Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Nigerian Scam – Why The Emails Are So Obvious?

Almost everyone I know has received at least one of those Advance Fee Fraud emails (popularly known as The Nigerian Scam). The ones that start of something like:



Dear Sir,

Good day and compliments. This letter will definitely come to you as a huge surprise, but I implore you to take the time to go through it carefully as the decision you make will go off a long way to determine the future and continued existence of the entire members of my family.

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dr. (Mrs.) Mariam Abacha, the wife of the late head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces of the federal republic of Nigeria who died on the 8th of June 1998.

Ever wondered:

  • Why the emails are so obvious?
  • Why the scammer isn't even making an effort to convince the reader that this is NOT a scam?
  • Why did the scammer mention 'Nigeria' in the email, arousing the reader's suspicions?

I did wonder and I did figure it out. But, it is always nice when someone else arrives at the same conclusions. Sort of a validation to your own findings.

As it turns out, the scammers do all this intentionally. Cormac Herley, a researcher from Microsoft has the answers. I will admit, my 'research' into the subject wasn't nearly as elaborate as Herley's. I arrived at the same findings/conclusions based solely on deductive reasoning and common sense (as I am sure most individuals did).

Of course, a 13-14 page explanation with a few graphs and lots of Math thrown in makes it more presentable as a research, than my – Elementary my dear Watson approach.

Moving on – the reason why the scammers send out obvious and unconvincing emails is: The scammers are not looking for a great email response. What they are looking for is Marks (intended victims). A dumb/uninformed mark is a good mark.

The scammer could waste his valuable time in composing a more believable proposal/offer and then sent it half way around the world. This would definitely get him a significantly higher response rate, but it wouldn't filter out the idiots and/or the uninformed. Although he got a great response to his scam mail, he still doesn't know which of these respondents would make a good mark.

Solution – Send out an unconvincing proposal. A proposal that any thinking brain could easily deduce to be a scam. Be sure to make it obvious by specifying that the offer is from someone in Nigeria.

NOW, if you do get a positive response – the scammer can be pretty sure that the respondent is uninformed and does not have a thinking brain.

Result – The scammer now has a filtered, trimmed down Potential Victims list.

Don't roll your eyes. Considering the number of such scams being reported by the not so intelligent victims, clearly there are a lot of idiots in the world who just can't get their brains to work. I personally know two individuals who have fallen for one such Advance Fee fraud.

Alternatively, the reply could be from some smart ass just messing with the scammer for kicks. But the probability of that happening is rather low. Most people with a thinking brain usually have better things to do with their time, as opposed to sending out replies to Nigerian scammers. Some even come up with a 13-14 page explanation for the Nigerian Scam!

BTW, for those of you who may not be aware, this is how the scam works:


In particular, we're talking about the offers to cut you into a deal, which offer a healthy—say 5 or 10 percent—cut of the profits. They normally end up requiring a small transfer of money from the person who's being scammed to enable the deal to take place. Then another transfer of money, then another until... everything goes quiet.

These scams are normally know as "Nigerian scams", because that's where they tend to originate from, but you might also know them by their proper name: Advance fee fraud. And they work! Last year, one Nigerian fraudster received a 12-year jail sentence after scamming $1.3 million from victims.


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