An email subject line may say something like "From the desk of barrister [Name]", "Your assistance is needed", and so on.The details vary, but the usual story is that a person, often a government or bank employee, knows of a large amount of unclaimed money or gold which he cannot access directly, usually because he has no right to it.
Some victims even believe they can cheat the other party, and walk away with all the money instead of just the percentage they were promised.
The essential fact in all advance-fee fraud operations is the promised money transfer to the victim never happens, because the money does not exist.
One variant of the scam may date back to the 18th or 19th centuries, as a very similar letter, entitled "The Letter from Jerusalem", is seen in the memoirs of Eugène François Vidocq, a former French criminal and private investigator. One of these, sent via postal mail, was addressed to a woman's husband, and inquired about his health.
Another variant of the scam, dating back to circa 1830, appears very similar to what is passed via email today: "Sir, you will doubtlessly be astonished to be receiving a letter from a person unknown to you, who is about to ask a favour from you...", and goes on to talk of a casket containing 16,000 francs in gold and the diamonds of a late marchioness. It then asked what to do with profits from a $24.6 million investment, and ended with a telephone number.
More delays and additional costs are added, always keeping the promise of an imminent large transfer alive, convincing the victim that the money the victim is currently paying is covered several times over by the payoff.
The implication that these payments will be used for "white-collar" crime such as bribery, and even that the money they are being promised is being stolen from a government or royal/wealthy family, often prevents the victim from telling others about the "transaction", as it would involve admitting that they intended to be complicit in an international crime.Sometimes psychological pressure is added by claiming that the Nigerian side, to pay certain fees, had to sell belongings and borrow money on a house, or by comparing the salary scale and living conditions in Africa to those in the West.Much of the time, however, the needed psychological pressure is self-applied; once the victims have provided money toward the payoff, they feel they have a vested interest in seeing the "deal" through.Some scammers have accomplices in the United States and abroad that move in to finish the deal once the initial contact has been made.This scam usually begins with the perpetrator contacting the victim via email, instant messaging or social media using a fake email address or fake social media account and making an offer that would allegedly result in a large payoff for the victim.An advance-fee scam is a form of fraud and one of the most common types of confidence trick.