"This letter will be a pleasant surprise, as we have not had any previous business dealings. I acquired your contact from a very reliable source, but never disclosed the nature of this business with the source."
This is how a typical Advance Fee Fraud letter begins. It is perhaps better known worldwide as the "Nigerian 419 Scam" after an article in the Nigerian criminal code which deals with fraud. The writer goes on to explain that he has tens of millions of dollars (or Euros or Pound Sterling) in (occasionally ill-gotten) cash, but he needs your assistance in moving the money out of the country. In exchange, you will receive a generous percentage of his fortune - and his eternal gratitude.
Delete the letter. Now!
The money does not exist. The story is fictitious, as you will soon discover. You will soon be asked to pay a series of rents, fees, expenses and bribes totaling thousands of dollars. By the time you realize you have been taken, your money has been moved to an offshore account and the scam artist has moved on to his next victim.
There are a number of other variations on the 419 scam, but all have only one aim: to part you from your money.
Because this is a website on Sierra Leone, the selection of scam letters are all from people claiming to be Sierra Leoneans. For those familiar with Sierra Leone, the highly imaginative stories and fictitious events will make entertaining reading. In PDF format.
How sophisticated are the scam artists? See for yourself. These days, blank documents which can't be purchased can be designed on a computer.
Why is the scam so effective? Greed. Here are some letters from people who wrote to the Sierra Leone Web claiming to be students or researchers.
Is the scam just "e-commerce?" That's what a Nigerian scam artist told the Sierra Leone Web.