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Why 'Nigerian Scammers' Say They're From Nigeria 209

Posted by Soulskill
from the hello-sir-madam dept.
angry tapir writes "'Nigerian scams' (also known as '419 scams' but more accurately called 'advance fee fraud') continue to clog up inboxes with tales of fantastic wealth for the recipient. The raises the question: Do people still fall for this rubbish? The emails often outline ridiculous scenarios but promise millions if a person offers to help get money out of a country. The reason for the ridiculous scenarios seems obvious in retrospect: According to research by Cormac Herley at Microsoft, scammers are looking for the most gullible people, and their crazy emails can help weed out people who are savvy enough to know better. Contrary to what people believe, the scams aren't 'free' for the scammers (PDF): sending an email might have close to zero cost attached, but the process of getting money out of someone can be quite complicated and incurs costs (for example, recruiting other parties to participate in the scam). So at the end of the day, the scammer wants to find people who will almost certainly fall for the scam and offer a good return."
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Why 'Nigerian Scammers' Say They're From Nigeria

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  • NSS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @03:57AM (#40381959)

    "According to research by Cormac Herley at Microsoft, scammers are looking for the most gullible people"

    Well no shit sherlock!

    • Re:NSS (Score:4, Funny)

      by Namarrgon (105036) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:15AM (#40382041) Homepage

      sending an email might have close to zero cost attached

      Why, you're right again, Watson! This missive contains numerous self-evident truisms, does it not?

    • Re:NSS (Score:5, Funny)

      by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:19AM (#40382069)

      "According to research by Cormac Herley at Microsoft, scammers are looking for the most gullible people"

      Well no shit sherlock!

      He might have had experience in their "OEM pre loaded" department

    • Re:NSS (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Riceballsan (816702) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:31AM (#40382141)
      While that is obvious, I would say the fact that they are intentionally terrible is at least somewhat less obvious than it seems. I always figured they were trying to set the bar at getting as many people to bite as possible, and simply had the spelling errors and horrible stories as a result of not being bright or skilled at English. The idea of specifically avoiding people who are stupid enough to bite, but might catch on down the road, is somewhat new to me.
      • Re:NSS (Score:5, Interesting)

        by gmack (197796) <[gmack] [at] [innerfire.net]> on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:49AM (#40382225) Homepage Journal

        I'm not sure I buy it. Those emails tend to be in the same Nigerian English I often hear Nigerians I know speak with. The reason for the ridiculous scenarios is that they want it to be blatantly obvious that you are agreeing to something illegal if you go to the police. When the Nigerian authorities see an email where you are knowingly agreeing to money laundering or theft from their government it gives them the excuse to simply file the whole thing as on thief ripping off another and then the whole thing becomes too low of a priority to be worth the trouble of investigating further. The reason they need this is that
        paying the police off only works if the police a justifiable reason to not investigate in case someone higher up asks about it.

        • Re:NSS (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @05:36AM (#40382495)

          It could be the same phenomenon that causes Intelligent Design advocates to exclaim - "My gosh, it's inconceivable that it wasn't deliberate!" ; 419 scams are just a successful phenotype (or memotype?) that happens to fit a niche. Their total incompetence selects a very particular kind of credulous idiot that previously would not have been available in such numbers, but the internet produces a global village, with a ready supply of village idiots. Interpreting it as being an intentional tactic may be reading too much into it.

          • Re:NSS (Score:5, Interesting)

            by gnasher719 (869701) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @07:15AM (#40383057)
            So this might not be intentional or planned, but evolution at work: Nigerian scammers who send out believable emails get hundred times more responses by people who want to check out the scheme more closely, but 99% of those cannot be convinced to hand over actual money, no matter how much work the scammer invests. So the scammer makes no money and gives up scamming. Another scammer whose English is rubbish gets only one percent of the replies, but all those replies are from true idiots, so that scammer makes more money and keeps doing it.
            • by tompaulco (629533)
              So this might not be intentional or planned, but evolution at work: Nigerian scammers who send out believable emails get hundred times more responses by people who want to check out the scheme more closely, but 99% of those cannot be convinced to hand over actual money, no matter how much work the scammer invests. So the scammer makes no money and gives up scamming. Another scammer whose English is rubbish gets only one percent of the replies, but all those replies are from true idiots, so that scammer make
              • by 517714 (762276)
                This is exactly as evolutionary theory proposes. You have confused procreation with predation. Naturalists use the term "target fixation" to describe the behavior. Imagine a predator cat (like a cheetah) without highly evolved "target fixation." It would run after the herd of wildebeest and never catch any because it would continually change targets - not enough time to catch them all. And it isn't really "highly evolved" - as soon as a one celled predator could tell the difference between two of its p
          • I met an elderly gentleman who received his first 419 email just last week. When he told me about it, I laughed at how silly it was. He look perplexed. Turns out he was just about to send the scammer money because he felt sorry for him. No matter what I said, he refused to believe that it was a trick.

