scammers will likely use your credit card number to purchase lots of expensive things. The credit card company will need to issue you a new card, which is a bit of a hassle, but it's better than the alternative.
Q: I have already sent my real phone number and address to the scammers! What should I do?!?
A: Don't panic. Stop replying to the scammer's emails. If the scammer calls - tell him you are not interested and hang up on them. If they call back - tell them you know it is a scam, you will never give them money and that you have talked to the police. That should do the trick. Scammers are in it for the money and are only interested in dealing with people who don't realize they are being scammed. They still might try to persuade you with a few more emails or calls. Just ignoring them. Eventually the scammer will move on to greener pastures.
Q: The scammer's lawyer is threatening me with a lawsuit!
A: The scammer is trying to scare you into sending money. It’s bullshit. He is a criminal who will never appear in court or pursue legal action against you. There isn’t any legal action he can take to force you to send money. From now on - just delete his emails without even reading them.
Q: A scammer is threatening my life! He has my real phone number and address! What should I do?
A: Don't panic. It is extremely unlikely that a scammer will ever travel to your home and cause you harm. The scammer might claim that he is nearby or that he has "connections" in your country, but in all likelihood he is really just a cowardly little thief hiding thousands of miles away. He is only interested in scamming you out of money and has no real intention of ever getting off his lazy ass and traveling all the way to your location to harm you. If you are still concerned - call your local police department and they will tell you pretty much the same thing. (If you do call the police - use their NON-EMERGENCY phone number. DON'T CALL "911" unless you are in immediate danger.)
Q: Scammers won't stop emailing or chatting with me. How do I make them stop?
A: You can add them to your "ignore" list, but they might simply use another email address to harass you. The only guaranteed way to stop a scammer from emailing you is to change your email address. So, for example, if your email is "email@example.com" - change it to "firstname.lastname@example.org". Tell only your friends and relatives about the change.
Q: A scammer has my phone number and won't stop calling me. How do I stop the phone calls?
A: Email scammers are not above harassing or threatening people by phone if they think it will get them what they want. Usually scammers will give up after a victim hangs up on them several times in a row. However, some scammers are frustratingly persistent. If the scammer's calls fail to stop and simply ignoring him is not an option for you - then you should contact your phone company and have your phone number changed.
Q: Wait a minute! You just got done telling baiters (on the scam baiting tips page) that they "should never give real information to a scammer because they are criminals and they should be treated as such." Now you are telling victims that "It is extremely unlikely that a scammer will ever travel to your home and cause you harm." What gives?!?!?
A: There is a big difference between baiters and victims. Typically scam victims have done nothing out of the ordinary to anger the scammers. So there is very little motive for a scammer to seek vengeance. Baiters, on the other hand, go out of their way to "burn", humiliate and frustrate scammers. In fact provoking a scammer to the point that they threaten one's life is a mark of distinction among baiters. (See our "Testimonials Page" for examples.) So there is a much bigger motive for the scammer to seek vengeance upon a baiter then a victim. That having been said - the odds that a scammer will travel thousands of miles, and risk going to jail, to seek unprofitable revenge is very low. Still it is wise for baiters to never give real information to the scammers that they provoke.
Q: A scammer is threatening me with voo-doo. What should I do?
A: Don't panic. Voo-doo is not real. How do I know? George Bush. If voo-doo was real - George Bush would have turned into a goat, dropped dead or burst into flames a long time ago. Delete the emails without reading them and hang up the phone if they call. You have nothing to fear, but fear its self. Chill out - you will be fine.
Q: The scammer wants me to do something illegal. In exchange he will pay me a percentage. Will he keep his end of the bargain?
A: WHAT!?!?! First of all - don't do anything illegal. You might get caught or hurt someone - or both. Second of all, no, you can't trust scammers to keep their end of the bargain. They are unscrupulous men of the worst kind. Here is a related story about a woman who knowingly helped scammers to cash fake checks: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2008/06/26/Woman_gets_prison_for_Nigerian_scam/UPI-73791214521169/
Q: I've started a romantic relationship with someone by email/chat room/online service. The relationship has developed very quickly and now I'm suspicious that I might be involved with a scammer. How can I tell for sure?
