419 Scam

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/subject-419-scam_1267.jpg

"Got message number 419
This lucky day is mine, all mine"

The advance fee fraud, known colloquially as the 419 scam, is a form of Internet fraud commonly associated with Nigeria. The character is contacted by someone who claims (in suspiciously shaky English) to have a large sum of money which is rightfully his but which he cannot access for various reasons (sealed account, locked trust fund, etc.), and he needs the mark's help to be able to access it. If he helps out, he'll get a substantial share of the money, which could be millions of dollars. To do this, the scammer typically needs the mark's own bank account to help him transfer the money, and he needs some of the mark's own money in advance to help authorize the transfer, bribe officials, or do anything else the scammer can think of. But the money doesn't exist; once the scammer gets the mark's money or access to his bank account, he cuts off all contact. It's basically the Spanish Prisoner scam for the Internet age.

As a trope, though, it's not usually used as a way to drive the overall plot like the Spanish Prisoner scam is; instead, it usually goes to show how a stupid or gullible a character is for falling for it. The subversion would thus take the form of the money being real and the other characters being the fools for being too cynical to help out a poor Nigerian prince. A particularly clever character might become a "scambaiter", who pretends to fall for the scam and strings the scammer along until he gets him into a humiliating or compromising situation.

In Real Life, the term "419 scam" derives from the relevant section of the Nigerian criminal code; however, it's used to refer to all scams of this kind, even when they don't involve Nigeria or bank accounts at all. The Real Life workings of this trope are explained in greater detail on the Analysis page. But to be a trope, it helps to be a shorthand, and that's why it nearly always involves a Nigerian with a big bank account he can't access. This Nigerian is also often a prince, in spite of the fact that Nigeria is a republic and not a monarchy (not that the mark would be expected to know this).


References in media

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    Comic Books 
  • One Knights of the Dinner Table strip deals with one of the Knights recieving a Nigerian banking scam email. Hilarity Ensues.
  • The anthology comic The Eternal Smile features this in the story "Urgent Request".
  • Right at the first issue of Gotham City Sirens, we have Catwoman wondering what Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn did to the money stolen from Hush that she gave them. Ivy's part was sent to a reforestation project; Harley's part, well...
    Catwoman: So I'm right in assuming you're spending the money I gave you as fast and as foolishly as you can.
    Harley: What's wrong with splurgin' on a few nice things? Besides, I put some away, made some investments...
    Catwoman: Please tell me they didn't involve sending money to a Nigerian prince.
    Harley: You got his e-mail, too?!

    Fan Fic 

  • Manages to reach Equestria in Dear Friend, within the Triptych Continuum. Spike fires off a series of ersatz scrolls after ingesting some "griffon-made canned lunch meat", one of which is clearly based on a classic 419. It involves the previously-unsuspected son of Sombra, twenty million bits deposited in Ponyville, and a request to help free the money so it can be used for retaking the homeland after the actions of the maniacal Preencess Celestia and the knownownown insane killer unicorn, Twilight Sparkle. (The scroll is filled with similar errors, including "horsepital" and "proponysal".) And just to top it off, it's signed "Sucker Bet".
  • In the works of A.A. Pessimal, the Discworld equivalent of this scam involves a bogus clacks message purportedly from a Howondaland noble. This despite them not even having the clacks in Howondaland, as Commander Vimes points out in The Civilian Assistant.

    Film 
  • Parodied in Freeloaders, where it turns out the Nigerian prince that asked Benny for money is 100% legit and shows up at the end of the movie as a Deus ex Machina, handing Benny his share of the inheritance — $38 million, which allows Benny to buy the mansion that he and his friends were crashing at instead of being forced onto the streets, thus resolving the plot.
  • The direct-to-DVD film EZ Money is based around this; the film's tagline is "The Nigerian e-mail scam gets scammed."

