How to Thwart Nigerian Scammers: Demand Proof of Life

SurvivalBlog readers often buy gear for their retreats using Craigslist and Internet message boards such as Buddy’s Board and eHam to buy equipment. There are some genuine bargains out there, but be advised that these web sites have become the favorite hunting grounds of Nigerian Scammers. They prey upon people who are looking for bargains. Typically, the scammers place fraudulent ads offering items for sale in the Want To Sell (WTS) category , or they respond to Want To Buy (WTB) ads.

Some Red Flags that may indicate that you’ve been contacted by a Nigerian merchandise scammer:

1.) The seller offers new or like new merchandise for around 1/2 of the regular retail price.

2.) The seller writes in broken English, and with strange punctuation.

3.) The seller seems ignorant about the technical details of what he is selling–never going past “copy and paste” from other ads or a manufacturer’s marketing descriptions..

4.) If you are the seller, then the buyer offers to send you a check for more than your asking price with a request to wire back the difference.

5.) Their e-mails are sent at odd hours . (At 3 a.m., Pacific Time, it is 12 noon in Nigeria– a nine hour difference.)

6.) The seller claims that he is deaf, so that he cannot converse with you by phone.

7.) The seller asks for any unusual form of payment.

8.) If it is an ad at a forum that lists member numbers, the seller has a high member number, indicating that he just recently joined the forum.


I was recently looking for an expensive and scarce Trijicon ACOG scope for one of my guns. So I placed a WTB (Want To Buy) ad on Buddy’s Board. I got this offer via e-mail, originating from a Gmail address:

Good day,

Have you got any leads/order on your WTB ads listed on my subject
Email?? Let me know as i have one up for sale.



I wrote back:


What is the condition of the ACOG and your asking price?

He replied at 2:57 AM:

It,s in LNIB conditions with an asking price of $640 Shipped. Ben

It is notable that this is a scope normally retails for around $1,500. Note his poor punctuation of “It,s ” and the misspelling: “conditions.”

Smelling a rat, I wrote him in reply:

Yes, I’ll take it.  But because Nigerian sales scams have become so commonplace, I need you to provide me “proof of life”.  Before I send you payment, I need you to do the following:  Take a magic marker and write your e-mail address and today’s date on a strip of paper and DRAPE IT in a curve over the scope and take a crisp digital photo of the scope, showing that paper strip draped in place. This photo will prove to me that you actually have the scope in your possession.

Without this photo, we have NO DEAL.  But with it, I will send you immediate payment via US Postal Service Money Order.

Pardon me for being so cautious, but we are living in the age of deception and betrayal. – ~Jim Rawles

Not surprisingly, the scammer made no reply. Beware folks, and take precautions when dealing with potential scammers. Making a “proof of life” photo demand will almost always send a scammer scurrying back under his rock. If there is ever any doubt, one final test that works well in ferreting out scammers is to pose a fake technical question. For example, if the item in question is a gun, ask the seller to “provide its PCGS grade.” If it is a scope, ask the seller to “describe it’s bore condition.” Or if it is a ham radio, ask him “how much squelch are you including?” Such questions will almost always trip them up.

The bottom line: If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Addendum: I have heard that one of the latest schemes used by Nigerian scammers is to buy merchandise from American vendors, making payments via wire transfers. Then, after he goods have shipped, they use a loophole in the wire transfer rules to withdraw the transfer, snatching the funds back overseas. Beware! – J.W.R.