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The implication that these payments will be used for "white-collar" crime such as bribery, and even that the money they are being promised is being stolen from a government or royal/wealthy family, often prevents the victim from telling others about the "transaction", as it would involve admitting that they intended to be complicit in an international crime.

The scam messages often claim to originate in Nigeria, but usually this is not true.

The number "419" refers to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud, the charges and penalties for offenders.

In that con, businessmen were contacted by an individual allegedly trying to smuggle someone connected to a wealthy family out of a prison in Spain.

In exchange for assistance, the scammer promised to share money with the victim in exchange for a small amount of money to bribe prison guards.

The money could be in the form of gold bullion, gold dust, money in a bank account, blood diamonds, a series of checks or bank drafts, and so forth.

The sums involved are usually in the millions of dollars, and the investor is promised a large share, typically ten to forty percent, in return for assisting the fraudster to retrieve or expatriate the money.Although the vast majority of recipients do not respond to these emails, a very small percentage do, enough to make the fraud worthwhile, as many millions of messages can be sent daily.To help persuade the victim to agree to the deal, the scammer often sends one or more false documents bearing official government stamps, and seals.419 scammers often mention false addresses and use photographs taken from the Internet or from magazines to falsely represent themselves.Often a photograph used by a scammer is not a picture of any person involved in the scheme.Yet other variants have involved mention of a Nigerian prince or other member of a royal family seeking to transfer large sums of money out of the country—thus, these scams are sometimes called "Nigerian Prince emails".

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