We’ve all gotten our share of emails from Nigerian prince’s promising us money for various things. I’m pretty sure I’ve won a lottery in Nigeria more than once and my friends have been kidnapped several times and desperately needed money.
For the most part, legitimate business deals and “Nigeria” don’t go well together. So I’ll start off my story with an admission. I sent $1,000 to a man in Nigeria yesterday as part of a business transaction. I went to a Western Union and had the money sent to a man I had never met but whom I emailed back and forth for the past week.
If you think I’m crazy, you are not alone. While I told a few people that I sent money and was just waiting for him to send over the goods, in reality I’m not one to fall for scams. I wanted to title this post “How To Scam a Nigerian Prince” or “How Not to Get Scammed By a Nigerian Prince” the truth is that those are misleading, while the actual story has plenty of twists and turns to keep your attention.
I’ve been looking to acquire a new website, so every once in awhile I search Flippa for quality sites that aren’t too expensive. I rarely find anything, and when I do, most are either out of my price range in a few days or unrelated to the personal finance niche that I’m most interested in.
Well this time I found one I liked, much to my surprise. It looked like a quality site for a decent price, and while the price was not cheap, I was surprised that nobody else had bid yet. So I quickly messaged the owner asking if I could pay $1,000 for his site if I bought it now rather than waiting for the bidding to end in a week.
After a few emails back and forth, we agreed on a price and since these transactions with an online partner require some trust, I offered for him to call me just so we could chat and get comfortable with each other.
My phone rang, I picked up, and a man from Nigeria was on the other line. That as my first red flag. A few things ran through my mind:
1. Wow, that was unexpected, I just assumed he was American from his emails.
2. This is obviously a scam and there’s no way I am sending him any money
I immediately made it clear that I wouldn’t be playing any games and that I would need the site to be completely in my hands before I released any money. He was ok with it, so I sent him a list of steps that would needed to be complete.
First, he needed to transfer the hosting to my account.
We ran into our first problem. His company was going to charge him $100 even though my company would do it for free. So I offered for my company to do it. But this guy said that his company wouldn’t allow it, so he asked me to send $100 via Western Union to him to cover the expenses. Another red flag.
He couldn’t get the full amount out of me, so he would try and get $100, right? Well I was having none of it.
I was determined not to get scammed. If the deal broke down, I was ok with it, I don’t mind wasting an hour on a deal, but I was not willing to risk any money on something that sounded to sketchy.
He agreed to pay for it and suddenly I thought that this could be a legitimate deal. I had daily conversations with the seller about why he wanted to sell (he was starting a new site and needed money to pay his developer), but was still suspicious because this is the oldest line in the book. He sent me a half-built site, but hey, if there’s no risk, why not keep going?
A few days later, he got the hosting transfer taken care of and all that’s left was the domain transfer and the money aspect. He got a friend in Texas who has a legitimate online presence to vouch for him, and I offered to send her money and she could send it to him. That’s something I could be comfortable with, right?
Well, that wasn’t an option, because as the seller put it, “her horses got stolen and she had to pay the FBI to get them back.” Um, what? This is just getting weird.
Then I kept thinking that if I took control of the site, there was no way for him to scam me, so really there wasn’t much to be afraid of, right? Still, I was hesitant.
On Friday, I got full control of everything. The Facebook page, the Twitter account, as well as the entire site and login details. After changing the passwords, I went over to my local supermarket to make the Western Union transfer, seeing as I didn’t have any no foreign transaction fee credit cards.
I was denied because I tried to do it over the phone (at the Western Union kiosk), even though I had already given my credit card information (if you’re looking for a good one, read this chase freedom review). I ran out of time on Friday, so I had to tell him that it would have to wait until Sunday. Now he starts to worry that I’m going to scam him! I have his site, I owe him $1,000, and he has no way to get his site back. I had no plan to do that, but I thought it might be funny to be the only man in America to scam someone in Nigeria.
Sunday came, and I went to the first location Western Union told me could do it. Fail, the store was closed. Next, I went to rite-aid. Fail again, their system was down. I told the seller what was happening and now he gets really nervous. Was I just messing with him? Why was I delaying?
I went to a third location, but their system was also down! Now this was starting to waste my Sunday, so I told him I would try one more store before giving up for the day and trying again at a bank on Monday.
I got to the gas station, gave them my information, and ran into a little trouble. I could only send $500 via debit, so I’d have to get cash. Luckily, there was an ATM in my network across the street so I walked over and tried to withdraw $500. Fail, the ATM was “temporarily unavailable.” Finally I found one that worked, got my money and sent off my second Western Union transfer.
I got home, spoke to the seller again, and he thanked me for my cooperation. Then, he sent me the website he had built, justretweet.com. He had been telling the truth! They had just launched, had a bunch of new users, and I was stunned.
So, this guy had been telling the truth all along. While at the beginning it certainly looked like a scam and there were plenty of red flags, this was a very legitimate transaction and the only weird thing about it was that that seller lived in Nigeria.
Readers, did I handle the situation properly to avoid the possibility of getting scammed? Or should I have avoided the whole situation as soon as I heard where he was from?