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Why do so many email scams originate in Nigeria?
November 29, 2008 5:20 AM   Subscribe

Why do so many email scams that I receive (95% of them) originate from Nigeria?

I do not want to stereotype a people or a country I just don't understand why I have been inundated with Nigerian scams from my ebay account to my email account. The most recent one alarmed me in that I was almost tricked. One of my friends sent me an email saying that that she was in Africa doing HIV/AIDS work when something bad happened and she needed money. The only part of the email that tipped me off that something was specious was the word "Nigeria". I looked up a portion of the email and sure enough it was a scam.
posted by learninguntilidie to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I suggest you tell your friend that they have a virus/trojan with a possibly keystroke logger component to it, or their email account has been compromised...
posted by thewalrus at 5:26 AM on November 29, 2008


It's not as much of a stereotype as you think:

"The 419 scam originated in the early 1980s as the oil-based Nigerian economy declined. Several unemployed university students first used this scam as a means of manipulating business visitors interested in shady deals in the Nigerian oil sector before targeting businessmen in the west, and later the wider population. Scammers in the early-to-mid 1990s targeted companies, sending scam messages via letter, fax, or Telex. The spread of email and easy access to email-harvesting software made the cost of sending scam letters through the Internet low. In the 2000s, the 419 scam has spurred imitations from other locations in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, and, more recently, from North America, Western Europe (mainly UK), and Australia.

The number "419" refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code (part of Chapter 38: "Obtaining Property by false pretences; Cheating") dealing with fraud. The American Dialect Society has traced the term "419 fraud" back to 1992." (from Wikipedia.)

I worked for a company that got a paper-mail Nigerian scam letter in 1997, so that's at least one confirmation of what Wikipedia says about paper versions being sent out earlier. (My co-worker and I were the ones who opened the mail in our tiny office, so we read it over a few times, and I think we called the police because it sounded fishy; they had already started becoming aware of the scam and told us about it, and told us to send it to them.)

So it's not quite a stereotype, many of these scams do indeed come from Nigeria.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:53 AM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


As to the "why": Nigerian law enforcement is practically non-existent, at least in these matters. Scammers can operate with impunity.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:40 AM on November 29, 2008


The scam you describe resembles the latest Nigerian identity-theft frauds hitting Facebook.
posted by terranova at 6:52 AM on November 29, 2008


As to the "why": Nigerian law enforcement is practically non-existent, at least in these matters. Scammers can operate with impunity.

That's a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one. Lots of countries have similarly poor law-enforcement situations; why is Nigeria the preeminent home of spam? Presumably it's basically chance (a few Nigerians got into it, discovered it was lucrative, and told their friends, much the same way towns in America got significant populations from a single village in Ireland or Poland), but I'm curious to know if there's more detailed information about how it started. Someone must have written a book about it by now!
posted by languagehat at 7:39 AM on November 29, 2008


In 2006, the New Yorker published a great profile of Lagos, the economic and financial capital of Nigeria, where all your 419 scams originate. It's well worth your read to see what happens when a growing megacity is promised riches (from oil) and gets stuck with an empty bag and 8 million inhabitants.

As to the Internet scams, lack of law enforcement is one reason but the main reason is that scams and hussles have become something of a natural part of life in this corrupt city.

Nigerians have become notorious for their Internet scams, such as e-mails with a bogus request to move funds to an offshore bank, which ask for the recipient’s account number in exchange for lucrative profit. The con, which originated in Lagos, represents the perversion of talent and initiative in a society where normal paths of opportunity are closed to all but the well connected. Corruption is intrinsic to getting anything done in Lagos: while stalled in traffic, Omojoro was often on the phone with his twenty-four-year-old daughter, who had recently taken her college-board exams and was trying to negotiate a price to obtain the results. (He ended up paying thirty-five dollars.) Even morgues demand bribes for the release of corpses. The shorthand for financial crimes is “419,” from the relevant chapter in the Nigerian criminal code. The words “This House Is Not for Sale: Beware of 419” are painted across the exterior walls of dilapidated houses all over the city—a warning to potential buyers not to be taken in by someone falsely claiming to be the owner.
posted by junesix at 8:06 AM on November 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


As to the "why": Nigerian law enforcement is practically non-existent, at least in these matters. Scammers can operate with impunity.
----------
That's a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one.


This is a good point, as is the idea that a few people made some cash and the word spread, much like an innocuous trend or fad might spread among any geographic region. People get their brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends in on the scam, and it continues to spread. There are also fake lottery winnings from the Netherlands, and countless other scams.

The Nigerian scam has been around longer than the world wide web. In the mid 80s, I got an airmail type-written letter from Nigeria, delivered to my name at my work address, a federal government office. The text of the letter was nearly identical to the text in the emails that are sent out now. The perpetrators of these crimes are often referred to as "yahoo boys." A Google search for: Nigeria yahoo boys brings s lot of interesting information that might give you a more complete answer.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:14 AM on November 29, 2008


This Guardian article, from 2005, is full of interesting insights into the motivations of the scammers, and the way the con is structured.
posted by roofus at 11:03 AM on November 29, 2008


If you want more info, I recommend McMafia, which has a chapter on this.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:37 PM on November 29, 2008


The con, which originated in Lagos

To be sure, it took modern form there, but it's a minor variant of the age-old Spanish Prisoner con.
posted by dhartung at 10:54 PM on November 29, 2008


I suggest you tell your friend that they have a virus/trojan with a possibly keystroke logger component to it, or their email account has been compromised...

You should do this via a channel that does not involve the account that sent you the spam.
posted by oaf at 8:38 AM on November 30, 2008


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