The words “Nigerian prince” raise red flags for many readers because they’ve become synonymous with a genre of scam known as a 4-1-9 or “advance fee fraud” scheme. Yet many people are still sucked in by these letters and emails promising wealth in exchange for sending aid to a non-existent member of Nigerian royalty.
In October 2019, we came across a decidedly bizarre version of the scam. This time, Nigerian astronaut Abacha Tunde was reportedly stuck in space and his cousin, Dr. Bakare Tunde, was asking you, the reader, for $3 million to get him home.
Subject: Nigerian Astronaut Wants To Come Home
Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager
National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA)
Misau Street PMB 437 Garki, Abuja, FCT NIGERIA
Dear Mr. Sir,
REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE-STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL
I am Dr. Bakare Tunde, the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crew members returned to earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home.
In the 14-years since he has been on the station, he has accumulated flight pay and interest amounting to almost $ 15,000,000 American Dollars. This is held in a trust at the Lagos National Savings and Trust Association. If we can obtain access to this money, we can place a down payment with the Russian Space Authorities for a Soyuz return flight to bring him back to Earth. I am told this will cost $ 3,000,000 American Dollars. In order to access the his trust fund we need your assistance.
Consequently, my colleagues and I are willing to transfer the total amount to your account or subsequent disbursement, since we as civil servants are prohibited by the Code of Conduct Bureau (Civil Service Laws) from opening and/ or operating foreign accounts in our names.
Needless to say, the trust reposed on you at this juncture is enormous. In return, we have agreed to offer you 20 percent of the transferred sum, while 10 percent shall be set aside for incidental expenses (internal and external) between the parties in the course of the transaction. You will be mandated to remit the balance 70 percent to other accounts in due course.
Kindly expedite action as we are behind schedule to enable us include downpayment in this financial quarter.
Please acknowledge the receipt of this message via my direct number 234 (0) 9-234-2220 only.
Yours Sincerely, Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager
If you come across this email, do not send Tunde $3 million. This is a scam.
The scam letter does contain a few bits of factual information. For instance, Salyut 6 is a real space station that was launched in 1977, and the Soyuz-T was a real spacecraft that made multiple trips to the Mir and Salyut space stations.
However, we found no record of a Soyuz T-16Z mission (the Soyuz-T’s final mission was the Soyuz T-15 in 1986). Nor have we come across any reports from NASA, the Chinese National Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Soviet Space Program, or the Nigerian Space Agency regarding a lost astronaut.
Furthermore, verbatim copies of this letter have been circulating since 2004, yet Tunde continues to claim that it’s been “14 years” since this astronaut got stranded in 1990. If this email truly relayed a factual event, the Nigerian astronaut would be spending his 29th year stranded in space in 2019.
The Nigerian scheme dates back to at least the 1920s. You can read more about how these scams work (and how to avoid them) here. Below is a newspaper article about a “pen pal racket” that was broken up by police in 1949: