West African letter frauds (419 frauds)

West African letter frauds, also known as 419 frauds, involve asking you to help with transferring money out of another country - such as Iraq, South Africa or somewhere in west Africa - in return for a percentage of the money you helped to transfer.

How do West African letter / 419 frauds work?

You receive an email, letter, fax or phone call from a fraudster claiming to be someone in a position of authority. For example: a senior government employee, the finance officer of a company, a royal household member or a lawyer.

The fraudster says they have access to a substantial amount of money and explains where this money is supposed to have come from. For example: from over-charging a customer on a business contract. They say they want to move the money out of the country, then give you a reason why they can’t transfer it themselves. For example: they can’t open an overseas bank account.

The fraudsters will also explain why you have been chosen to take part in this venture. For example: a mutual acquaintance has recommended you for the role.

They ask your permission to pay the money into your account before they transfer it onwards after deducting your reward. The fraudsters may even ask you to open a new bank account to transfer the money.

They will also emphasise the need for secrecy, warning you not to tell anyone else about the deal while hurrying you into a hasty decision by stressing the need for urgent action.

To add an element of legitimacy to the fraud, the fraudsters may arrange to meet you, normally outside the UK.

There is no money to transfer.

If you respond to the fraudsters’ request, they will ask you to pay various fees that are supposed to release the money. For example: legal fees, transaction fees or taxes.

When you pay the first fee, the fraudsters will keep coming back with further requests for additional fees, explaining that each one has cropped up as a last-minute obstacle to releasing the money.

If you start getting reluctant to pay or suggest you can’t afford it, the fraudsters will put pressure on you by explaining how close you are to receiving a sum of money far bigger than the fees you have been asked to pay out and reminding you how much you have already sent them.

The fraudsters may also ask you for details of your bank account so that they can transfer your reward. They will use this information to try and empty your account.

  • The amount of money involved and the percentage you are offered will be extremely large
  • Someone you have never met who says they trust you with such a large sum of money is up to no good
  • Governments and large corporations do not transfer money through another person’s bank account. Any suggestion that they do so is a reliable indication that you have been approached by fraudsters
  • Letters and documents sent by fraudsters are usually badly written. Look out for spelling mistakes and poor grammar.

What should I do?

  • End all further contact with the fraudsters
  • Do not send them any more money.
  • If you have given the fraudsters your bank account details, contact your bank immediately. If you have not already done so, do not give the fraudsters your account details
  • If the fraudsters threaten you once you stop co-operating with them, tell the police immediately
  • Be aware that you will probably be targeted for other frauds. Fraudsters frequently pass on the details of people they have successfully targeted to other fraudsters.

Alternatively, they approach the victim under different names to commit further frauds.

  • One fraud that is often aimed at people who have already lost money to fraudsters is fraud recovery fraud. Here, fraudsters contact victims pretending to be law enforcement specialists or lawyers. They reassure the victim that they can help to recover their lost money - but also ask them for a fee.

Reporting fraud

If you're a victim of fraud that is a crime in progress and you need an immediate police response dial 999.

If it is a non-emergency situation,

call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

You can also report fraud or find further advice and information on the Action Fraud website.