A: One way you will know for sure, is if the person contacting you asks for money. ("I need $75 for food.", "I need $400 for a plane ticket to come see you.", "My mother needs $2000 for an operation.", "The African mob demands that I pay $8000 or I'll be killed." etc, etc, etc... Sometimes they will ask for gifts... "I need a working cell phone so that we can talk." or "I need a new digital camera so I can take more sexy photos of myself for you.") Again - let common sense be your guide; if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Think with your head - not with your... er... other "head". If you think you might be a victim, or target, of a romance scam - then I highly recommend you go here:
Q: I keep getting romantic offers by email/chat room/online service. But after a while I discover that most of them are just scammers. How can I tell, ahead of time, if a romantic offer is legitimate?
A: A good rule of thumb, for anyone seeking romance online, is to only respond to people who currently live within a 90 mile radius of your home. If someone contacts you from another country or another state - then ignore them. The whole point of meeting attractive people online is so that you can meet them someday in real life, right? If they are not within driving distance - then what is the point? Sticking to a 90 mile radius will filter out 99.9% of romance scammers. Also keep an eye out for people who SAY they live near you, but are currently traveling or working abroad - most of those are scammers too.
Q: Is there such a thing as an "Anti Terrorism Certificate"? I was told I need one to conclude a transaction.
A: No, there is no such thing. It is something that email scammers ask for as part of a scam. Intended victims are told that an "Anti-Terrorist Certificate" is required to allow international money transfers to be made. The certificate is said to be a legal requirement established by Homeland Security, United Nations, FBI or some other authority. Victims are told that they must pay a comparitivly small ammount of money (usually hundereds of dollars) in order to receive this certificate so that a much larger sum (usually many millions of dollars) can be transfered. Any such demands should be treated as a scam. There are no organizations that require Anti-Terrorist Certificates nor do they request fees in association with the international transfer of funds.
Q: I already sent money to a scammer. Can the police help me get it back?
A: The short answer is no. Most online scams are not seriously investigated by the police - partly because of apathy and partly because of the inherited difficulties that 419 investigations create. Basically as soon as the authorities find out the criminals are based abroad they give up. The effort required to track down a foreign based criminal is considerable and the chances of success are very low. Even in the few cases where criminals are caught and convicted, it is rare that their victims are ever compensated. Personally I don't know of a single case where a 419 victim has gotten his money back.
Q: What about the FBI?
A: In the United States the FBI only gets involved in online scams if damages exceed $100,000 - which is rare. (The average loss per victim is closer to $6,000). This, unfortunately, means that 419 crimes are almost without risk for the criminals.
Q: What about the Cyber Crimes Unit of the FBI? Don't THEY pursue 419 scammers?
A: No. At this time they are only interested in pursuing terrorists and peddlers of online child porn. They do not have the budget, nor the desire, to even attempt to pursue 419ers.
Q: What about IC3?
A: IC3 (Internet Crime Complaint Center) http://www.ic3.gov/ describes its self as "a vehicle to receive, develop, and catalogue cyber crime complaints". They claim to "provide victims of cyber crime a convenient and easy-to-use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected online crime". The truth is that the IC3 is nothing more than a statistic gathering joke, and a poor one at that. They do not actively pursue 419 scammers. Nor do they really help victims who's lives have been devastated by scammers.
Q: What about the EFCC?
A: The "Economic and Financial Crimes Commission" was set up by the Nigerian government to do two things: to arrest scammers and attempt to return money to victims. If you were scammed by someone based in Nigeria - you can file a claim with the EFCC here: http://www.efccnigeria.org/ But don't get your hopes up, their success rate is very low. The EFCC is a comparatively competent and honest branch of the Nigerian government, but they have very little resources and the rest of the country's anti-corruption fight is largely a sad farce.
PLEASE NOTE: Nigerian email scammers will very often pose as EFCC agents who claim they can recover stolen money - for a price. The real EFCC will never charge you for there services.
Q: If the authorities won't help me get my money back, then what about a private security company?
A: I know of one private company called "Ultrascan" http://www.ultrascan.nl/index.html that specializes is 419 recovery, but they are VERY expensive http://www.ultrascan.nl/html/loss_recovery.html The fees they charge are far beyond the affordability of most 419 victims. Basically private investigation of 419 crimes is only an option for large companies. Ultrascan is a legitimate company - but there are many fraudulent ones who will give you false hope in exchange for a few thousand dollars. Don't throw good money after bad.