            Even worse, about 5 years ago an auditor working for Revenue Canada (like Canadian IRS) got dinged for tens of thousands over a 419 scam. He even flew to Nigeria to try to pick up the money. He also racked up
    • by tehcyder (746570)

      "According to research by Cormac Herley at Microsoft, scammers are looking for the most gullible people"

      Well no shit sherlock!

      I thought the point was actually quite a subtle one, namely that the scammers deliberately continued with what should be the well known Nigerian prince stories, because by definition if you've not heard of these stories, or are prepared to believe them despite all the evidence to the contrary, you immediately prove yourself to be a good potential victim just by replying.

      As all good con men know, you can't con an honest, clever person. Or, rather, it's not worth the effort to.

    • "According to research by Cormac Herley at Microsoft, scammers are looking for the most gullible people"

      Well no shit sherlock!

      I'm not convinced, I think we need another study to verify the findings of the first study.

  • Waste their time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Martin S. (98249) <Martin.Spamer@AA ... inus threevowels> on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:01AM (#40381981) Homepage Journal

    is therefore a good tactic, perhaps when we get these we should make a response, to lower their average rate of return.

    • by HyperQuantum (1032422) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:07AM (#40382003) Homepage

      But having to do that would also waste our time. Are you willing to do that?

      • by advid.net (595837) <slashdot@NosPaM.advid.net> on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:15AM (#40382043) Journal

        With a 2mn quick email you can easily waste 15 - 30mn of scammer's time.

        Repeat a few time. Multiply by the number of scammer's prospects.

        The scammer would need a whole life to deal with each spam shot.

        • by bazorg (911295)

          The scammer may however benefit from confirming that your email is real and belongs to someone with time to spare. If you fill in some fake personal details to lead them on, they will have those to sell.

          • Considering they are scammers, I don't think they need your information in order to sell it. They can just randomly generate some authentic looking 'facts' and sell those.

        • by tehcyder (746570)
          Just because flies are annoying doesn't make it right to pull their wings off to see them buzz round in a circle of death.
          • by dubbreak (623656)

            Just because flies are annoying doesn't make it right to pull their wings off to see them buzz round in a circle of death.

            Yes, but the worst thing a fly does is eat shit. We could only wish the scammers did the same.

            What's worse? Buzzing around annoying people or taking money from a pensioner that requires that money to feed themselves? A fly doesn't harm anyone, someone scamming the more gullible (who are generally old or uneducated/poor) does cause real harm.

      • by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:21AM (#40382083)

        But having to do that would also waste our time. Are you willing to do that?

        Well he's posting on slashdot isn't he?

      • If it is entertaining, then yes. Think of all the other time wasters like watching TV, playing Angry Birds, reading Slashdot... ... I just remembered, I have to get back to work.

      • Re:Waste their time (Score:5, Informative)

        by Xtifr (1323) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @05:23AM (#40382405) Homepage

        It's potentially entertaining, and you can win free prizes like bizarre pictures if you do it right. One guy even managed to get a dollar out of one of the scammmers. See 419eater.com [419eater.com] for examples and helpful tips (including how to avoid getting in any trouble yourself).

      • by nospam007 (722110) * on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @08:14AM (#40383477)

        "But having to do that would also waste our time. Are you willing to do that?"

        People who spend their days trolling here and every other forum they visit have the time, it's what they do.

        And remember people, it's not a real problem anyway, because:

        You cannot con an honest man!

        • by Jeremi (14640)

          You cannot con an honest man!

          That's not really true. It's true that it's easier to con someone if you can take advantage of their greed or dishonesty to help rope them in, but even honest people can be conned -- for example, the infamous "hi Grandma, I'm stuck in Tasmania and my wallet was stolen, please send money ASAP" email relies on Grandma's concern for her grandchild, not on her dishonesty.

