The Nigerian 419 Advance Fee Fraud came to the attention of the public and regulators during the 1970s over letters - generally aimed at small businesses rather than individuals - purporting to come from figures in the Nigerian government (often the Central Bank or Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) wanting help disposing of new oil wealth. Those letters were posted in Africa and Europe.
In 2002 the US Department of Justice gained a court order to open every item of mail from Nigeria passing through JFK airport in New York, with around 70% involving scam offers. Russell Smith notes that between August and November 1998 Australia Post confiscated 4.5 tonnes of advance fee correspondence (1.8 million items) that had counterfeit postage.
Uptake of faxes during the 1980s and 1990s saw the scammers move from print to fax messaging. That was followed by several explosions of email at the end of the millennium and in 2003, with the scammers spamming recipients in advanced economies (primarily those in English-speaking nations). The addressing of that email was indiscriminate, encompassing organisations and personal addresses. Today a mix of all the following approaches is used by the fast growing AFF scam rings which are now based around the globe:
Dating web sites
Matchmaking web sites
Web sites publishing general business contacts or for specific industries
Call centre / boiler-room
Door-to-door - in countries where an internet connection or sometimes phone or fax connections are not yet common circumstances
There are no reliable statistics on 419 Advance Fee Fraud. Why?
Centralized counter-419 operations are the only way that viable statistics on 419 can be maintained. Decentralized counter-419 operations mean fragmented information and data. Everybody has a Piece of the picture, but nobody has the Full picture in decentralized counter-419 operations.
Centralized counter 419 operations are the only way there can be centralized contact data for the public in reporting 419 attempts and 419 losses. Reporting must be kept as simple for the public as possible, to encourage maximum reports. Only by encouraging maximum reporting can the best statistics and information be generated on 419 activities, and it is always good to have the best information so one can accurately estimate the size of the problem and analyze trends within 419 activities.
419 Coalition Note: 419 Coalition concurs fully concerning the need for Centralization of counter-419 operations by nation, and for Centralized and simplified reporting by nation. In fact, 419 Coalition has been a primary advocate of this approach to counter-419 operations for many years, and we continue to press the point at every opportunity.