Q: What about "nigerianscamcheck.com"? They say they can help for only $39.99? Is it worth it?
A: That website does not look very professional; there are some spelling and grammatical errors on the main page. From what I can tell, the only service that they provide is this... You give them an email and they tell you if it is a scam or not. But you can do that for free here:
and on my website here:
...So I don't think it is worth the $39.99
Q: What about "Wymoo International"? Are they a good service for people who have lost money to email scammers?
A: In my opinion, no. The wymoo company website at www.wymoo.com looks professional, but they do not appear to have a real contact phone number (on the website or anywhere else) that allows you to speak to a real person without first paying them money. I contacted Wymoo posing as a email scam victim looking for help and the representative's response was unhelpful and exploitative. A scam victim would be FAR better off contacting a non-for-profit organization like "Fraud Aid" http://www.fraudaid.com/advocacy.htm for advice and help.
Q: Can YOU help me get my money back?
A: Ten years ago a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem and no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the 419hell-team...
Q: Seriously... can you help me get my money back?
A: No, sorry. The best we can do is "bait" the scammer and annoy him. If you want us to do that - post your story (along with all information and email correspondence) on
. At the very least we might be able to give you some advice.
Q: Can ANYONE help me get my money back?
A: No. Once the scammer has your money - it is gone forever. I've talked to hundreds of victims and have studied email fraud for years. Personally I don't know of a single case where a email scam victim has gotten his money back.
Q: I am a victim who has lost my life savings ($25,000) to a email scammer who is in Nigeria. Even though I know that I can't get my money back - I still want the scammer arrested so that he won't scam other people. I have gathered evidence and have a good plan to catch the scammer. What must I do to get police to investigate and take action against the email scammer?
A: In your case - nothing. Authorities simply do not treat email fraud the same as other types of crime. The criteria that a case of email fraud must meet, to compel authorities to take action, is unusually high and nearly impossible to achieve. They are as follows...
1) $500,000 or more in losses are required. The exact threshold varies, but as a general rule - authorities won't even file a report unless a victim's losses are over $100,000 and won't arrest a email scammer unless he has stolen $500,000 or more. This, of course, is not a requirement of other types of crime. But, as I said before - authorities simply do not treat email fraud the same as other types of crime.
2) The crime must occur from "normal-land". American authorities won't touch a case that takes place from a "lad-land" country such as Nigeria or Ghana (where over 95% of email fraud takes place). The crime must occur from a "normal-land" country where extradition is comparatively easy - such as the United States, Australia, United Kingdom and South Africa. Email fraud occurring any other place will be ignored by American authorities. And, of course, the scammer must physically be in normal-land for an arrest warrant to be issued.
3) The victim reporting the crime must first locate a prosecutor who would be willing to prosecute email fraud. The reason for this is that most law enforcement officers know that most prosecutors are unwilling to pursue email scammers. So, most police will not do anything unless a prosecutor has already expressed wiliness to prosecute. This, of course, is not a requirement of other types of crime. Usually victims do not need to "shop" for a prosecutor before police will take action. But, as I said before - authorities simply do not treat email fraud the same as other types of crime.
Q: So, basically, you are telling us there is virtually no way a typical victim can get police to take action against a email scammer?
A: That is essentially correct.
Q: What would happen if I go to the police any way?
A: Nothing. (I know this from speaking with REAL victims who have reported email fraud to the police.) The police will listen intently to what you have to say right up to the point when you say "email", "online" or "computer". Then their eyes will gloss over and they will stop listening to what you are saying. When you stop to take a breath they will interrupt you with a variation of "You have contacted the wrong department; we don't do computer-related crime." They might refer you to someone else. The new person might then refer you to someone else... and so on... Eventually you MIGHT get someone who's job it is to take care of "computer-related crime". Again you will start talking about your case and they will listen intently to what you have to say right up to the point when you tell them your losses are less then $100,000 OR that the scammer is not in "Normal-land" - then their eyes will gloss over and they will stop listening to what you are saying. They won't care that you have collected evidence and have a good plan to catch the scammer. They won't even write a report. They will say one or more of the following...
- "There is nothing we can do." (Then they hang up.)
