Islam and the 419 scam

Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem

Governments and law enforcement agencies have for years been aware of a scam operating mainly out of West Africa, particularly Nigeria, known as Advance Fee Fraud. This has become known as the 419 scam, after the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with this type of fraud.

The way it works is that one of their operatives will send a letter, fax or (in more recent cases) an email to some total stranger, out of the blue, in which they claim to be someone of great wealth or power who has fallen on hard times as a result of political troubles in West Africa. They have a substantial sum of money, an eight-figure sum in dollars or pound sterling, which they need to get out of the country to stop the government, or their enemies, getting their hands on it. They need you to help them, either by opening your bank account to them, or by some other means. In return, they’ll give you a cut of the money, which will amount to a seven-figure sum.

Once you reply, they will come up with some excuse to demand money from you, either to pay fees to somebody or to bribe an official. And they will keep on coming up with excuses, and getting more money out of you, until you realise that you’ve been “had” and give up. By this time, you’ll have handed up a big sum of money, perhaps your life savings. (In some cases, another group of people will turn up and tell you that the people you’d been dealing with were crooks, and if you stump up some money, they’ll go and get your money back for you. You can guess what happens then.)

From time to time, I receive invitations from these scammers which attempt to use Islam to get me to join in. It’s not unusual to see Muslim names in 419 emails, because a huge percentage (possibly a majority) of Nigerians are Muslims and this includes a lot of the corrupt élites such as the notorious Abacha family. Less common are emails like the one I reproduce here, in which the author pulls a “help a Muslim brother/sister” line. This was the first of the kind I received, although people have pulled this line on me since.

Here’s the email:

 PHONE:+225 07493491.
 Dear Yusuf
 I am Hon.Mrs.Adjia Basira Guei from Republic of Cote
 D' Ivoire.I was married to late Gen .Guei Robert the
 late president who was killed during the uprising in
 Abidjan-Cote D' Ivoire.we were married for nineteen years
 and i was the second wife before he was assissinated
 on the 19th september 2002.We had a child (son)Ismail
 A Guei.
 Before his death i was a dedicated muslem.And since
 his death i decided not re-marry or get a child
 outside my matrimonial home which i do not like
 because my hunsband's family are all christians not
 believers in Allah (kafri).
 When my hunsband was alive he deposited the sum of
 $18.5 million (eighteen million five hundred thousand
 U.S.Dollars) with one security company in Abidjan
 later transfered to Brussels in Belgium.Presently,this
 fund is still with the security company in Brussels.
 Recently,my doctor told me that i would not last six
 months time due to the cancer and stroke sickness am
 facing.Having known my condition i decided to donate
 this fund to the work of Allah that would be Utilized
 to build mosques and for orphanages,widows and to
 propagate the word/work of Almighty Allah in Africa/World.
 The koran made me to understand that blessed are the
 hands that gives than the hands that takes,i took this
 decision brecause i have only one son and my husband
 relatives are not muslems and i don't want my
 husband's efforts to be used by unbelievers.
 I don't want a situation where this fund will be used
 in an ungodly way. Conclusively,this is why i have
 taken this decision.I know where i am going.I know
 that i am going to be in the bosom of Allah in peace,I
 don't need any telephone communication in this regard
 for now because of my health and my husband's
 relatives are always around me.
 I don't want them to know about this development.With
 Allah all things are possible. As soon as i receive
 your reply i shall give you the contact of the
 security company in Abidjan and Brussels,I will also
 issue you an authorisation letter.
 Please you can contact my son through the above phone
 number and the same e-mail address.
 Insh'Allah please always contact me on this e-mail
 address.Hoping to hear from you insh'Allah. Best
 Hon.Mrs.Adjia Basira Guei. 

Since writing this page I’ve done a bit of research on this story, and it is a total fabrication. First of all, the expression “bosom of Allah” is not part of the Islamic vocabulary. I looked up this phrase on Google and it produced a few occurrences which appeared in similar scams to this one. A number were by non-Muslims talking about Muslims, sometimes in an insulting way. Second, Robert Guei was not Muslim, and if this lady really was a “dedicated Muslim”, she would not have married a non-Muslim at all. Thirdly, I found a letter on an archive of scam letters (since removed) claiming to be from Robert Guei’s other second wife, called Franka. How many second wives can a man have?

There are a number of scams a lot like this one; in particular, there are people in eastern Europe who claim to be women seeking to marry western men, who send them pictures of themselves (which are actually of a Russian model) and then ask for money on various false pretences, many of them similar to those used by the Nigerian fraudsters. One of these people, called Oksana (the surname varies), targeted men who posted their email addresses on Islamic matrimonial databases like and Kismatlinx, which display email addresses openly (and I suspect the ‘traditional’ 419ers use these as well). There is a blacklist of bogus Russian brides here, and an article in the Observer (London) about this issue. Note also that there are traditional 419 scams apparently emanating from countries outside West Africa; I have recently received emails of this sort supposedly from Egypt and Pakistan. (I don’t think Muslims would go after the lottery winnings that they might be informed of in emails from total strangers, but … wouldn’t hurt to mention it. They’re a scam as well.)

More information on this and other online scams