Recently I’ve been engaging with online con artists. It occurs to me that these ridiculous scams, such as the ‘Nigerian 419′ scam must actually still work on enough people around the world to keep so many industrious young Africans and others (not only Nigerians) toiling away, flooding others’ inboxes with billions of emails each year. I mean, everybody knows about this scam (the one where a complete stranger contacts you with a very reasonable offer of millions of dollars… because only you, for some reason, can help this person retrieve their fabulous wealth). Seems stupid, right? …because it IS stupid! Logically though, if it didn’t still work, the scammers would have given up by now and found something else to do.
This scam (named after the section of the Nigerian criminal code dealing with fraud) isn’t new however, and actually predates email by… well, centuries. It’s a variation of something called the ‘Spanish Prisoner‘ con, which originated in the 16th Century.
The modern incarnation of this scam targets greedy stupid people, who are easily identified by the perpetrators (because they engage with them). The reason I call these people greedy and stupid, as opposed to, say, lonely and/or otherwise vulnerable people who fall for far more sophisticated scams each year, is because the 419 scam is almost always immediately transparent and really fucking dumb.
For those who think it’s perfectly reasonable that a stranger might contact them with an offer of millions of dollars… here are a couple of clues to help innocent simpletons understand that it
might be definitely is a scam.
First, the sender won’t address you by name, obviously because this form letter has been sent simultaneously to 400,000,000 accounts. We’ll get to the other
subtle blatant hints that this too-good-to-be-true offer is indeed complete bullshit shortly.
Here’s a typical introductory 419 email I received recently.
My Dear Good Evening, How are you today? Mine is a little cold here in Dakar Senegal. My name is Sonia Majid, i am 24 years old and 5in8ft tall, 58kg weight. single and never married, I am the only daughter of my Father DR. Rakin Majid, I’m from Sudan, North Africa and presently i am residing in the refugee camp here in Dakar Senegal as a result of civil war was fought in my country some years ago. My late father DR. Rakin Majid was the director of ( Majid Industrial Company Ltd ) in Khartoum, the capital of my country, and he was also the personal adviser to our former head of state before the rebels attacked our house one early morning and killed him with my mother in cold blood. I escaped death because I was in school when the rebels attacked our house and I could make my way to the west African country Senegal where i am now living as a refugee. I would like to know more about you. your likes and your dislikes, your hobbies and what you are doing currently. I’ll tell you more about myself in my next mail. Attached here is my picture. Waiting to hear from you soon.
Ok… so, just a couple of things about this poor woman’s terrible plight, and her heartfelt email requesting my assistance. She opens with a description of her height and weight (yep, fair enough), before mentioning that she’s living in a Senegalese refugee camp. Her late father, killed along with her mother in cold blood by rebels, had been rich, successful, and an advisor to his country’s head of state (it’s disturbing how often this seems to happen to powerful, influential people in Sudan). Luckily, Sonia avoided the terrible fate of her parents, as she was at school at the time of the attack. Sensibly, instead of seeking shelter and protection from her late father’s undoubtedly well-connected peers, Sonia made the trek from her home in Khartoum, through Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, before finally reaching the safety of the refugee camp in Dakar, Senegal, 5359 kilometers away (?!).
So far, so good. After bravely telling of her traumatic life story, Sonia cheerfully asks about my hobbies, likes and dislikes (yep, that sounds about right), before saying she’ll reveal more about herself in her next email. Oh, and of course, she provides a couple of photos.
After reading such an unfortunate, and really plausible story, what could I do? Of course, I emailed back the person known only as Sonia immediately. I wondered if the individual receiving my email would even read its content, so I decided to give the scammer a sporting chance, and find out for sure.
Here is my reply.
Let me tell you about myself. I live in Oman, but I’m Australian, and my ancestors came from the Transylvania region of Northern Romania, so of course I do have an insatiable thirst for human blood. I don’t find that this negatively affects my professional or personal life in any serious way, so there is no need to worry. Oh, I also enjoy travelling and stamp collecting.
I’m interested in having a relationship, and I strongly believe that the best way to make that happen is by committing myself to a random online stranger, so I am really pleased to have received your message!! As you are no doubt aware, having read my profile, I am already married. That shouldn’t be an issue however my love, because I live in the middle east where polygamy is kinda the done thing. I’m sure you’ll get along really well with my wife. She gets a bit stabby sometimes, but everything will be fine as long as you don’t make eye contact.
How are you doing today? i hope all is well with you over there. Thank four the pictures you send to me your looking so nice, and Thank you for your kind and concern towards me. meanwhile, my day is very boring over here in Dakar Senegal, in this camp we find it hard to go out because we are not allowed to do so, it’s just like one staying in the prison and i hope by God’s grace i will come out from here soon. i don’t have any relatives now that i can go to, all my relatives ran away in the middle of the war, the only person i have now to complain to is Rev Emmanuel Richard who is the pastor of the Church of God Mission here in the camp. he has been very good to me since i came in here, i am using his office computer to send you mails. i am living in the girl’s hostel because the camp has two hostels one for boys and the other for girls. our reverend father’s Tel number is(+221 765 163 242) if you call just tell him that you want to speak with me he will send for me in the girl’s hostel and i will come over to his office to speak with you,
Dear i really want you to know that it is the will of God that i knew you,and i that was why i trusted you and am assuring you that you will never regret about anything that you did for me,As a refugee here i don’t have any right or privilege to any thing be it money or whatever because it is against the law of this country. i want to go back to my studies because i only attended my first year before the tragic incident that lead to my being in this situation now took place. dear, please keep this secret within us because i would like you to know everything about me. i have my late father’s statement of account and death certificate here with me which i will like to send to you to assist me achieve my dream, because when he was alive he deposited some amount of money in a leading bank in Europe which he used my name as the next of kin. the amount in question is $2.7( Two Million Seven Hundred Thousand US Dollars)l will like you to assist me transfer this money to your account and you will help me to get my traveling documents and air ticket to come over to meet with you. i can’t withdraw the money myself due to my refugee situation here in this country. i want you to send me your contact information’s such asYour Full Names ……………
phone number ……………….
Age ……………….I got in touch with the bank and made them to know about my intentions to withdraw this money, i also got them aware of the death of my father and they have verified it with all their confirmation and verifications. However, they advise me to get in touch with a very responsible person who will stand on my behalf as my trustee in regards to withdraw this money. since i am presently in refugee status over here and wouldn’t be permitted to handle this amount of money.I just have to let you know all about me so that you can assist me to achieve my future dream. i kept this secret out of people here in the camp, the only person that knows about it is Reverend Emmanuel Richard because he is like a father to me.
please am hoping to hear from you soon.