Dear Sir, I Am A Nigerian Prince And If You Believe That There's A Bridge I'd Like To Sell You...

from the aha! dept

I'm no longer surprised that people fall for Nigerian advance fee "419" scams. It seems that every generation falls for something along those lines. In the past, I've talked about the bogus story of Drake's fortune, which was the "Nigerian scam" of nearly a century ago. But what certainly has surprised me is how little the story really seems to change. Given how closely so many people associate "Nigerian prince" with "scam," you'd think that it would make sense for scammers to move away from such things, and try to find a story that is slightly more realistic. However, On the Media points us to a fascinating research paper by Microsoft researcher Cormac Herley, and a Wall Street Journal article about the research, which reveal why it still makes sense for Nigerian scammers to say they're from Nigeria:

It weeds out all the non-suckers.

Think about it from the scammer's point of view. With advance fee scams, they need to string along someone for a while. A live sucker can be quite valuable, but also involves quite a bit of work. So, for it to be worthwhile, they actually need exceptionally gullible people and by flat out saying they're from Nigeria, given how closely associated that country is with such scams, they quickly weed out the people who are probably smart enough to realize they're getting conned. Since the cost to them of spamming everyone is close to nothing, you may be confused about why you keep getting "Nigerian prince" emails, but they don't care about you. In fact, in ignoring those emails, you're kind of doing them a favor by not bothering them with time-consuming efforts that won't pay off.

As the WSJ piece notes, this highlights a potentially better way to deal with such scammers: waste their time. Of course, we've written about such scambaiters before, with 419 Eater being the most well known community. But this research suggests that, not only are such efforts amusing, they can be genuinely effective in harming the economics of such advance-fee frauds.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    mermaldad (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 1:50pm

    Legacy players

    Hmmm, I just thought of a new business model for the legacy music and movie industries...

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:06pm

      Re: Legacy players

      No, no. You're supposed to scam the gullible people. You've got it backwards. Sell to the industry. Your pitch should be:

      Dear sir,

      I am a Russian hacker and have been monitoring all file downloaders for many years. Recently, my servers were intercepted by Somali pirates and they have demanded a ransom to return these servers with the valuable information which you can use to prosecute those who have downloaded your movies.

      I can provide this information of piracy worth trillions of dollars if you can help me with my pirates.

       

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        Richard (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:13pm

        Re: Re: Legacy players

        No - no - the pitch is already happening - you offer them plausible - but ultimately useless - DRM. Look, for example, at this site.

         

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        Trails (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 3:38pm

        Re: Re: Legacy players

        Dear Movie Excutive,

        I am a Nigerian Prince who has with much gumption and panache developed an algorithm capable of determining a user's real identity (FIRSTNAME, LASTNAME, ADDRESS, BANK ACCOUNTINFO) based on their connecting to a monitored BITORENT download.

        In order to refine and test this algorithm, please send me 720p or higher DRM-free digital files of some of your more popular latest releases, preferably in XVid with OggVorbis audio, so that I may seed and track these nefarious buggery-participants.

        I will then send you several gigs worth of suable downloaders, for much money and public education on the evils of piracy to be had by you.

        Thanks you for time,
        Prince Ngali Mboto Mzungu
        Kingdom of Nigeria

         

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          Watchit (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 7:13pm

          Re: Re: Re: Legacy players

          this. this is perfect.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 8:47pm

          Re: Re: Re: Legacy players

          I have developed a new technique to effectively brainwash everyone into believing that infringement is the equivalent of theft and that you will die and burn eternally if you infringe.

          However, due to DRM restrictions, the effects of this technique only last a day so pay me $10 per use per person and you can forcefully hypnotize everyone into believing piracy is the worst thing ever, ????, profit!!!!

           

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      SujaOfJauhnral (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:06pm

      Re: Legacy players

      I wouldn't be surprised if it was the same people doing it.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:54pm

      Re: Legacy players

      and how is this new model of scamming everyone any different from their old model.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:10pm

    It's sad there are people that gullible.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:59pm

      Re:

      Why do you think we end up electing the politicians that we elect. and look how messed up our jury system is.