    • by phonewebcam (446772) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:09AM (#40382013) Homepage

      Microsoft did the research - if this is the answer they can solve it too. "Upgrade" their PC's to Windows 8 and watch them take 10 times longer trying to do the same thing under Metro.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I saw a comical series on TV (in dutch!) that did just that. They answered the scams as if they were interested and tried to get as much response out of them a possible.

      In the end they invited a contact person to a fake company HQ to finalize the whole thing. There they had a number of pranks for them (like a dwarf on a pony delivering a message) culminating in a fake police raid for aleged fraud of the company.
      "You can go about your business. You're an honest business man!" the (fake) police officer assure

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Some people do that, and even manage to get pictures of their scammers by asking for a proof that they do exist by making a picture of them with a sign spelling the name of the sender (And sometimes senders are called Iam A. Dick) http://www.419eater.com/html/hall_of_shame.htm [419eater.com]
  • by oobayly (1056050) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:12AM (#40382029)

    They found my neighbours* - a couple whom my mother (a psychologist) took one look at and said "adult mental health" - and they thought they'd won £450,000 in the lottery. It's a funny story.

    They knocked on my door and asked if they could use my computer to register with the bank as they couldn't register on their phone. The first red flag was that URL he typed in sounded incredibly long, but not reason enough to say anything. Anyhow, when he was done, they mentioned they were looking forward to getting a laptop & television like mine as they'd just come into some money, $450,000 to be precise.

    I was too dumbstruck to say anything, so called a mate and started the conversation with "you're going to laugh, but it's not funny", he wasn't helpful so I called my mum as she's had plenty of experience dealing with people like this. My main concern was that they'd think I was making fun of them when I told them, or that they'd want to shoot the messenger - they'd already started spending the money mentally.

    The next morning I knocked on their door and told them that my computer flagged that I'd visited a dodgy site - they one he went to - and that before they do anything they should talk to their bank, thus absolving me of not telling them the previous evening. And that was the end of it, so I though.

    However, they told the police - fair enough. They also told the scammer - they'd got a call from him after entering their details - and told him they knew it was a scam and that they'd informed the police - fair enough.

    Then, about a week later, I bumped into them and they showed me an email they'd received. it read:

    I am the man sent to kill you. I have been watching your house for two days. I will be paid £1,200 for this job, but if you pay *me* half I will not kill you.

    So they tell the police again, they also tell the council who then have to send out a risk assessment team to determine whether they have to be moved.

    In short, there are always people that will fall for these scams, and they tend to be the lowest common denominator, or just greedy and unethical. However there's always a cost, even if you catch the scam before any money changes hands.

    * These are the same people who asked if they could use some of my weed killer (enough for 400 sq m) and used it neat on their garden (20 sq m)

    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:29AM (#40382123) Homepage

      or just greedy and unethical.

      As I understand it, those Nigerian scams always tell a story where the large sum of money is obtained illegally and the recipient of the mail would know he would be participating in illegal activities. This helps to keep the scammed silent, because if they report it to the cops, they'd have to admit trying to help traffic illegal funds.

      • by oobayly (1056050)

        I'd assume* that anyone so gullible as to fall for a Nigerian scam isn't going to realise that the money will be obtained illegally. The reason I'd included "greedy and unethical" is because I vaguely remembered a story about a lawyer suing a bank over a cheque he sent to scammers. It turns out it was this story [abajournal.com] which didn't involve 419 scams.

        * Though we all know what assumptions are the brother ^H^H^H^H^H mother of.

      • > As I understand it, those Nigerian scams always tell a story
        > where the large sum of money is obtained illegally

        Not always. Sometimes the story is that the sender is a well-intentioned but naive fool whom the recipient will have an opportunity to swindle.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Out of curiosity; are your neighbors also very religious?

      No I'm not trolling.

      I have a neighbor who is very religious (Fundie Baptist Christian), reasonably educated (BS Business) and he is very gullible. I'm just wondering if it's a pattern .....

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes there is a pattern. They tend to believe in fairy tales.

        p.s. I'm not trolling either.

