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.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “The Story Of A 419 Patsy”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
TriZz says:

You know...

…this story has the setting of June 2001.

To claim the stupidity of people being still fooled by the 419 scam because of THIS story is completely ignorant.

Interesting read. It seems written like fiction, but still doesn’t change that this happened in 2001.

Even your link to a previous story about the 419 scam that was written by Techdirt was written in April 02.

Come on now, tighten up!

Bob3000 says:

I do my bit ...

Every single time I get one of those I forward it to abuse@ using the email info they provide in the body of the message. I often get a quick response from the ISP to the effect that they violated the TOS.

Suet the scammer will get another throwaway email address but if I can inflict some frustration on them and save some poor soul who mail was unread then I’ve done my job.


Wayne C. Smith says:

report them

If you use windows, use spam-abuse available at

It’s free and does a good job. Our abuse staff was reporting about 200 quarantined 419 scams a day. Then down to 100. This morning for some very out reason it was less than 10.

If spam makes it through spam filters, it’s time to treat it in the special way it deserves. LART it.

Louis says:

Re: Funny!

Funny! by Nigerian on May 11th, 2006 @ 6:13am

Its funny how a lot of people are quick to blame the conner in such a situation. If the “conned”‘s greed had not got the better of him/her, maybe…

The word is out, if you fall for 419, its your fault. I am totally against 419, it gives my country a bad publicity

Riiiiigggghhht… Forget the crack dealers or the burning oil rigs, the 419 scammers are REALLY the guys giving Nigeria a bad name.

Your culture is so infected you choose to blame the victims for the crimes perpetrated against them. Maybe the “conned” isn`t entirely free of guilt, but that sure as hell doesn`t make the swindler exempt either.

Capt Exxon says:

Re: Re:

A. What does that have to do with this article?

B. Why is that a bad thing? If you diversify, why would it be bad to have your 401K in company stick, especially when a lot of companies offer incentives to purchase 100% stock?

Heard something somwhere, and now trying to regurgitate it here to sound good are we, Patrick?

Buck (user link) says:

419 is not always about greed

I sell on ebay, and often get a 419 type, where they agree to buy something, and say they are sending you a money order for more than the amount. They ask you to cash the money order (which is a fraud) and send them the item plus the difference (the change if you will).

I know not to fall for that, but it is a 419 type that does not assume greed on the part of the victim.

beca says:

Re: 419 is not always about greed

on the Ebay scams, have them go thru the trouble of getting a fraudulent International Money Order made up, give them a fake mailing address (a big hotel is always good) and INSIST they send it Fed-Ex and give you a tracking number…….If they think they are going to scam you out of thousands, they will go thru the trouble and are out $50-$60 plus time that they arent spending on an uninformed victim

Its kind of fun too, when you keep telling them it never arrived and then check the tracking number and its signed for by the front desk in a hotel 100 miles away from you…………use the hotel address, but just put #14 for the unit number………..then tell them they must have gotten that wrong, you complex has 500 units and you couldnt keep waiting so you sold it to someone else!

419_er says:

freight-bait them

Why not freight-bait those scammers? They want something from you, so give it to them, just make them pay for the freight… Noone says that what you’ve promised them has to actually be in the box… They pay you with funny money, you send them funny stuff! Check out the for loads of expensive fun.

Diane Ensey (user link) says:

I was at a meeting recently which featured a presentation on identity theft. When the Nigerian scam was talked about, one women got very defensive – wanting to know why the speaker was targeting Nigeria with the inference of racism. Even when the scam was explained to her, she remained completely offended and actually declared “it might actually be true, you know.”

I wonder how long until her life savings are gone?

ekc says:

Slow down

Re: #22,

I think we might want to slow down with the talk about cultures being so infected that they blame victims. There are plenty of instances where victims get blamed in any culture, and that is usually a bad thing. I’m not a fan of blaming any culture for having opportunistic criminals, because all of them do. Obviously we can’t overlook the fact that the reason these things are even called 419 scams is because of the Nigerian Law prohibiting them, but at the same time, whenever there is an opportunity to seperate people from their wallets, there will be somembody trying to take advantage of it, no matter what country it is. Countries just need to do more work educating people so they don’t become victims and finding and punishing the perpetrators.

Lionel Mandrake says:

I truly don’t understand why some misguided individuals consider and of this a sad act. What is taking place here, due to the dedicated efforts of countless Nigerians and Floridians is a dedicated effort at improving the human species.

In previous generations, this function was provided by wolves. The weak, the mentally lame and those otherwise incapacitated by greed or another imbalance have always been dealt with in this manner.

Peace on Earth.

Monica says:

It seems that reporters stay 419 ignorant too

The 419 scam has been around for decades now and still journalist don’t understand why it is the most successful scam ever? And concerning the numbers of victims, scampers and losses the largest scam around every year already for 2 decades, and still there are journalist who do not get any further then ridicule the victims. On the other hand looking at the the circumstances, background and accomplishments of the average victim one could say they are above average intelligent and qualified as people who added something positive to society, certainly more then a journalist who doesn’t get to the truth of the matter and relies on ridiculing victims. And this ridiculing of 419 victims creates a lack of 419 reporting, not the fact that the scammers make the victim believe that he’s part of a illegal deal.

Oswulf says:

Re: It seems that reporters stay 419 ignorant too

So we should refrain from ridiculing these poor morons when they start victimising others to continue chasing this bullshit pot of gold? Obviously they aren’t as intelligent as you’d like us to believe.

Sorry, but the victims contribute as much to these scams as the scammers and I hope reporters, scum that they are, continue to point out what bloody idiots they are.

freimont says:

419 Romance Scam

Not all 419 scams are “greed” scams by both parties. Romance scams sucker in those who think they have found the love of their life. Then the scammer takes advantage of their feelings. Read the new book “Cyber Love’s Illusion” by Anna Tirell-Tilden and Jonathan van Helsig. It is an eye opener into the romance scam industry.

nobody says:


I received a 419 letter just yesterday where the writer was posing as the director of an orphanage. He was pleading for money, used clothes, anything for the orphans, who have no family left to take care of them due to their parents being killed in some violent uprising or other. He offered the potential victim nothing but the chance to help the needy.

But I guess that nobody EVER has ANY reason to answer these other than greed. Yep, greedy, greedy Western moneygrubbers. /sarcasm

sally says:


So…..he was the director of an orphanage and was asking for things like used clothing, not just cash?

and he didn’t ask you for anything in the way of money (outside a possible donation?)

and you know this is a 419 scam how???

I mean yeah, it probably IS but there are occasionally real people who may be selling things or operating a charity who arent using the best method (mass anonymous emails) but could possibly not be scam artists


Usman Bello (user link) says:

419 Scammers!

I am from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and I know that many of my countrymen think it is hilarious to scam gullible people. There is a word in the local Igbo language that these scammers call these victims: “mugu”, which is the slang word for “fool”. I was once burned by a group of scammers, but I have since made them pay dearly for their deeds.

Never listen to these scamming fools. They may say that they have millions of american dollars to spirit out of Lagos, but it by the hot air of their mouths that they keep all of Nigeria very hot in the summer months!

Mr Bogus says:

You all make a good point

But to go through all the scam emails that i have seen in the last 10 Months , you could not blame most victims for falling prey to them ….. i have seen them all , i could probably even predict when new Formats will hit your Inbox …. The scammers will use any format they deem to be fruitful ,whether it be the Lotto format or the “Remember the Tsunami vitims”…. Not all scam formats invole the vicitm been greedy … Same as not all Scammers are Nigerian..

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...