The Story Of A 419 Patsy
from the who-falls-for-this? dept
It still seems stunning that there’s anyone out there who falls for a Nigerian/advance-fee/419 email scam these days. Not only have they been around for centuries (though, obviously not always online), the widespread press coverage of the online versions over the last few years means you really have to be completely sheltered to have not heard of the scam. It’s easy to ridicule those who fall for the scam, but when you hear stories about renowned Harvard Professors and well known neuroscientists (the guy who diagnosed Reagan’s Alzheimer’s) getting involved in such cons, it makes you wonder how it can happen. There have been plenty of articles in the past that explain the details of how the scam works, but the latest issue of the New Yorker has a long article (pointed out by John) going through the specific case of one such 419 “victim.” The word “victim” goes in quotes because the people who get taken in by this scam are always taken in by their own greed — so, perhaps, victim isn’t the right word. Part of the reason the scam works so well is that the original scammers make the mark believe that they are getting involved in conning others, playing on their own greed — making them less likely to ever report it after the con is up. The story above is fascinating, partly because the guy ignores clue after clue that he’s been taken — even though he keeps getting suspicious.
There are two specifically interesting things in the story. First, the guy in the story is eventually charged with fraud himself, and sentenced to two years in jail — despite losing tens of thousands of dollars to the scammers back in Nigeria. The arguments made by both sides in court are worth reading (the prosecution plays up all the efforts he made to be fully involved in the fake scam, while the defense basically makes him out to be a gullible fool). Still, the most fascinating part comes at the end, and supports similar stories we’ve seen with others caught up in these scams. Even after the whole scam has been clearly laid out, they still believe that the “scam” was real. It’s as if they’ve been brainwashed. In this case, the guy at first seems to admit that he had been conned, but later starts saying that he still believes he was emailing and talking to the “real” Maryam Abacha (despite the fact that “she” spelled her name many different ways over the course of the con — which the guy clearly noticed) and that the “fortune” actually exists. He still believes that it was simply held up by a few problems and will get sorted out eventually. The guy’s wife then asks him if he would still deposit a check if they sent him one (after every single check they sent him during the con turned out to be forged or bogus) and he immediately says he would, causing his wife to snap at him. Having read so many cases where these people still believe those who conned them, it highlights just how sophisticated this scam is — and why it never seems to go away.