Nigerian Scammers Scramble As IRS Deadline Looms

With the U.S. deadline for tax filing approaching, so-called "419 scams" are increasing, as Nigerian fraudsters work overtime attempting to trick taxpayers.

April 6, 2006

2 Min Read
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With the U.S. deadline for tax filing approaching, so-called "419 scams" are increasing as Nigerian fraudsters work overtime attempting to trick taxpayers.

"They love to take advantage of tax day," said Michael Lamont of Process Software, which closely tracks the activities of Nigerian scammers. "They use any kind of current event to suck people in." Tax returns are due to be filed April 17.

While the total amount of e-mail scams seems to have flattened in recent months, Lamont said scammers are getting more selective. They aren't just broadcasting millions of messages, but increasingly are targeting events and users directly. The majority of e-mail scams comes from Nigeria, but sometimes Nigerians operating in other nations are involved.

Lamont, a senior software engineer at Process Software, said in an interview that the company monitors the Nigerian 419 scam phenomenon closely through some 2 million Process Software users whose software is equipped to stop the scams. The "419" scams refer to the section of Nigerian law that combats fraud.

Lamont expects the tax scams will build for another year, then peak and flatten as the public becomes more aware of them. Typically, a scammer will inform an e-mail recipient of a tax refund, then seek the recipient's social security number and credit card number.The IRS has been seeking to alert taxpayers of the scams and even has a form -- number 3949-A -- to report the fraudulent scams. "The IRS does not send out unsolicited e-mails asking for personal information," said IRS Commissioner Mark Everson in a statement. "Don't be taken in by these criminals."

Nigerian officials and law enforcement authorities have been attempting to crack down on the scammers operating from within the country. Most operate from Lagos, the country's capital. Many set up shop in Internet cafes, harvesting millions of e-mail addresses from several sources. Often a broadcast of a million messages will get just one or two replies.

"People still fall for it," said Lamont. "In Nigeria, if you make three grand a year, you've done well." Nigeria is Africa's most populous country with 130 million people. English is the official language and also the lingua franca of scammers. Lamont notes that the Nigerian government attempts to prosecute scammers, but since they are so numerous, most attempts are ineffective and the fraudulent e-mails keep coming.

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