What is a ‘419’ scam? How to spot fake call, email or letter that is taking £2,500 from victim’s bank accounts

People are being warned to be vigilant against a type of fraud known as the 419 scamPeople are being warned to be vigilant against a type of fraud known as the 419 scam
People are being warned to be vigilant against a type of fraud known as the 419 scam | fizkes - stock.adobe.com

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Some victims of the ‘419’ scam have had their bank accounts emptied

People are being warned to be vigilant against a type of fraud known as the 419 scam.

So, what is this type of scam, how can you spot it, and what should you do if you think you’ve already fallen victim to it.

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What is a 419 scam?

A 419 scam is where a scammer sends a fake email or a letter, or makes a phone call, and asks people to pay an admin fee to help move a large amount of money from one country to another, with the promise that they will be rewarded with some of the cash once the transaction has been completed.

A ‘419’ email or letter is a type of advance fee fraud, where scammers target victims to make advance or upfront payments for goods, services or financial gains that do not materialise.

Fraudsters don’t have any of the money they claim to be handling, and if people do pay money to them then they will suddenly cut all contact with them.

How do 419 scams happen, and how much could I lose?

The 419 scam begins when someone contacts you by phone, email, post, saying they have access to a substantial amount of money.

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They have usually invented a story to explain where they have supposedly got the money from such as an inheritance or a government fund.

They say they need your help to move the money, and then give you a reason why they can’t transfer it themselves.

They may say, for example, that they aren’t able to open a bank account in another country.

They’ll also try to make you feel special, and tell you a positive reason why you’ve been chosen to take part, and may even ask you to open a new bank account to transfer the money.

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If you do pay, the fraudster is then likely to keep coming back with requests for more fees, pretending it’s one more last-minute obstacle before they can release the money to you.

The fraudsters may also ask you for details of your bank account so that they can transfer your reward, but they will use this information to take money from your account.

The average amount of money lost to these scams is reported to be £2,563, but in some cases some people have found their bank account completely emptied.

Why is it called the 419 scam?

This scam takes its name from the country it originates from.It involves countries such as Iraq, South Africa or somewhere in west Africa such as Ivory Coast, Togo or Nigeria, where the name ‘419’ is taken from the country’s criminal code, according to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime.

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How do I know if the email, letter or phone call I’ve received is a 419 scam?

There are a number of ways you can spot if the communication you’ve received is fraudulent.

It can be hard to spot a scam email or letter as fraudsters often provide faked photographs, documents and letters with official-looking headed paper. These scams can be sophisticated, but look out for bad spelling or grammar, or a bad use of the English language.

Trust your instinct, if you’ve got a feeling that it’s not right then it probably isn’t.

Look out for any demands for you to act quickly, or a request to keep the communication a secret. If you feel pressure to send money or not tell anyone else about it then this is an indicator that all is not what it seems.

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Legitimate companies would also never ask you to pay a fee to help release a larger amount of cash.

If you’ve supposedly been contacted by different people with the proposition, or by people pretending to be investigators or authorities, then this is a warning sign. Fraudsters will try and make a scam seem more believable by using different forms of contact, often claiming to be multiple people - but it is all the same person.

If you receive a phone call that is out of the blue, you’re asked to share your personal details, or the contact information for the company or person you are apparently speaking with are vague then it is very likely that this is a scam.

What should I do if I get a 419 scam email, letter or phone call?

If you receive an email, delete it and don’t click on any links included or call any numbers given.

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If you receive a letter, put it straight in the bin and don’t use any of the contact information included.

If you receive a phone call, hang up immediately.

You should then report the contact to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or using their online reporting form.

If you have engaged with the scammer and given out any of your personal information, or have already made a payment, contact your bank immediately.

You should do this using the contact details for your bank as listed on the FCA register, so you can be sure you are actually speaking to someone at your bank.

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Your bank will then be able to guide you through what to do next.

You can also contact the Financial Conduct Authority’s consumer helpline on 0800 111 6768 or report suspicious businesses or individuals online.

Be aware that if you have fallen victim to a 419 scam the fraudsters may make a follow-up phone call or send a follow-up email or letter, claiming to be able to get your money back.

This is a second scam, known as a recovery scam, and could result in you losing even more money.

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You should not engage in any way with anyone who claims to be able to get your money back for you. Hang up your phone, delete the email or throw away the letter.

Can I get my money back if I’ve lost it to a 419 scam?

You might be able to get your money back if you have fallen victim to a 419 scam, but this will depend on the individual circumstances of the scam, and the policy adopted by your bank.

It can be harder to get money back that you have paid over to a scammer because you have authorised the payment.

Check the Citizen’s Advice website, or speak to your bank directly, for more information.

A message from the editor:

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