A major development affecting business travelers to Nigeria is
commercial fraud or scams. The Department of State has prepared
this publication for you, the U.S. business traveler. It will
help you to identify business scams, provide you with information
about what the U.S. Government can or cannot do to assist you,
and how you can protect yourself.
Department of State Publication 10786
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Protecting Yourself from
Identifying Business Opportunities
Nigeria is an oil-rich West African nation of over 88 million
inhabitants. It offers the experienced and determined U.S. businessperson
a potentially rewarding business opportunity. As in any market,
results are usually obtained through solid research and hard work.
The business opportunity that arrives on a silver platter carried
by a stranger should be rigorously evaluated by an objective and
The U.S. Government, through district offices of the Department
of Commerce and the Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) at the U.S.
Embassy in Abuja or the Consulate General in Lagos, Nigeria, can
provide some useful initial information. For example, if you have
received a proposal for a business transaction from Nigeria that
seems too good to be true, it may be a scam. You can fax FCS a
request for verification of the bona fides of your correspondent.
Your fax should include copies of any correspondence you have
received from your Nigerian counterpart.
Recognizing a Business Scam
Each week, the U.S. Embassy in Abuja or the Consulate General
in Lagos, Nigeria (along with many other embassies) handles several
"scam" cases in which businesspeople, many of them experienced
in overseas transactions, have lost to confidence operators sums
ranging from a few thousand to upwards of one million dollars.
Frequently, persons who have come to Nigeria to "finalize"
such deals have been threatened or assaulted; in a few cases,
scam victims have been killed. Unfortunately, local police and
other officials have not provided assistance to those caught up
in scams. (Although Nigerian immigration officials recently began
warning likely victims upon arrival at Lagos airport, the U.S.
Embassy's ability to help those already in the hands of their
"business associates" is extremely limited.)
Caution, therefore, should be exercised when contemplating
any business deal in Nigeria. Scams range from attempts to
engage American businesspeople in fictitious money-transfer schemes
to fraudulent solicitations to supply goods in fulfillment of
nonexistent Nigerian government contracts. Many scam operators
are very sophisticated and may take victims to staged meetings,
often held in borrowed offices at Nigerian government ministries.
They do their research and can often provide plausible, but nonexistent,
orders, written on seemingly genuine Ministerial stationery, replete
with official stamps and seals.
Simply stated, Nigerian business scams are not always easy to
recognize, and any unsolicited business proposal should be carefully
scrutinized. There are, nevertheless, some indicators that are
warnings of a probable scam. Look out for:
Any offer of a substantial percentage of a large sum of money
to be transferred into your account, in return for your "discretion"
Any deal that seems too good to be true;
Requests for signed and stamped, blank letterhead or invoices,
or for bank account information;
Requests for urgent air shipment, accompanied by an instrument
of payment whose genuineness cannot immediately be established;
Solicitation letters claiming the soliciting party has personal
ties to high Nigerian officials;
Requests for payment in U.S. dollars, in advance, of transfer
taxes or incorporation fees;
Statements that your name was provided to the soliciting
party either by someone you do not know or by "a reliable
Promises of advance payment for services to be provided to
the Nigerian government;
Claims that a Nigerian visa is not necessary or that arrival
in Nigeria should be overland from a neighboring country;
Resistance by Nigerian partners to your checking in with
the U.S. Embassy;
Any offer to supply crude oil; and
Any offer of a charitable donation.
The indicators listed above are some of the most common and reliable
hallmarks of Nigerian scam operations. The list is not all-inclusive,
and scam operators are constantly weaving new elements into their
schemes. The best rule to follow is that any unsolicited business
proposal originating from Nigeria be carefully checked out before
any funds are committed, any goods or services are provided, or
any travel is undertaken.
"How Do the Scams Work?"
Nigerian business scams are confidence schemes, designed to exploit
the trust you develop in your Nigerian partner and to bilk you
of goods, services or money. The scams are flexible, and operators
adapt them to take the greatest advantage of the target (you).
It is not possible to describe here how each of several hundred
different scams works, but here are brief descriptions of the
most common schemes.
Money Transfer: The operator claims to have a large sum
of money, usually millions of dollars worth of ill-gotten gains,
which needs to be transferred to a "safe" bank account
abroad. The Central Bank of Nigeria is often, though by no means
always, mentioned. You, as the bank account owner, are promised
a percentage of the huge sum, just for use of your account. You
may be asked to provide blank, signed invoices, letterhead and
bank account information, or to send money for transfer taxes.
Some businesses have found their accounts looted by the persons
to whom they sent account information.
Fraudulent Order: The operator usually places a small
($1000 or so) order, paying with a genuine cashier's check drawn
on a European bank. The operator then places another, somewhat
larger order, again paying with a genuine instrument. Then, you
receive an order by DHL. Your Nigerian partner urgently needs
a large quantity of your product air-shipped. Confident in your
partner, you ship, but, this time, the cashier's check (which
looks the same) is a fake. Experienced U.S. businesspeople today
usually require either full payment in advance of shipment or
an irrevocable letter of credit confirmed by a U.S. bank.
Charitable Donation: The operator offers to donate to
your organization, asking for bank account information (see Money
Transfer, above). Then, the operator loots your account or asks
for advance payment of a fee to pay inheritance taxes, various
government fees and taxes, or to ensure conversion of naira into
Government Contract: The operator claims to have a Nigerian
government contract and needs your company's expertise to carry
out the job. The operator scams you by collecting thousands of
dollars in "fees" before you can do business. When fees
are legitimate, they are published by Ministries and do not exceed
Crude Oil: The operator claims to have an allocation of
crude oil to sell you - cheap. Sometimes, the operator claims
to be working on behalf of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
Then come demands for various fees to supply you with the crude;
of course, you never get your cargo. The Crude Oil Marketing Division
of the NNPC is the only authorized seller of the Corporation's
crude. Businesses lacking experience with Nigeria's petroleum
industry should approach with great caution any proposal involving
crude oil sales.
Business Opportunity: The operator convinces you to explore
a business opportunity by visiting Nigeria. Once you arrive, the
operator takes charge of your life, trying to keep you from contacting
friends, family, or the U.S. Embassy. By various means, sometimes
including violence or threats of violence, the operator extracts
money from you. This type of scam becomes particularly dangerous
for a victim who has entered Nigeria without a valid Nigerian
visa, issued by a Nigerian Embassy or Consulate. All travelers
must have a visa prior to arrival in Nigeria and must pass through
immigration formalities upon entry into the country. Letters
addressed to immigration officials have no validity. Anyone telling
you otherwise is either misinformed or a scam artist.
Conversion of Hard Currency (Black Money): The operator
shows you a large sum of bills-purportedly U.S. dollars that require
cleaning to remove the black waxy material. You are asked to provide
money for the cleaning in return for a commission. Of course the
bills are not real and you end up with a suitcase of blank paper.
Purchase of Real Estate: Operator offers to serve as broker
in selling real estate that either is not for sale or is nonexistent.
You are asked to pay the broker's commission.
Clearinghouse: To add credibility to business scams in
Nigeria, Nigerian and non-Nigerian criminals serve as third parties
claiming to be clearinghouses or venture capital organizations
for the Central Bank of Nigeria. These clearinghouses launder
your money or divert it directly to criminals in Nigeria.