       

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    saulgoode (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:24pm

    It's probably the USPTO trying to recruit some more bobble-headed patent examiners.

     

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    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 2:36pm

    They're strangely fun to "talk" to

    Back in the day (ca. 2010 -- when I had more time to entertain myself), I managed to keep one on the line for a couple of days, despite my constantly changing the security question and informing him that I was having trouble converting the local (Greenland) currency (elk hides) into American dollars before making my trip to Western Union.

    He must have really, really, really wanted that $145.

     

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    Adrian Lopez, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 3:02pm

    Baiting the scammers

    Several months ago I tried baiting a scammer who claimed to be selling a 2004 Audi TT roadster for a ridiculously low price, but I couldn't keep him interested for long. I tried to get him to send me pictures of "himself" next to the car (just to get him to excercise his Photoshop skills), but he wouldn't bite. Even so, I did manage to waste a bit of his time. I wish I had saved the exchange.

    I changed my gmail password to a stronger one after doing this, as I was afraid he would retaliate by hacking my gmail account.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 3:09pm

    I used to have loads of fun with the scammers, I was even was able to send one on a brief "safari". He was very sad at the end.

     

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    Digitari, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 3:58pm

    Re:

    I had a personal assistant scam attempted on me a few months ago, I was to cash 2 money orders for just under a grand and forward the monies to another address, they said (on the money orders) issued thru the united states post office, so, I took them to the post office after getting them in the mail, but I was kinda busy at the time it took me 3 days to get there, the day I went was the same day this guy accused me of ripping him off and he said the FBI was given my address, the USPS told me they were fakes and wanted printed copies of all emails I had from this guy, I told him in my last email that it was OK the FBI was coming to my house because the secret service was heading for his........

    for some weird reason, he never replied again

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 4:29pm

    Its cute until you understand the stupid people sometimes have access to your cash.

    http://boingboing.net/2012/08/01/desperate-banks-fall-for-the-4.html

     

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    Watchit (profile), Sep 4th, 2012 @ 7:16pm

    messing with scammers actually sounds like a lot of fun :D

     

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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Sep 4th, 2012 @ 11:56pm

    The Same Thing Is True Of PHP Programming

    There are certain programming languages that tend to be associated with, shall we say, fucking noddy programmers. It is good for the discerning programmer to avoid projects using such languages. They are like a beacon that attracts people who firmly believe that programming must be a boring and repetitive activity, it cannot possibly be creative and fulfilling.

     

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    Ninja (profile), Sep 5th, 2012 @ 3:23am

    As the old saying wisely points out, a fool and his money are easily parted.

    However, the idea of trolling the scammers is rather.. Fascinating. One magazine here in Brazil, Superinteressante is the name, actually decided to fall for the scam a while back. They almost scammed the scammers into depositing a smaller amount for them so they could fire up a loan and give them the money back (with interest). The article was quite amusing to read ;)

     

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    Jasmine Charter, Sep 5th, 2012 @ 7:34am

    Dr. Sir...

    Dear Sir,

    I am a legitimate business man named Dot Com. Recently, the U.S. government has seized all of my servers and assets, forcing me to stay with a good friend - a Nigerian Prince. I am asking for a mere $100 donation towards my defense fund and once I spank the U.S. government because of their obvious groveling to Big Copyright, I will get my servers back and will give you a special account that can access ALL of the 2000 Terrabytes of data!

    Thank you. Please send me your banking information...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 5th, 2012 @ 1:15pm

    I think this is a bit of over analysis, they aren't a bunch of intellectuals in suits figuring out how to manipulate human nature that they have supreme understanding of, they are a bunch of guys (and maybe girls) who found a schtick, and milk it for all its worth. If they need a new one, someone will invent it

     

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    musa, Oct 13th, 2012 @ 2:36pm

    people

    Tell mtn to get out of dis country

     

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