    Literature 
  • In the introduction of Dave Barry's Money Secrets, Dave Barry claims to have received the promised $47 million from a Nigerian businessman after sending him two $5,000 "advance fee" checks. Less gullible readers may be able to tell that he was making this up.
  • In Our Dumb World, the first page on Nigeria is taken up by a scam letter. A sidebar illustrates the educational system which teaches Nigerians how to send mass e-mail in the "Computers 419" course.
  • In Our Man in Geneva Wins a Million Euros by Petina Gappah, the protagonist falls for one of these scams. Less typically, both the victim and the scammer are people of African origin living in Europe.
  • In Monster Hunter Vendetta, this and other Internet scams are mentioned as being sent by actual mythical trolls.
  • The protagonist of Zoo City creates these scams to pay off her remaining debts from her junkie days. When she's finally out of debt, she informs all her remaining victims that it's a fraud, then falsely implicates her ex-boyfriend (whom she despises) in running the scam.
  • The epilogue of Halting State features an apparant 419 scam email addressed to the book's villain. Given what we know at the end of the book, the email could be taken at face value, indicating that the villain stashed his ill-gotten gains in a Nigerian bank.
  • Delete This At Your Peril features Bob Servant baiting Internet scammers, including a few attempted 419s from Africa. After getting an offer from to assist in transferring money from a dead African tribal chief in return for a share of the monkey, Servant haggles for payment with talking lions and singing leopards.
  • Bob Howard of The Laundry Files recalls in a footnote the one time he decided to respond to one of the innumerable 419 messages he gets in his inbox. He doesn't go into much detail, aside from noting that Laundry Internal Security were less than amused and made him give back their bank.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Veronica Mars episode "The Wrath of Con" features two college students pulling off a scam based on this in order to raise money for the video game they're making. The "sealed account" is the students' trust fund.
  • In an early episode of 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan nonchalantly mentions that he recently received actual money from a Nigerian prince he agreed to help out, and now he's wondering what to use it for.
  • In Season 2, Episode 2 of Flight of the Conchords, Murray invests the band's last remaining emergency funds with with a Nigerian man named Nigel Seladu, who contacted him by e-mail. While Bret and Jermaine are confident it's a scam, it turns out to be legitimate, and the band uses the money to pay their rent and bail themselves out of jail for prostitution.
  • A sketch on That Mitchell and Webb Look had three wealthy brothers phoning up members of the public to give them a free "massive yacht," provided they paid off a few legal fees. Naturally, they were quite confused that nobody was interested in their free yachts despite their "warm and reassuring" voices and the insignificance of the legal fees when compared to the value of a massive yacht.
  • Invoked in the pilot episode of Leverage, duly titled "The Nigerian Job". The mark is told that he's receiving an offer for a contract with the Nigerian government, but is suspicious in part because "it's like those email scams with Nigerian bank fraud letters." Which was exactly what Nate wanted him to think. In fact, the men the mark met really were Nigerian officials, and the mark ends up in serious hot water with the FBI.
  • Michael Scott on The Office has been mentioned to support "about twenty Nigerian princesses".
  • The Belgian series Basta had an episode in which a bunch of real 419 scammers were extensively trolled.
  • One episode of Castle had a con artist as the Body of the Week. While investigating his background, the team discovered that he had received a 419 scam e-mail and proceeded to scam the scammer out of ten grand.
  • Played with in Community: Abed's internet friend Toby is a banker who works in Nigeria. He had financial difficulties, so Abed sent him 700 pounds and a plane ticket. Britta is about to break the news to Abed that he was scammed, when Toby shows up and gives Abed back his money. He then complains that of all the people he contacted, only Abed was willing to help him.
  • In The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon gets all his items hijacked from his World of Warcraft account by a hacker, and Raj finds someone online "from Nigeria" who claims that he can retrieve all the items "for a fee."
  • In 1000 Ways to Die, a Nigerian con artist scams a poor schmuck into giving him his whole life savings. When the victim ultimately realizes he was scammed, he angrily tracks down the con artist and ends up accidentally killing him by driving a door hook into the con artist's eye.
  • Dr. Phil has had people who fell for these scams on the show. One was a woman who fell in love with a Nigerian scam artist who asked her for thousands of dollars. The man claimed to be a veteran and fed her all kinds of information that turned out to be false.
  • Person of Interest turned this into a multi-level Mugging the Monster. Some gangsters tried to pull this on Leon Tao. However, since he's a very skilled forensic accountant, he was able to steal from them. They were unamused and showed up to kill him, and to his immense surprise were actually Nigerian. Unfortunately for them, he's a (recurring number) on Team Machine, so Reese shows up to save him.
  • In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jake is astonished to learn that his dim-witted fellow detective Sully has fallen for over twenty such scams.
  • In the 7th episode of the 5th season of Malcolm in the Middle, Reese mentions he was "gonna invest [his money] with this Nigerian general who's been sending [him] emails."
  • In the tenth and final episode of the first season of Better Call Saul, during the scams Jimmy and Marco are pulling, Jimmy tells one victim that there is a 27-year-old Nigerian prince named Idi Abbassi who is worth "conservatively, 400 million dollars." Unfortunately for this prince, the dictatorship of Equatorial Uqbar Orbis is detaining him on trumped-up charges; the Abbassi family will reward whomever helps them get their boy back, but the "hitch" is that the banks have frozen their assets.
  • An arc in The Night Shift shows Olafur falling for one and continuing to believe in it despite everyone around him pointing out that it's a scam. The scam artist eventually shows up at Olafur's workplace, having already flown to Iceland with Olafur's money, and Daniel gets him arrested.
  • While hosting SNL in 2008, Anne Hathaway joked about her ex-boyfriend, Raffaello Follieri, going to prison for fraud, then gushes about her new boyfriend, a Nigerian prince whom she met on the Internet.

