Let me first say that Nigeria is a federal republic and not a kingdom. It has an elected president just like the United States.
I’m sure you’ve gotten an email from a Nigerian prince who needs help. I still get these emails from time to time. It makes me laugh but it also saddens me because it still rakes in money from unsuspecting people. In 2019, the Nigerian email scam took over $700,000.
You might be familiar with the story of a prince or benefactor of a large estate that needs your assistance. The prince needs your help to unfreeze millions of dollars. All they need is just a few minutes of your time to help release the funds.
Once they get a response from you and build “trust,” they will ask you to perform a set of tasks. And for successfully completing the task you will be compensated.
It starts with having you deposit a check and make an international transfer to an account. The instructions are easy to follow and the communication is consistent. Everything seems to be on the up-and-up.
Until you discover the check has bounced and your accounts are overdrawn.
The Nigerian prince email message
A few years ago, I had a friend who shared a story of a struggling prince in a faraway land whose money was frozen. The prince had no one else to turn to for help. She was chosen. My friend corresponded with the prince’s lawyer through email and she was convinced she had won the lottery. She even excused the bad grammar in the email indicating English wasn’t their first language.
My friend wasn’t going to receive a multi-million dollar payout immediately. The lawyer needed her help by depositing a check for a smaller amount. She received a cashier’s check for the amount of $5,000 and was asked to Western Union $2,000 into an account. The remaining amount of $3,000 would be her first installment and compensation for her troubles.
My friend did as she was instructed and deposited the check.
The check was cleared as a courtesy per her request. Typical banking procedures require holds or verification before a deposited check is made available for withdrawal. Some financial institutions, however, will release the hold as a courtesy based on your banking relationship.
The prince turns out to be a scamming toad
She happily withdrew $2,000 and transferred the amount through Western Union. I recall her saying how she made $3,000 for doing nothing. This sounded like a scam to me. She argued back stating she had the $3,000 in her account.
A week later, she was contacted by her credit union about the fake check. Her account was now overdrawn by a little over $2,000. The check was sent back by the issuing bank as a fraudulent cashier’s check. My friend was now required to pay back that overdrawn amount.
She was a victim of the Nigerian prince email scam.
If you’re a victim of fraud, you’re not liable for the losses incurred. But if you’ve actively participated in the fraud there are little protections afforded you. In this case, my friend is liable for the overdrawn account. She may have unwittingly deposited a fraudulent check but she did withdraw the amount and willingly sent it to the scammer.
She could have avoided the overdrawn account by allowing the credit union to follow its normal check processing. Or she could have waited a week or two to ensure the check was good. In most cases, checks can be cleared within 1-2 days through Check 21 process.
My friend isn’t alone. Thousands of people continue to be scammed by the “Nigerian prince.”
Dr. Frank McAndrew, a social psychologist, and professor at Illinois-based Knox College told CNBC Make It that these schemes play on people’s greed.
It sounds silly but the lure of easy money makes us do things we wouldn’t normally do.
Here are 5 things to protect yourself from the princely scammers.
1. Read unsolicited emails with caution.
You might have entered to win a $500 gift card and received an email notifying you of such winnings. This has happened to me. However, I knew for sure I submitted my email to a contest. But, you should still be on high alert. When in doubt, don’t click on any links in an email. Go directly to the website and verify if it is a secure website. Contact the company directly.
2. Delete email notification of cash winnings.
Delete all unsolicited email claiming you’ve won the lottery, need to cash checks to receive a payment or stating you have an inheritance. These are phishing attempts and email scams. Block the email sender and mark as spam.
3. Don’t involve your banking accounts.
Unsolicited email or phone calls that require you to share your bank account number or transact using your bank account is 99.99% a scam. Anyone that calls you to verify your banking account information is trying to gather your personal information. If they contacted you, then they already have that information. There is no need to verify who you are if they initiated the contact. Still unsure if it’s legit? Ask them to send you a letter with the address they already have in the file. Don’t give them your home address.
4. Ignore and report foreign email or funky addresses as SPAM.
Flag email addresses that come from foreign sources asking for personal information or monetary compensation. Spam email addresses that purport to be a business but have nonbusiness email addresses. It’s best to ignore these types of emails and flag it as SPAM. It’s a good habit to read email addresses when it concerns money. Pay attention to small details. Most often emails are spoofed and may look legit but have zeros instead of the letter “O.” It may also have hyphens and missing a letter or misspelled.
5. If it sounds too good to be true, then it’s too good to be true.
If money could grow on trees, I’m sure we’d see scammers selling us a bunch of plastic seeds. No one will give you money over email. A stranger doesn’t need your help cashing a check. If you really think this person is legit and needs to cash the check, send them to the nearest check cashing store.
Learn to protect yourself from email scams. Having multiple email addresses for various purposes can be a deterrent. This way you’re not submitting the same email to get on a newsletter that you use to log into your bank accounts.
When it comes to identity theft and peace of mind you can consider an ID theft monitoring service (often included with credit report monitoring. Learn more about identity protection products in the marketplace.