      • by oobayly (1056050)

        Not that I know of. Though I kind of trust my mum's opinion about them being a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Besides I've heard (through a concrete floor no less) him roaring at his missus - one gem I remember:

        M: You owe me for that broken [console] controller.
        F: I didn't touch it
        M: You distracted me, you know what happens when you distract me (obviously he smashed it up when he got distracted from a game and died)

    • I would have replied to that email saying

      "If I pay you half, the man who hired you to kill me will use his money to hire someone else to kill me, and I'll be out the money I need for booze and hookers to live up the time I have left."

    • I once saw an old lady get scammed with this type of stuff but with one glaring exception - it wasn't over the internet.

      It was over the phone and fax. I don't know how they got ahold of her initially but the phone number she had to call and fax was in Puerto Rico. To call PR isn't an international number from the US but certainly is long distance.

      So instead of visiting dodgy websites and so on they had her doing it by fax. They faxed her a document with a very cheesy looking bank letterhead and so on.

      It was

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      I am the man sent to kill you. I have been watching your house for two days. I will be paid £1,200 for this job, but if you pay *me* half I will not kill you.

      Sounds more like something the children on 419eater would write.

  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:14AM (#40382037)

    For whatever reason, people do fall for it. Big time.

    Other than by pure greed, I don't know WHY people would really fall for it, especially if one gets many of those mails a day (easily a dozen or more a day for me - it's about half of the spam that makes it through greylisting). If you get just one such mail, then I can imagine: the first one I got, well over a decade ago, also made me wonder: is this legitimate, is this real, it certainly sounded quite real but the whole thing was just too unlikely to be trusted. Why trust a random strange contacting me by e-mail? At the time I had never heard about such scams.

    But anyway, yes, people do fall for it. And there must be quite some people that fall for it. If not, it would die out quickly: that is pure economics. This are relative expensive scams to carry out, time and effort wise, and if they do not get any response on their mails (or no return on those responses) the activity would stop.

    • by C0L0PH0N (613595) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @10:37AM (#40385013)
      I know of an 85-year old retired engineer who FELL for this scam two years ago. I got into assisting him after he had lost $500,000, his life savings (which he had wired to a Swiss bank account). The scammers contacted him after he had lost his money, pretending to be attorneys in London who could help him "recover" a part of the money for an additional $40,000. He was to fly to Amsterdam with the money, and give it to them. I got involved after he came back, when he requested that I assist him in finding the "London attorneys". Turns out he actually had flown to Amsterdam with $40,000 in a money belt, and saw the men outside the terminal holding up a card with his name on it. But the Amsterdam police found his money belt, and deported him back to America. Those police saved his last dime! It took me two weeks of intense persuasion to get through to him that he had truly lost his money, and all he could do was turn in a futile report to the FBI. He finally got it, and is truly a sadder but wiser man now. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been a part of it. With that kind of return on their investment of scamming time, I see why they put so much energy into it!!!!
  • Trick question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hairyfish (1653411) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:15AM (#40382039)
    The real answer is because they are actually from Nigeria. I think the researchers are over-thinking this problem.
    • by _merlin (160982)

      Nah, these days most of them are actually operating out of Europe. Nederland is a big base for them for some reason.

      • by heypete (60671)

        Oddly, Belgium has a large number of the "Russian romance" scammers. Go figure. /answers the abuse desk for a medium-sized email provider

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      False. There's been plenty of reported cases of westerners running these scams from within their own country. Or did you think there was some kind of money making scam, which clearly works, which has all rights reserved for criminals living in only one little chunk of Africa?

  • by TythosEternal (1472429) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:21AM (#40382081)

    Interesting analysis, particularly the original paper. It's almost like a two-step optimization problem--very much a game theory topic.

    I happened to marry into a family of Congolese immigrants. My in-laws have told me in no uncertain terms that Nigeria has a strong reputation among central & west African cultures for being, if you will, a den of scum and villainy. If there's a scam, theft, or petty crime that involves an African individual, one of the first thoughts is, 'they must be Nigerians.'

    Of course, this strikes me as a strong stereotype. I've met several Nigerians at family events (I've even attended the wedding of a real, bonafide Nigerian prince, I kid you not), and they're pretty much normal people. Surprise! (That doesn't change the fact that the Nigerian restaurant down the street ripped me off last Sunday... On the other hand, I've never had spiced goat larynx before, so I guess I came away from the experience with something new.)

    • The same could be said for Sicilians, for that matter. Or any other ethnic group/nationality with a reputation for corruption and/or organised crime.