    Music 
  • "I Go Chop Your Dollar" is a taunting song from the perspective of a scammer of other 419 scammers; a "dollarchop" refers to the practice of one scammer swooping in to intercept the money another scammer had bilked from the na´ve mark. It even includes the line, "419 is just a game."
  • The song by MC Frontalot in the page quote is about someone who's a little too eager to get a 419 email. See also here.
  • "Lame Claim to Fame" by "Weird Al" Yankovic:
    I bought a second-hand toaster
    From a guy who says he knows Brad Pitt.
    Got me an email from the Prince of Nigeria.
    Well, he sure
    sounded legit.
  • Nigerian hip hop group 419 Squad get their name from the scam.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Used in a FoxTrot strip. Andy is wise to the scam, Roger not so much.
  • Ratbert fell for one in a Dilbert strip. Of course, since the banking information he provided was "My bank is a tube sock that fell behind the dryer", the man on the other end of the scheme couldn't steal any money from him.

    Video Games 
  • The game Re Prince Of Nigeria is mainly about a girl who does not get that she is being scammed and even ends up falling in love with this supposed "Prince", played for laughs.
  • Mass Effect 2 gives Shepard an e-mail account to receive assorted plot-related messages and information, but which also suffers from the usual amount of standard spam e-mail. Apparently in the Mass Effect verse, the standard spiel involves Prothean artifacts from Ilos being stuck in customs, with a cut of the profits offered to the one who puts up the front money required to get them cleared. It shows up again in Mass Effect: Andromeda, where it seems to be an import from the Milky Way and targets a party member. Based on conversations you can hear, they may have fallen for it.
  • Hawke in Dragon Age II gets one in the form of an actual letter which is ostensibly from the Seneschal serving Starkhaven's recently-overthrown Vael family. He promises a sum of 10,000 sovereigns if Hawke were to open a bank account in Antiva with 100 sovereigns deposited to make the account viable. Incidentally, the last son of said Vael family is a (Downloadable Content) party member.
  • You can find 419 emails in computer mailboxes in Deus Ex: Human Revolution; although they mostly only appear in home PCs, there are a few on the computers of offices and institutions, and you can even find other emails lamenting how the spammers were able to get hold of a corporate email account including one instance in the top secret Omega Ranch.
  • In Crusader Kings 2, you can be contacted by someone claiming to represent an Abyssinian prince. If you have the "Scholar" trait, you can reply by pointing out that the names in the message aren't Abyssinian.

