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Attorney General's Consumer Alert -- Nigerian and Counterfeit Cashier's Check Scams
November 25, 2003
Nigerian and Counterfeit Cashier's Check Scams 11/2003


The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern.

If you have an email account, you may have received a version of what is often referred to as a Nigerian letter. The con artists' creative stories seem endless and the emails purport to come from all sorts of locations including Lagos, Nigeria, South Africa, Europe and even Canada. In one email, it is a high-ranking government official contacting you, while in another it is a bank employee contacting you to stand in as next of kin for a dead millionaire. In another version, it is a widow contacting you for investment advice. In yet another version, it is a religious person looking to make a donation to your church. The versions are unlimited but the ultimate result for a victim is the same - a large loss of money and an individual who is ashamed he or she didn't recognize the scam.

For those who want more background on how these scams unfold, here is the general progression of events:

The potential victim (target) receives an unsolicited letter, fax, or email proposal.
An offer is made to transfer millions of dollars into the target’s bank account.
The target is asked to provide bank account numbers, telephone numbers, and other identifying information.
Numerous documents are sent to the target with official looking seals, stamps, etc. testifying to the authenticity of the proposal.
The target is eventually asked to provide up-front or advanced fees to cover taxes, attorney fees, transactions fees, bribes, etc.
The target is often, but not always, encouraged to travel overseas to complete the transaction.
In a more recent variation, the con artist will set up a fake online bank and deposit fund into a bogus account.

Other new tricks on this old scam involve a response to an online offer to sell or auction goods (usually expensive items). Here is how the new scam may unfold:

The con artist "buyer" emails the seller to express interest in the item, offering to pay with a U.S. bank cashier's check.

Once the offer is accepted, the "buyer" makes some excuse for sending a cashier's check that is several thousand dollars more than the cost of the item and wants the seller to send excess money: 1) to cover transportation costs for the purchased good; 2) because the buyer's secretary made a mistake and put the wrong check in the envelope; 3) with the purchased product; or 4) to a third party to cover an existing debt.

Credibility is added to the ploy when the "buyer" insists that the money only be sent after the cashier's check clears.

The cashier's check is an elaborate counterfeit and it takes the bank longer than usual to discover the fake.

The seller thinks they have received a good check and sends the good and the “extra” cash.

The bank notifies the seller the cashier’s check is a counterfeit and removes the check amount from the seller’s account. The seller lost the goods and cash.

Consumers must be alert to the fact that just because money from the check may be made quickly available doesn't mean a check is valid. The check must go back to the originating bank and it must clear. This process can take several days and, in the case of an elaborate counterfeit, may take a few weeks.

These con artists target senior citizens. It is important to be alert to any sign that a vulnerable family member is being victimized and to discuss such a fraud with loved ones and their caregivers. If you or any member of your family has been a victim of any form of the Nigerian scam, contact the United States Secret Service, the lead agency fighting this fraud at 202-406-5572. If you receive an email relating to advanced fee fraud, please forward the email to the Secret Service at:

If you receive a letter in the mail, you may send or fax it to:

U.S. Secret Service

Financial Crimes Division

950 H. Street, NW

Suite 5300

Washington, DC 20223

Fax: (202) 406-6930

If the scheme targets a United States resident but involves a Canadian address or phone number, inform PhoneBusters by sending an email to or calling toll-free 1-888-495-8501.