      I think the main reason is that Nigeria is chosen is because it is known for two things: having incredible wealth in natural resources (mostly oil) yet at the same time it's seen as one of the poorest nations in Africa. That disconnect suggests that a lot of corruption exists, thus setting the stage for believing that there really is someone trying to smuggle o

    • That's like saying that all stupid Europeans are Polish.

    • Surprise! (That doesn't change the fact that the Nigerian restaurant down the street ripped me off last Sunday... On the other hand, I've never had spiced goat larynx before,

      Dude, let me explain you something: That was not the goat's larynx... . And it was not spiced either!

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @04:35AM (#40382155)
    It's all about standards compliance. They've simply implemented RFC 3514, only a bit differently.
  • It seems that Microsoft Research uses Google and not Bing. (Just like everyone else)

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @05:12AM (#40382341)
    All you have to do, is tell them that you are not available to meet them personally, but you have a friend who lives nearby and can meet them (wherever they suggest). This will result in immediate cessation of contact on their part, because they suspect they will be meeting authorities instead.

    It worked for me, when I received one of these scam letters (this one ostensibly from the Netherlands) and I replied to them just to find out how far they would go. They wanted me to meet them in Amsterdam to seal the deal (which they claimed was worth millions).

    I told them that rather than travel many thousand miles, I had a friend who lived a few miles away, just outside of Amsterdam, and she would meet them to talk about it.

    I never heard another word out of those people.

    All you have to do is pretend to be interested in their offer, then propose something other than THEIR plan, but which is perfectly reasonable. They will back down every time.
  • by Dave Emami (237460) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @05:27AM (#40382425) Homepage
    The article didn't explain why Nigeria, instead of (say) Kenya or Uganda -- or Sri Lanka or Bolivia or Uzbekistan.
  • Usually I copy the content of one spammer, change it up just enough to sound unique and interested and gradually, as they read down the letter realize they're reading another spam letter. Occasionally I send them the CIA's phone and address. At other times, I sound normal at the beginning and slowly start raving. Great Sunday afternoon fun!

  • Found a note taped to my house yesterday, offering to paint my house number on the sidewalk - which, as we all know, is very helpful for aiding EMTs, etc. Just $20 cash, or write a check to 'Tony Reed.' %10 discount for senior citizens. I showed this to a worker at City Hall, who recommended I report it to the police via non-emergency line, of course; who wouldn't think this is just a bald-faced scam? Not even imaginative. Maybe I'd pay 20 cents. The City employee pointed out the other obvious fact

  • by CanEHdian (1098955) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @10:07AM (#40384641)

    Dear Madam, Sir:

    please allow me to introduce myself; my name is Kwane Mbiko, Esq. I am writing to you regarding an urgent matter. The Copyright Group of Nigeria is (for tax reasons) the effective rights holder of a large number of US based artists. Unfortunately, we have evidence that you infringed on our copyrights by means of BitTorrent downloads and we are currently finalizing litigation against you in the Capital District Court in Abuja. You are hereby advised to start making travel preparations to appear before the court as required per Nigerian law as well as that you have to option to retain a local sollicitor to stand beside you.

    Because of the travel distance involved, I am by exception authorized to offer you a settlement agreement. Please call my assistant Beka directly at 011 419 55 555 5555 to discuss payment details.

    Yours faithfully, etc. etc.

  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Wednesday June 20, 2012 @10:41AM (#40385061)

    "Con" is short for "confidence," in that a con artist plays with the victim's sense of confidence (usually in themselves). Looking like a moron inspires the victim's confidence in their own intelligence, their own ability to outsmart the con artist. Making you think that you can come out ahead, one way or another, is the entire point of the con.

    If you think you can out-con the con artist, you've already lost. That's exactly where they want you.

    So it's not about "aiming for the least informed" as much as "looking so inept as to be harmless."

  • I mean, if they're not offering me at *least* $25M USD, I know they're frauds, trying to cheat me out of my money.

                  mark "diss *me*, will they?"

  • My first Nigerian letter was a real typed postal letter in the late 1980s. In those days the email community was just a few 10,000s of academics. It had the same elements as always: asking for assistence in taking a dead official's money out of the country. You'd send them some money to help them. Then they would split the money when they got it out of the country.

    They somehow got a hold of professional society address book and wrote to people in the book. Maybe they thought those people had money. M

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