Douwe Osinga's Blog: Nigerian e-mail scams

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Ten years ago I received a fax from a Nigerian businessman with a proposal: he had 5 (five) million dollars and if I arranged for a bank account, I could keep 15% or so. It had scam written all over it, so I didn't do anything about it. I did wonder what the deal was, though.

Nowadays, I receive such proposals three times a day. Mostly, they claim to be from family of now dead West-African dictators. One day I got an email from the lawyer of Charles Taylor and then one from Charles him self. For fun I asked the lawyer where this miscommunication came from. He said that Charles had been confused and I only should mail with the lawyer. This place is full of vultures, vultures everywhere.

What is the plan? I know now how it works. It is called the "advance fee fraud" or "419 fraud". Once you contact them, they'll make up lots of little reasons why you should pay up some money upfront before they'll transfer the loot. Government fees, attorney fees, travel expenses. Then they'll try to get you to come to Nigeria. They'll arrange for the hotel, which is expensive, maybe an airticket. They'll get you in without a visum (not necesary they'll claim) and get you busted for it too. A big bribe will do, thank you very much. Etc, etc. Some people are eventually killed in Africa.

But what is the plan? If I receive one letter in ten years, I might consider it to be genuine. But I get three a day. Most people probably get less spam than I do, but still. It is not very convincing. And why doesn't the Nigerian government do something about this? The scammers might make some money that stays in Nigeria, but on the long run this hurts Africa/Nigeria a lot. The place is corrupt and scammy, is the general impression we get. It might be true, but it is bad advertising.