- "I will contact my
boss and get back to you." (Then they don't get back to you.)
- "Send your evidence to our email address." (After you send it - you never hear back from them.)
- "You should report the scammer to his email provider." (They can't be bothered to do it for you.)
- "You should not trust anyone by email." (NOW they tell you!)
- "You are stupid." (This was said to at least one of the victims I spoke to.)
- "Go to http://www.ic3.gov/ and file a complaint THERE." (If you file a complaint with IC3 - it will be evaluated and then passed to the appropriate law enforcement agency where it will be ignored.)
Q: I lost $25,000 to a scammer! I have a ton of evidence and even a GOOD plan to capture the scammer! Are you telling me that the police, whose salary I pay for with my taxes, will not even TRY to help me! That is NOT fair!!!!!!! I demand justice!
A: I agree that it is unfair. But justice will not be forth coming. The anger you feel and the apathy you face is what caused Pensioner Jiri Pasovsky on February 2003 to shoot the consul of the Nigerian embassy and his secretary.
Q: But WHY don't authorities treat email fraud the same as other types of crime? What is the REASON for this apathy?
A: Two reasons...
1) Email scammers are difficult to catch and the crime is difficult to prosecute. Email, cell-phones, chat and faxs make it easy for perpetrators to anonymously rob people from almost any hidden location on earth while at the same time isolating themselves from prosecution. Almost all email fraud occurs across national boarders so the effort required for prosecution (even between "normal-lad" countries) increases dramatically. Authorities, therefore, are VERY reluctant to spend resources fighting email fraud when chances of success are so low. In other words - why pick apples from the top of the tree when there are plenty within arms reach? That argument is not totally without merit; with the time, effort and money required to catch just ONE email scammer - the authorities could catch a much more impressive number of drunk drivers, prostitutes, shop lifters, drug dealers, people driving with expired license stickers, etc...
2) Authorities are unfamiliar with the crime. This is because few authorities have ever even TRIED to catch and prosecute a email scammer - so they don't know HOW to do it. Because they don't know how - they don't try. Because they don't try - they don't know how... This creates a never ending cycle of incompetence and apathy.
Q: Will this ever change?
A: No, It is unlikely to change any time soon.
Q: Well you are the expert... What do YOU recommend authorities do to break this "cycle"?
A: I have three ideas...
1) I recommend reducing spending on victimless crimes (such as illegal drug use and prostitution) by 0.1% and using that money to fund a special department whose task it is to thwart, catch and prosecute email scammers. I, myself, have been able to prevent millions from being stolen from hundreds of innocent people with out any authority, training or budget at all. Imagine what a group of focused professionals could do if they had the time and resources to thwart and pursue email scammers. They should hire ME! I'll work cheap!
2) Money transfer companies (such as Western Union and Money Gram) should be held partly accountable when their service is used to defraud people. A Western Union representative (off the record) told me that over half of all money transfers sent from the United States to Nigeria are fraudulent. So why in the hell are money transfer companies allowed to make a profit from it?!? WU and MG are a scammer's best friend - that friendship needs to end. There is a lot more WU and MG could do to curtail fraud. But, currently, they do not have a financial incentive to do so. When a victim learns he has been robbed - he should be able to get all or part of his money back from the transfer company. The transfer company can then demand compensation from the branch that accepted the transfer. If a branch is unable to make a profit because it is used too much by scammers - then it will (and should) go out of business.
3) Police should be required to (at least) file a report when a victim reports they have been scammed. Currently most police officers treat victims of email fraud as inconveniences to be ignored. That is shameful. The true scope and impact of email fraud can not be measured until police start writing reports.
Q: So where can I go to get HELP!?! 419 scammers stole my money. I'm deep in debt and might loose my home. Some of the money that they stole was not even mine. I'm in big trouble! What should I do?
A: Visit the "Fraud Aid" website
or "Scam Victims United"
They are both non-profit organizations that help victims of online scams.
Q: I have a question regarding 419 scams or about this website. Is this the right page to find that information?
A: Read our "
Q: I'd like to learn more about the art/sport of "scam baiting" and perhaps do a little baiting myself. What tips can you give to a new baiter?
A: Read our "
Q: I have a question that is not covered on this page. How can I contact you?
A: If none of the pages listed above contained an answer to your question - please feel free to post your question on