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Some victims even believe they can cheat the other party, and walk away with all the money instead of just the percentage they were promised.
The essential fact in all advance-fee fraud operations is the promised money transfer to the victim never happens, because the money does not exist.
Some scammers have accomplices in the United States and abroad that move in to finish the deal once the initial contact has been made.
This scam usually begins with the perpetrator contacting the victim via email, instant messaging or social media using a fake email address or fake social media account and making an offer that would allegedly result in a large payoff for the victim.
Such people, who may be real but impersonated people or fictitious characters played by the con artist, could include, for example, the wife or son of a deposed African leader who has amassed a stolen fortune, a bank employee who knows of a terminally ill wealthy person with no relatives, or a wealthy foreigner who deposited money in the bank just before dying in a plane crash (leaving no will or known next of kin), and similar characters.
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.
While Nigeria is most often the nation referred to in these scams, they originate in other nations as well.
More delays and additional costs are added, always keeping the promise of an imminent large transfer alive, convincing the victim that the money the victim is currently paying is covered several times over by the payoff.
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.
For example, in 2006, 61% of Internet criminals were traced to locations in the United States, while 16% were traced to the United Kingdom and 6% to locations in Nigeria.
One reason Nigeria may have been singled out is the apparently comical, almost ludicrous nature of the promise of West African riches from a Nigerian prince.