The Nigerian Prince Scam: What It Is and How to Protect Yourself

Protect yourself from this long running scam

Scam emails have been gathering victims for many years. One of the oldest phishing scam emails is the Nigerian Prince scam where a scammer sends an email claiming to be royalty willing to share an inheritance for monetary gain if you will just help them by claiming the money.

The Nigerian Prince scam can affect all email inboxes, regardless of email provider. This includes Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, and beyond.

What Is the Nigerian Prince Scam?

The Nigerian Prince scam is a common form of email scam, where a fraudster sends an email attempting to persuade you to send them "assistance" in the form of money. Typically, these emails feature senders from overseas who claim to be royalty, hence the scam's name.

A conceptual illustration of the Nigerian Prince Scam.
Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

How Does the Nigerian Prince Scam Work?

The Nigerian Prince scam is also known as a Nigerian Letter or advance fee scam. It's also often called a '419' by the FBI. The scam begins when a fraudster sends you an email claiming to be royalty from Nigeria. They attempt to lure you in by offering you a large share of a huge investment or fortune.

These scams don't necessarily have to be from scammers claiming to be from Nigeria only. Scammers can say they're located anywhere overseas.

In exchange for your share, you'll need to help them get their money out of the country. The fraudster will ask you to transfer funds to them for expenses such as legal fees, or they might ask for your personal account information so they can 'transfer' the money directly to you.

Either way, you won't be receiving any money. Instead, they'll either hack into your bank account or simply run off with the money you send.

How Do the Nigerian Prince Scammers Find Victims?

Unfortunately, everyone with an email address is subject to the Nigerian Prince scam. But how do scammers get your email address? Most of the time, scammers will use tools that crawl the internet for email addresses online. Sometimes, they pay for bulk lists of emails from websites peddling them by the millions.

Other times, scammers get email addresses from victims who willingly enter their email address into fake or dishonest websites in exchange for something such as a newsletter or music download.

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved In This Scam?

The good news is these email scams are easy to spot once they land in your email. Most of the time, they include many typos and incorrect English, they're often overly formal, and it's hard to believe you were randomly selected to take a share of a fortune.

If you're still concerned about potentially becoming a victim of a Nigerian Prince scam, there are some ways to protect yourself.

  • Keep your private information private: Don't share your email address on public forums or social media.
  • Don't enter your email into suspicious forms: If the form you're about to enter your email address into looks suspicious, don't use it.
  • Don't send money to anyone you don't know: If you don't personally know and trust the individual behind the email, don't even consider sending them money. And even if you suspect it's someone you know, call them to verify their request first. Email spoofing is also a dangerous scam.

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

If you've already been a victim of an email scam, you must act immediately. If you've given the scammer your bank account information, call your bank immediately and inform them of the situation. If you gave the scammer your credit card information, call the company immediately.

Call your local law enforcement to file a report if money has been stolen from your bank account. You should also file a report with the FBI, as well as the Internet Crime Complaint Center. From here on out, it's critical to keep track of all correspondence with the scammer via screenshots of all emails and documentation of the payment sent. If an investigation ensues, you'll need these documents for your case.

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

To avoid any scam, you must approach each email you receive in your inbox with caution, especially those that end up in your Spam folder. If possible, don't open suspicious emails at all and delete them instead.

You can also block unwanted emails from your inbox with just a few simple steps.

Always make sure your anti-virus and anti-malware software is up to date. Some of these emails may include links that can infect your computer with additional viruses.

Although no email is necessarily safe from receiving scam emails such as these, be careful where you're submitting your email. Don't enter your email on suspicious websites and don't share it willingly on social media or anywhere else.

Remember, if someone emails you with an unimaginable deal that's simply too good to be true, it's probably best to delete it immediately.