I imagine that by now almost everyone on the planet with an email address has received at least one email from Nigeria offering you a handsome fee to help retrieve millions of dollars that have been tied up somehow, so the returns from this scam are likely declining. The scammers are now turning to romance scams, where they pretend to fall in love with their victim before defrauding them. Carmen has the details.


  1. #1 Fran Barlow
    March 23, 2010

    So the strongest allies to a scammer turn out to be the victim’s best friends, who won’t tell even if they know about it.

    That, and the unfounded belief in ‘god’ protecting her — a kind of metaphysical fatalism … oh and being needy and unable to value herself as much as her friends value her and to be happy in that.

    One feels compassion, but really your partner’s friend ought to be quite firm and put her in touch with the likely consequences of her course and remind her that Pangloss in Candide came to no good with an “it’s all good” methodology.

    OK, maybe leave out that last bit …

  2. #2 Brian D
    March 23, 2010

    Somewhat related is this fascinating interview with a former scammer (part 1 of 3, subsequent links included). With all applicable caveats about verification, it’s nonetheless an enlightening, apparently firsthand account of the structure of these schemes.

  3. #3 Vince Whirlwind
    March 23, 2010

    This was an obvious next step for the Nigerians – in 2004-2005 I was researching Spam and I discovered that an email account registered on a dating website received *far* more Nigerian scams than an email account registered anywhere else.

    I found the Nigerian spammers, unlike the US spammers, send their spam in much lower volume, but in a much more targeted way – this is because the US spammers are trying to attract people to websites while the Nigerians are trying to attract email replies. So each Nigerian email address was only used to send out a thousand-or-so spam emails before a new address was used.

    And the rationale for targeting dating websites seemed to make sense: people registering on dating websites might include a fair number of lonely and vulnerable people – ripe for scamming.

  4. #4 Gaz
    March 23, 2010

    A bloke I know nearly fell for this type of scam.

    Well, he fell for it but was rescued just before the final sting to get his money.

    He eventually realised he was being conned when I dug up a wealth of information – including the succint Wikipedia entry on “romance scam” and a link to the site with the hundreds of photos used by the scammers – and sent it to him.

    But it was very hard to bring him around, even when the evidence was overwhelming and the only logical explanation was that it was a scam.

    And he was *extremely* angry at those family and friends who made him face the truth.

    As we know from our discussions of climate science, this is a pretty standard pattern for those in denial.

  5. #5 Mike
    March 23, 2010

    Well, it’s an “evolutionary” struggle ain’t it? I mean once their victims’ developed defences to their attacks they had to develop new ones.

    Next stop, the Nigerian pyramid-romance-fake religion-charity scam: L.Ron Hubbard has a crush on you, and needs you to send him $10,0000 USD to help build a new church of scientology in this depressed part of the world. Give to Ron, you know he <3 you! XOXOXOX

  6. #6 wrpd4
    March 23, 2010

    The mortality rate of my Nigerian uncles has levelled off but my Ugandan and Ghanian uncles are now dying off. Maybe one of them will pay off. Fingers crossed!

  7. #7 silkworm
    March 24, 2010

    Worst thing is, the woman met this guy through a Christian dating site. When her friend warned her not to give the guy money she replied that she was sure God would look out for her. God did. He sent her someone who could prove to her she was being scammed.

    What we see reflected here are two different conceptions of “God,” one who cares for the believer, and one who deals out lessons to the believer. The latter reflects a slightly more realistic conception of reality, but it is not a far step from the educative type of God to the vague cosmically inert God of Deism, which itself is not a far step from the atheists’ “pitiless universe.”

    So we see these four steps in religious belief:

    1. Naïve theism (caring Intelligence);
    2. Sophisticated theism (educative, and punishing, Intelligence);
    3. Deism (uncaring Intelligence);
    4. Atheism (no Intelligence).

  8. #8 Kristjan Wager
    March 24, 2010

    I believe this sort of scam has been around for a while now, at least judging from the messages I’ve gotten through MySpace through the years (all of which I’ve ignored).

    More low-key is the scam where the scammer gets the victim to send money for a plane ticket. This is not huge amounts of money compared to the several thousand dollars mentioned in this context, but getting just a few victims to do so, would supplement the scammer’s income really well (some places, a plane ticket would be several months of normal pay).

  9. #9 Hank Roberts
    March 24, 2010

    We’re just lucky so far these scammers are independent operators competing against one another and holding onto every dollar they can scrape up.

