Buyer Beware: 419 Real Estate at Your Service

Maybe there’s a house-sitting problem in Kano?

I stared hard at the sign painted on this house wondering if it was just a bit of rough English. Apparently not. It means exactly what it says.

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Locals in Kano reckon if you leave your house, say during a holiday, you may return to find that someone has tried to sell your manor in your absence.

So, who on earth tries a stunt like that? The most common response I get is a shake of the head followed by: "419ers".

That’s a nickname referring to Section 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code regarding fraudulent practices. The name usually applies to characters behind the spam email phishing scams promising people lottery wins or money in return for an advanced payment.

Around Kano, 419er seems to generally apply to any petty criminal whether they’re phishing or playing the dodgy property game – anything that’s a nice little earner.

And 419 is a number some Nigerians think twice about. The manager of my hotel said a well known guest who recently stayed in room 419 asked for the number on the door to be covered up. Not good for his image apparently, particularly if he received guests.

Last year an old email address of mine was hijacked in a phishing scam – probably a 419er. And quite a canny scammer who seemed to have done some homework with this colourful little email teaser:

How are you doing today? I am sorry I didn’t inform you about my traveling to Africa for a program called "Empowering Youth to Fight Racism, HIV/AIDS, Poverty and Lack of Education. The program is taking place in three major countries in Africa, which are Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria. It has been a very sad and bad moment for me, the present condition that i found myself is very hard for me to explain.

Not bad, but "darling, not your style" as my dear mother attested.

However, I must admit I felt just a little insulted by the reply from a contact from Radio France International:

"You must think I was born yesterday."

Yes, thanks for the support RFI.

Maybe all a good reason to delete that dormant email address you’ve had since 1996 or at least change the password.