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While Nigeria is most often the nation referred to in these scams, they originate in other nations as well.

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.

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Once the victim's confidence has been gained, the scammer then introduces a delay or monetary hurdle that prevents the deal from occurring as planned, such as "To transmit the money, we need to bribe a bank official. " or "For you to be a party to the transaction, you must have holdings at a Nigerian bank of $100,000 or more" or similar.

This is the money being stolen from the victim; the victim willingly transfers the money, usually through some irreversible channel such as a wire transfer, and the scammer receives and pockets it.

If a victim makes the payment, the fraudster either invents a series of further fees for the victim or simply disappears.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI), "An advance fee scheme occurs when the victim pays money to someone in anticipation of receiving something of greater value—such as a loan, contract, investment, or gift—and then receives little or nothing in return." The scam has been used with fax and traditional mail, and is now prevalent in online communications like emails.

Often a photograph used by a scammer is not a picture of any person involved in the scheme.