Advance fee fraud
The entire category of advance fee fraud, particularly the kind involving money smuggling from Africa, is sometimes known as "419" from a section on fraud in the Nigerian criminal code, and seems to have originated in Nigeria during the 1980s as a form of mail fraud derived from the Spanish Prisoner scam, in which the mark was supposed to provide funding to get a wealthy prisoner released.
They pop up in your email box constantly -- solicitations from some random dude (or dudette), often in Africa, sometimes from completely different places. Usually they will claim to be an agent for a rich and powerful person, sometimes a cocoa merchant who died in a plane or auto accident (generally described as "ghastly") or a close relative of a deposed dictator. Sometimes they will tell you that you've won a big overseas lottery. Sometimes they will claim to be working against advance fee scammers. And sometimes they'll just threaten you with physical violence and demand that you buy them off. In each case, though, they always need a little something from you, as a processing fee, or bank fees, or bribe money, or stain remover.
Another version consists of people who reply to "for sale" ads. They want to send a check for more money than the purchase price, and ask the seller to remit the overage back to them. What happens is the sucker "cashes" the check (often a fake bank money order/cashier's check), forwards the "change" to the "buyer", and then no one ever turns up to collect the goods, and a few weeks later the original check is returned as uncollectable.
- Scamorama is one of the oldest and most established scam-baiter sites on the web, and makes for entertaining reading.
- ↑ No, seriously, stain remover. It's called the "black money" scam.