Nigerian scam letters — also known as the 419 scam after the section of the Nigerian criminal code dealing with fraud — are a type of advance fee fraud. You've probably seen a few. The general idea is that you're promised a significant share of a large sum of money to compensate for your help. All you have to do is send a small up-front payment, which is needed to get access to the large sum. If you fall for it, the fraudster will usually invent a series of further fees or will simply never be heard of again.

Every once in a while, a truly glorious scam letter surfaces, like the one below claiming that Nigeria’s first astronaut has been stranded on a secret Soviet space station since just before the fall of the USSR, and money is needed to pay for a rocket to bring him back to Earth. Of course, his astronaut pay has been accumulating all these years untouched, so if you help him get back home, he’ll share some of his millions. It goes like this:

Subject: Nigerian Astronaut Wants To Come Home
Dr. Bakare Tunde, Astronautics Project Manager
National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA)
Dear Mr. Sir,

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 [number removed].
Yours Sincerely, Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager

Note how the scammer includes a link to Nigeria’s National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) for extra credibility. But anyone who looks into it will realize that Nigeria has never sent an astronaut in space. Oh, and the NASRDA was founded in 1999, which is 10 years after the astronaut in question went into orbit.

It also seems unlikely that a space station could be kept a secret in this day and age — but we'll keep an open mind.

Michael Graham Richard ( @Michael_GR ) Michael writes for MNN and TreeHugger about science, space and technology and more.