    Webcomics 
  • In this Penny Arcade comic, Gabe announces his intent to fly to Holland to meet a Swazi princess he met on the Internet and whose bank account she needs to retrieve her vast fortune:
    Tycho: And you're not worried that Nigerian thugs are going to cut off your balls.
    Gabe: I'm worried I won't be able to find the bathrooms. Everything's gonna be in Hollish.
  • In this strip of the webcomic The Joy Of Tech, a bank employee encounters a 419 victim and opportunistically asks for a bank fee of her own, which he has to give to her personally.
  • Irregular Webcomic!:
    • The "Nigerian Finance Minister" theme places the actual guy in charge of Nigerian finance in the position these letters tend to spell out. He's genuinely looking to get his money transferred, but his honest plea naturally ends up looking just like the classic scam pitch and getting about the same response. Even when he hires William Shakespeare to write them.
    • A completely separate "Nigerian Prince" scam tried to pin everything on totally-not-Steve-Irwin. Fortunately, Jane Goodall was able to prove in court that not only was he not king of Nigeria, but Nigeria is a republic with no royal family.
  • In this Achewood Story Arc, Ray gets a Nigerian scam email that turns out to be an actual plea for help getting money out of the country.
  • A strip from Real Life Comics has Greg Dean looking through his email, which is full of these scams. The email is asking for a monetary donation because the daughter (or other relation) of the sender is suffering from some terminal illness. Except with each scam email he reads, the sickness gets progressively less severe and the asking amount for the donation progressively more, with the last one asking for a $100 donation for a cold.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, Sam is too clever for the scammers:
    "Aw! Just another scam from some dude claiming to be the Prime Minister of Abscondia trying to drain my bank account! That lame-o doesn't know my account was already drained by the Princess of Scamrobi. But that's OK because she was probably hot."
  • Least I Could Do: Rayne gets an e-mail with this sort of scam in this strip and decides to go to Nigeria to meet his princess and claim his inheritance.
  • User Friendly: Pitr receives a 419 scam e-mail. He uses his wits and his hacking skills to screw the scammer over.
  • Wally and Osborne briefly references this here.
  • Rusty and Co., in its usual Dungeon Punk style, had Calamitus scammed by one such letter in Critical Missives after he began to look like a genuine threat rather than a comically incompetent goofball.
  • The Bedfellows: Sheen prevents Fatigue from becoming a victim of this in one strip. Subverted, as there really was a prince after all.
  • This xkcd strip has an odd example, in that Black Hat Guy is writing one to himself, by hand, in his own diary.

    Web Original 
  • Referenced in the Red vs. Blue PSA "Real Life vs. The Internet", comparing getting mail from a mailbox vs. e-mail:
    Simmons: Pardon me, my friend, but I am Nigerian royalty, and I need you to send me money. Please ignore the fact that I can not spell "Nigerian" or "royalty".
  • Something Awful's Rich Kyanka did his own bit of scam baiting once (apparently genuine), just because it's the kind of thing he does when he gets stupid emails.
  • CollegeHumor did a sketch with the twist being that the Nigerian prince funds really were legit, only for the email to be deleted by a jaded college student.
  • The Drabblecast hosts the annual Nigerian Scam Spam Contest; the winning one gets emailed out to unsuspecting members of the general public.
  • Many scambaiting sites have publishing sections where scambaiters regale their exploits, including:
  • SF Debris loves to talk about how stupid the Kazon, and particularly Culluh, are on Star Trek: Voyager. It reached a zenith of hilarity in the "Basics" review when he mentions that Culluh is getting frustrated, as he has not heard back from that bank manager in Nigeria.
  • In the episode "Cherry Bomb" of Friendship is Witchcraft, Applejack goes out of town to retrieve two free iPod Nanos offered through a popup window. As her train is leaving, Pinkie reminds her to "say hi to the Nigerian prince." As everypony turns to her in confusion, she says, "What? He owes me money."
  • A page full of poetry (often well-known poems reworked) about 419 scams. Absolutely hilarious.
  • Youtuber KSI, who is Nigerian English, referenced this once. In his video "How to be Rich on Ultimate Team", he told the viewers to send their FIFA Soccer data and bank accounts to the email address 419NigerianPrinceEA@hotmail.com in order to get a "blessing".

    Western Animation 
  • The first Futurama feature film, Bender's Big Score, centers on a group of scammers who con the Planet Express business and then use that as a base to scam the whole of Earth. Hermes is onto them from the start, but just about every other character falls for it at least once. Weirdly, Dr. Zoidberg claims halfway through the film that he actually did get the money. Eventually the scammers are defeated by Bender, who claims he's been working the long con all along.
  • In The Venture Bros., Sgt. Hatred hints that falling for one of these might have been the final straw that caused his wife to leave him.
  • Doug has the Ponzi Puzzle Sweepstakes, which is an advance fee fraud variant despite the name. Lured with an enormous (alleged) payout, contestants are given ever-harder puzzles in exchange for ever-increasing entry fees at each level. Doug finally gives up after seeing an entire cart of entries (at a level that sounded really really exclusive and close to the end) at the post office.
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Princess Guide", Moe falls for one such scam, and when he finds out that Homer is caring for a Nigerian princess while her father is inking a deal with Mr. Burns, Moe assumes her brother is the prince who scammed him.
  • In one episode of Skinner Boys, the boys manage to scam villain Obsidian Stone into revealing his current location by sending him a promise of a million dollars to use in his world conquest schemes and tracing his mail reply.


Alternative Title(s): Four Nineteen Scam, Advance Fee Fraud

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FourOneNineScam