I have been requested by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company to contact you for assistance in resolving a matter. The Nigerian National Petroleum Company has recently concluded a large number of contracts for oil exploration in the sub-Sahara region. The contracts have immediately produced moneys equaling US$40,000,000. The Nigerian National Petroleum Company is desirous of oil exploration in other parts of the world, however, because of certain regulations of the Nigerian Government, it is unable to move these funds to another region.
“You assistance is requested as a non-Nigerian citizen to assist the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, and also the Central Bank of Nigeria, in moving these funds out of Nigeria. If the funds can be transferred to your name, in your United States account, then you can forward the funds as directed by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company. In exchange for your accommodating services, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company would agree to allow you to retain 10%, or US$4 million of this amount.
However, to be a legitimate transferee of these moneys according to Nigerian law, you must presently be a depositor of at least US$100,000 in a Nigerian bank which is regulated by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Whatever variation this gambit takes, the process unfolds the same: Complications and roadblocks arise that require more and more money to resolve. It can even escalate to a meeting abroad at a five-star hotel (the Netherlands being a popular destination) where the promised fortune is in a bank just down the street, but another large influx of cash is required to complete the transaction.
Given the scam’s notoriety, it is surprising that this implausible scenario suckers in so many people. Schaffer (2012) proposes that the scammers use a potent mix of
apologies, flattery, attempts to intrigue recipients, and appeals to greed, altruism, trust, and religious feelings, while patterns in writing features include use of attention-inducing buzz words like “urgent” and “secret” in subject headings as well as in the letters themselves, and obvious nonnative English grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary errors.Once people have made that first investment, they stay on the hook for an average of $2,000. It’s almost like they don’t want to admit to having been had, so they keep playing along in hopes that their efforts will be rewarded. Of course, they never are. (Unless your name is Han.)
Given the ease and low cost of generating huge amounts of spam, there is every incentive for the scammers to persist, as even a miniscule success rate rewards their efforts.
There is, however, one disincentive: The Internet has given rise to counter-scammers, or scam-baiters, as they call themselves. See, for example, 419 Eater. These digital vigilantes seek to turn the tables on the scammers, often luring them into doing silly or ridiculous thing. The most famous example was when a pair of scammers were convinced to recreate Monty Python’s famous “Dead Parrot” sketch with the promise of big grant money in return:
The scam-baiters’ goal is to keep the scammers so busy that they don’t have time to rip off others. On September 12, 2008, This American Life aired a story about what is perhaps the most extreme case of scam-baiting known at the time. I remember listening to the original broadcast and finding it fascinating as the story unfolded into a pathic gray area.
Postscript: Literally as I was typing up this post, I received a 419 scam email. Surely, The Billionth Monkey lives! It was a rather short exemplar, but the guy even included a link to his Facebook page, which shows him wearing an official-looking a curly white wig.
I want to present you as the Beneficiary and next of kin to my late
client account worth of $10.5 million Dollars with a bank here in
Togo. Get back to me immediately now for more information this is my
private e-mail address: XXXXXXXX
Barrister James TOSSY .(Esq)
Senior Advocate, International Legal
Practitioner& Financial Attorney
Address: 17 boulevard DE GOLFE Lome Republic of Togo
For Further Reading
Innocent Chiluwa, “The discourse of digital deceptions and ‘419’ emails,” Discourse Studies, December 2009, 11(6): 635–60.
Harvey Glickman, “The Nigerian ‘419’ Advance Fee Scams: Prank or Peril?” Canadian Journal of African Studies 2005, 39(3): 460–89.
Barbara Mikkelson, “Nigerian Scam,” Snopes.com
Deborah Schaffer, “The Language of Scam Spams: Linguistic Features of ‘Nigerian Fraud’ E-Mails,” ETC: A Review of General Semantics, April 2012, 69(2): 157–79.
Andrew Smith, “Nigerian Scam E-Mails and the Charms of Capital,” Cultural Studies, January 2009, 23(1): 27–47.