    Imagine what’ll happen as they become organized. All they have to do is create an incentive fund that actually, really pays off one time in ten thousand (and get worldwide press coverage of it paying off).

    Send one moderately stunning babe paid to stay for a lifetime (or to claim she will for a few months anyhow) to some geek who’s going to blog his stunning luck, send the wedding announcements to the media, and tell the world.

    Send one real huge ‘wager’ or ‘reward’ payment to some geek who’s going to shout it to the rooftops, call the media, and blog like crazy, with real proof of actual money.

    Once this happens, these scams are going to start sucking like a tornado, where up til now they’ve just been Hoovering.

    And they’ll only need to pay off in tenths of a penny per dollar earned — way lower payout than the casinos give.

  10. #10 dhogaza
    March 24, 2010

    Heh, I’m old enough to have received one of the original Nigerian snail-mail scams, sent to me because I had founded and was running a small software company. Early enough in the evolution that the local postal inspectors office hadn’t heard of it.

    Not all that much has changed in the last 30 odd years.

  11. #11 Berbalang
    March 24, 2010

    While I was standing in line at the post office, a few months ago, I overheard a postal employee telling a customer rather loudly, “I would be happy to ship your package of money to Nigeria, but I guarantee you that once it leaves here we will not be able to get it back!” Of course the customer was arguing that it was perfectly safe.


  12. #12 Fran Barlow
    March 24, 2010

    Apparently, the first scams of this type (Advanced Fee Frauds) were touted during the 1930s. People sympathetic ot Spanish royalty in the 1930s were asked to advance money to assist a Spanish prince escaping the clutches of Republicans, on the basis that this might lead to subsequent royal favours.


  13. #13 duckster
    March 25, 2010

    I read all my Nigerian mail just for the stories.

    Recently, I started to get conference calls for papers in my research field which on face value seemed quite genuine, but when I started digging around, turned out to be completely fake. They mention good keynote speakers, dates, venues, and even provisional conference programs – and of course they ask for conference fees in advance. The one with Tony Blair as a keynote speaker sounded fun, and I’d actually love to have gone had they actually managed to organise it

    However, I got a completely new scam yesterday:

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    My name is Cristian Trifanov .I am a freelance researcher.I would be very
    interested in offering you a part-time paying job in which you could earn
    alot.I just resigned my job as a research scientist for DDIN(DANUBE DELTA NATIONAL INSTITUTE)
    but i still work as a freelance consultant for the
    instistute which gives me very much time to do my own work which is
    basically being a freelance researcher who could be employed by research
    institutes to do research projects anywhere in the world.

    Presently, I have just been granted a funding to head a research project
    in the Delta regarding rare and vulnerable plant
    species and this would be commencing very soon, However my fundings were
    by my Australian counterparts which sent me the bunch of payments mostly in
    AUD based money orders. Getting an accountant in Australia or opening an
    account would have been my best choice but I have a deadline to meet and
    taking any of those choices would cost me time and a whole lot of other
    requirements I am not ready to deal with as I would be traveling a lot in
    the meantime.So presently, assuming you would be able to deal with cash, I
    would be willing to employ you on contract basis to be my payment
    representative back in Australia, this way I could issue and make these
    money orders out to you, you could then cash them easily, withdraw 10% of
    the total amount on these money orders as your commission and then send
    the rest back to me through Western Union wire transfer.

    1. Recieve payment from Clients
    2. Cash Payments at your Bank
    3. Deduct 10% which will be your percentage/pay
    on Payment processed.
    4. Forward balance afer deduction of
    percentage/pay to any of the offices you will be contacted to send payment
    to(Payment is to forwarded by Western Union Money Transfer).

    10% from each operation! For instance: you receive 7000 USD via cheques or
    money orders , bank transfer on our behalf. You will cash the money and keep $700 (10%
    from $7000) for yourself! At the beginning your commission will equal 10%,
    though later it will increase up to 12%!

    You do not have to go out as you will work as an independent contractor
    right from your home office. Your job is absolutely legal. You can earn up
    to $3000-4000 monthly depending on time you will spend for this job. You
    do not need any capital to start. The employees who make efforts and work
    hard have a strong possibility to become managers. Anyway our employees
    never leave us.

