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Scams: 5 actions to protect yourself from the Nigerian prince

Does the Nigerian prince exist?

The quick answer is that Nigeria is a federal republic and not a kingdom. There are no princes whose funds are frozen and need help from an American stranger.

A few years ago, I had a friend who shared a story of a struggling prince in a far away land whose money was frozen. The prince had no one else to turn to for help. She was chosen. My friend corresponded with the prince’s lawyer through email and she was convinced she had won the lottery. She even excused the bad grammar in the email indicating English wasn’t their first language.

[Read More on Scams: Does the IRS Initiate Contact Through Email?]

If you’ve read these emails you might be familiar with the story of a prince or benefactor of a large estate that needs help to pay for tax liens. Payment of these liens would free up the millions that were frozen. There are variations to this story.

Internet scam.

My friend wasn’t going to receive a multi-million dollar payout immediately. The lawyer needed her help by clearing a smaller check. She would receive a cashier’s check for the amount of $5,000 and was asked to Western Union $2,000 back leaving her a hefty commission of $3,000 for her troubles.

My friend did as she was instructed and deposited the check. The check was cleared as a courtesy. [Keep in mind that check deposit holds vary per institution policy and government regulations. If you have a good relationship with your credit union or bank, chances are they’ll make the check amount available to you in good faith. But that doesn’t mean the check has cleared the bank its been drawn on.]

She happily withdrew $2,000 and transferred the amount through Western Union. I recall her saying how she made $3,000 for doing nothing. This sounded like a scam to me. She argued because she still had the $3,000 in her account.

A week later, she was contacted by her credit union about the fake check. Her account was now overdrawn by a little over $2,000. The check was sent back by the issuing bank as a fraudulent cashier’s check. My friend was now required to pay back that overdrawn amount.

She was a victim of the Nigerian prince email scam thats plagued the internet and email world for years. Unlike most credit card fraud protection, she is responsible for the amount of the check deposited. If the credit union or bank was suspicious of a check’s validity, they would place longer check holds.  Any checks deposited that are no good has the funds withdrawn from the account potentially leaving the account holder overdrawn.

My friend isn’t alone. In 2011, the Nigerian scam is reported to have cost people a total of $485.3 million.

That Nigerian “prince” is a toad.

Phroogal - Nigerian Email Scam

It sounds silly but the lure of easy money makes us do things we wouldn’t normally do. Here are 5 things to protect yourself from the prince…er…uhm…email scammers.

Beware of unsolicited email claiming you’ve won money.

1.  Read unsolicited email with caution.  You might have entered to win a $500 gift card and received an email notifying you of such winnings. This has happened to me. However, I know for sure that I did submit my email to a contest. But, you should still be on high alert.

2. Delete email notification of cash winnings. Delete all unsolicited email claiming you’ve won the lottery, need to cash checks to receive a payment or stating you have an inheritance.  These are phishing attempts and email scams.

[Read more on What is Phishing?]

3.  Don’t involve your bank accounts. Unsolicited email or phone calls that require you to share your bank account number or transact using your bank account is 99.99% a scam. The troubles they are paying for is the trouble you’ll face when the check is returned or your account is cleaned out.

4.  Ignore and report foreign email or funky addresses as SPAM.  Flag email addresses that come foreign sources and asks for personal information or monetary compensation.  Spam email addresses that purport to be a business but have nonbusiness email addresses. It’s best to ignore these email and flag as SPAM.

5. If it sounds too good to be true, then it’s too good to be true. If money could grow on trees, I’m sure we’d see criminals selling us a bunch of plastic seeds.

You are responsible for any check you deposit into your account that gets returned. You will be required to pay back any missing money plus fees of bounced checks.

So what will you do when the prince reaches out to you?

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About The Phroogal Jason

Jason Vitug is Founder and CEO at Phroogal. His vision is to build the largest financial knowledge-base with the mission to help people live life richly. On his free time Jason travels, hikes does yoga and reads. Follow him on Twitter, connect through Google+ and LinkedIn.

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