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Advance fee fraud is a confidence trick in which the target is persuaded to advance relatively small sums of money in the hope of realizing a much larger gain. The most visible form is the Nigerian Letter or 419 fraud, named after the section of the Nigerian criminal code that it violates.

Originally sent by mail, and later by fax, the Nigerian Letter is now sent almost exclusively by e-mail. A typical letter claims to come from a person needing to transfer large sums of money out of the country.

As the Nigerian letter variation of the fraud has become well known, the gangs operating the scams have developed variations. The target is often told that they are the beneficiary of an inheritance or invited to impersonate a beneficiary of an unclaimed estate.

In an old variation of the fraud known as "The Spanish Prisoner" the target is told that a wealthy individual is being held hostage and will reward those who help transfer of the ransom money.

Another common gambit is a fake lottery in which the target is told that they have 'won' a large prize but must pay an administrative fee before they receive it.

In one development of the scheme, the perpetrators use a counterfeit cashier's check to buy an expensive item such as a car or boat from people advertising goods in online classifieds. The target is given a fake check for an amount greater than the value of the item, and asked to return the difference.

The most recent scheme is to ask individuals to deposit a check into their account then to forward a percentage (80%-90%) to a company that supposedly is owed the amount.

Of course the check is counterfeit and by the time the depositor's bank finds that out, the funds have been transferred. This scheme appears to be perpetrated by Nigerians living outside their country.

The Wikipedia entry for scammers and 419ers can be found here (opens in new tab).

Not really a video but rather a sound-bite of someone who got a phone call with the lady at the other end of the line promising to give away a free Samsung E700.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.