    18 years or older
    legally capable
    ready to work 3-4 hours per week.
    with PC knowledge
    bank account
    e-mail and internet experience (minimal)

    And please know that Everything is absolutely legal, that’s why You have
    to fill a contract!
    I would be glad if you accept my offer and I intend to commence on the job
    as soon as you are ready. If you are interested, email me back at:
    cristian.trifanov@gmail.com so we can make concluding arrangements.

    Please note when replying fill the form below:
    Full Address:(not p.o.box):
    Postal Code:
    Phone Number(s):
    Current job:

    Thanks for your anticipated action.And i hope to hear back from you.

    Mr Cristian Trifanov .
    165 Babadag Street
    Chatham Maritime
    Kent ME4 4TB
    United Kingdom

    I love the fact that the acronym for DDIN doesn’t match the actual institute (DANUBE DELTA NATIONAL INSTITUTE) or the one in the URL at the end. And this bit (“The employees who make efforts and work
    hard have a strong possibility to become managers. Anyway our employees
    never leave us”) doesn’t even match the rest of the e-mail. Real classy!

  14. #14 ligne
    March 25, 2010

    dhogaza, #10: that’s interesting! we got a couple of snail-mail 419s at work last year (small software company, since you ask). i hadn’t realised they had such a long pedigree — i assumed they were the next logical progression after too many people became wise to email scams.

  15. #15 Berbalang
    March 25, 2010

    Several years ago I got curious about some Javascript tags that were inserted into the webpages of a business I was considering making a purchase from. I started digging and found out the most amazing and scary things.

    It turned out that the same people who were inserting the Javascript tags into websites were also the same people who advertise the “work at home doing money tranfers” scam. The money of course comes from credit card information stolen from computers compromised via the Javascript tags.

    I also discovered that a lot of hacked websites were certified as Hackersafe and Norton Anti-virus can take six months between an exploit being in the wild and a signature to detect it.

  16. #16 dhogaza
    March 25, 2010

    dhogaza, #10: that’s interesting! we got a couple of snail-mail 419s at work last year (small software company, since you ask). i hadn’t realised they had such a long pedigree — i assumed they were the next logical progression after too many people became wise to email scams.

    No, they just modernized when e-mail became commonly available.

    Here’s what wikipedia says:

    Although similar to older scams such as the Spanish Prisoner, the modern 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.

    “early 1980s” and “businessman in the west” (well, I sort of pretended to be when I was running our company) fits my recollection. Would’ve been 1985 at the very latest, but more likely around 1983, when I received the snail-mail version I mentioned. I recognized it as a scam, of course, which is why I went to the post office with it, but had never heard of it nor had anyone in my acquaintance.

  17. #17 hankroberts
    March 25, 2010

    Oh, man, I was very unaware how organized these creeps are.


  18. #18 Ken Fabos
    March 26, 2010

    I’ve always found these scams more amusing than alarming but I suppose there are people who are caught out by them. I remember one day when my email address must have got listed in the wrong places – 12 big lottery wins, 8 “need to transfer funds out of 3rd world country” requests and 7 rich relatives that died without an heir and the executors of their estates found me! Those latter especially made me chuckle – did all my aunts, uncles and cousins as well as brothers, sister and mother count as other possible heirs? Apparently not, just me. On that one day I calculated I was about 60 million dollars richer than the day before. Wow.

    I recently calculated that I’ve purchased over 60 NSW jackpot lottery tickets over several years without winning so much as a free ticket; I figure my chances of winning a lottery that I never bought tickets in has to be even lower.

  19. #19 Science Avenger
    March 27, 2010

    I’ve gotten a few Nigerian scam emails, always a damsel in distress somewhere who can’t get a ton of cash unless I send her a little. For pure entertainment I play along and waste as much of their time as I can: act stupid and make them explain everything multiple times, ask for pictures, more information, set up fake meets, whatever. I’m always curious to see just how stupid their target audience is. My favorite was the one who sent me pictures of “herself”, semi-nude of course, with a forest of what looked like elm trees behind her, all the while claiming she was in Eqypt.

  20. #20 Marion Delgado
    March 28, 2010

    By the way, the algorithm on the image search is a joke right now (the search mentioned in the linked article).

    I downloaded one of the (limit 20) pictures I got searching nothing in the “Russians” album. I changed the name, opened it in photoshop, and did the autoadjust, which normally brings out the contrasts a little better. I saved it and uploaded it.

    None of the matches in the same database it came from were it, even though some of them were described as 42% matches if I read that right.

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