So-called "Nigerian" email scams are characterized by convincing sob stories, unfailingly polite language, and promises of a big payoff.
These messages are the butt of late night jokes, but people still respond to them. The people behind these messages claim to be officials, businesspeople, or the surviving spouses of former government honchos in Nigeria or another country whose money is tied up temporarily. They offer to transfer lots of money into your bank account if you will pay the fees or "taxes" they need to get their money. If you respond to the initial offer, you may receive documents that look "official." They may even encourage you to travel to the country in question, or a neighboring country, to complete the transaction. Some fraudsters have produced trunks of dyed or stamped money to try to verify their claims.
The emails are from crooks trying to steal your money or your identity. Inevitably, emergencies come up, requiring more of your money and delaying the "transfer" of funds to your account. In the end, there aren't any profits for you, and your money is gone along with the thief who stole it. According to State Department reports, people who have responded to these emails have been beaten, subjected to threats and extortion, and in some cases, murdered.
What You Can Do:
These emails can really tug at your heartstrings and appeal to your sense of altruism. Successful scam artists know exactly how to get you to give up your money. If you get an email asking you to send money to help out a stranger, delete it. Someone is up to no good, and trying to manipulate your emotions. If you've lost money to one of these schemes, call your local Secret Service field office. Local field offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory.