The Nigerian Dating Scam: What It Is And How To Protect Yourself From It

Don't be fooled by fake promises of love

Thief sticking their head out of an envelope on a computer screen - Nigerian Dating Scam

Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

Romance scams are one of the oldest grifts around. The scammer feigns romantic interest in the victim and uses their emotions against them. The scammer preys on the victim's affections to gain money, personal information, and more. Now, with the invention of the internet, these criminals can access a wider pool of potential victims on dating websites, social media accounts, online forums, and more. Here's what you need to know about one particular romance scam, the Nigerian Dating Scam, and how you can avoid it.

What Is The Nigerian Dating Scam?

One of the longest running scams by mail and the internet, the Nigerian 419 scam (named after the section of the Nigerian code dealing with financial fraud schemes), alleges a wealthy business owner or government official needs help transferring millions of dollars out of their country in exchange for a percentage of the funds for your help. After agreeing to help, the scammer often asks for your assistance in providing some money to get the money transferred.

How Does The Nigerian Dating Scam Work?

The scammer contacts you online, maybe through a chat room or dating website. They seem charming and genuinely interested in your life. They build a romantic relationship with you. Then, they say they've inherited money or gold from a dead family member but they're unable to remove it from their country because they can't pay the duty or marriage taxes. The scammer asks you to help. If you act skeptical, they offer to fly to your country to prove they're real. But, they never arrive. They convince you to send them money, then they stop communicating with you.

How Do The Nigerian Dating Scammers Find Victims?

Each year, thousands of men and women use online chat forums and messaging apps to meet potential dates and, perhaps, potential spouses. But, while the person on the other end of your messaging app might seem legitimate, how can you tell?

While the Nigerian Dating Scam originally used regular mail to operate, today it's moved to messaging and social media, where the new operation involves fake photos and false identities. The scam has been around for at least 20 years and reportedly costs victims a hundred million dollars annually. 

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved In This Scam?

If you're contacted by a Nigerian Dating scammer, ignore their communication. Report the email as spam and delete it. Block their chat messages. Don't engage with the scammer in any way.

If you're communicating with someone you suspect isn't legit, do some research. If you're on a dating site, check out their profile. Scammers who don't speak English as a first language usually have bad grammar and spelling. If the profile is empty except for a picture, that's also a red flag. Does that picture look too good? Do a reverse image search. Scammers often use photos of obscure actresses or models to fool people.

I’m Already a Victim. What Should I Do?

If you think you've been scammed, report that person to the dating site, app, or social media platform they approached you on. Give the site or app the scammer's username, profile, and other available information. Then, file a report with organizations such as the Internet Crime Complaint Center (ICCC), your local law enforcement, and the FBI. Keep a record of chats, emails, and other correspondence you received as evidence, as law enforcement agencies may ask for all documents as part of their investigation.

How Do I Avoid Being Targeted For The Nigerian Dating Scam?

While the internet can be a worthwhile place to meet new friends and possible love interests, people should be cautious at taking claims and contacts at face value, according to the ICCC.

The online FBI and National White Collar Crime Center partnership, responsible for investigating and tracking thousands of complaints each year, suggests the following when dealing with individuals or businesses online:

  • Never reveal personal information when chatting on social media or on a messaging app.
  • Do not assume an individual or company is legitimate based on appearances and proof provided by them.
  • Do not reply to requests for bank account or other financial information.
  • Be wary of individuals who claim to represent a foreign government.
  • If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.