More Stories Of 419 Victims Who Should Have Known Better

from the people-still-don't-know-about-this? dept

We’re always amazed at stories of people falling for 419 “Nigerian Advance Fee” scams, because by this point, you have to have been living under a rock not to have heard that those Nigerians emailing you out of the kindness of their hearts with “24 million dollars US” are actually a big scam. However, stories keep showing up about people who clearly should have known better still falling for the scam. There was the Harvard professor and Ronald Reagan’s neuroscientist, both of whom apparently fell for such scams in the past few years. The latest report isn’t about someone quite as well known, but once again someone who clearly should have known better. Boing Boing points us to the news that a longtime county treasurer in Michigan has been charged with nine felonies for stealing a ton of money from the county in order to keep up payments to some 419 scammers. It would appear that there are still plenty of people to get sucked up into this scam, despite years of education on the topic.

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Comments on “More Stories Of 419 Victims Who Should Have Known Better”

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Sean says:

Overestimating your own self-worth

While I have no solid evidence to back me up, I suspect that some people fall for this scam because despite all evidence to the contrary they believe the email THEY receive is legit. It is the universe recognizing their importance and rewarding them.

For instance, I believe I can pick numbers on the roulette wheel. I believe this because I have anecdotal evidence to prove it. I also have evidence to the contrary though I tend to ignore that.

misanthropic humanist says:

nothing to do with smartness

First let’s cut through the fallacy that there’s any correlation between intelligence (as measured by IQ or academic standing) and the vulnerability of the victim. This is a personality thing.

What are the hallmarks of a 419 con?

How does the scammer project themself?

A humble, polite person. They project a good character that the victim feels they can trust. Someone who is well educated and probably has a good sense of morals.

A not too bright person. Not stupid, but not overly intelligent. This allows the victim to feel a sense of superiority to the scammer.

As a vulnerable person. They are always bad luck stories that garner sympathy, even a sense of outrage on the part of the victim for the scammers apparent predicament.

The scammer also wants to appear grateful. Making the victim believe that they would repay any debt or helpful action.

Essential, of course, is the lure of money. The scammer must appear to be rich, or have access to funds that they would gratefully give to the victim as soon as their temporary predicament is resolved.

What does the scammer require of the victim?

Loneliness. This is an essential one that I think many people miss. The victim must reach out to the scammer. Few people with close friends they trust and talk to get hooked.

Arrogance. The sense of superiority I mentioned above is important. That is why I think the African-USA scam works well. (Please don’t flog me for saying this I think we all know there’s some truth in it) The average American feels *intrinsically* superior to anyone in Nigeria.

A belief in providence or luck. The idea that by some fateful twist of chance the victim has been brought together with the scammer is powerful in identifying the weaker mind who would make a good victim. Religious overtones are frequently brought up.

Latent dishonesty and lazyness. As the saying goes, you can’t con an honest man. Most scams allude to some degree of illegality, not of a kind that the victim would disapprove. The victim feels he can help the scammer get one over on an unfair system. This creates a common enemy and forges a bond.

The scammer makes an initial offering to convince the victim of their good character, generosity and desperation. They will often give the victim an intial sum of money, buy them drinks or a meal etc.

The scammer tests the victim. He makes an obvious error or blunder, says something that doesn’t add up. This is to see if the victim has been blinded. “Blindness” indicates a level of denial, that the victim has become enchanted by the scammer and won’t let go of his belief in the story.

Audacity. Even after the scammer has taken the first advance fee payment he comes back to the scene of the crime. This convinces the victim that he really is genuine. The hard luck story has a new twist that can be resolved by giving just a little more money.

Finally the victim must develop a repressed sense of guilt/shame. The scammer subtly lets them know they are being had. This provokes an irrational reaction. If done right the victim will feel too rude to challenge the scammer. After this point the vctim must rationalise his choice not to challenge the story. Once they are in deep enough the victim carries through on automatic pilot getting deeper and deeper rather than admit to themselves that they are really a victim.

None of this has anything to do with intelligence. It is just a case of the scammer carefully selecting the respondant with exactly the right personality qualities and motives.

WTF?? says:

Re: nothing to do with smartness

“First let’s cut through the fallacy that there’s any correlation between intelligence … and the vulnerability of the victim. This is a personality thing…
…A humble, polite person. They project a good character that the victim feels they can trust. Someone who is well educated and probably has a good sense of morals.”

This IS an intelligence thing. By now in this day and age if you haven’t caught on to the fact that you cannot trust randmon unknown people on the internet there is a definite lack of intelligence here.
Regardless of what characteristics the scammer ‘projects’ the ‘victim’ must assume this is a fraud or they probebly will be had.

That’s where (common?) sense should come into play.

I’m not saying people falling for scams are necisarilly not intelligent, but there has to be some level of “blindness” for this sort of thing to even get off the ground.

David J Phillips (user link) says:


Nigerian Letter or 419 Fraud, Telemarketing Fraud, Internet Phony Phishermen—and now Viaticals.

On January 19, 2007, Peter Lombardi was sentenced in federal court in Miami, Florida, to 240 months in prison. Lombardi was formerly the president of a viaticals firm, Mutual Benefits Corporation. On October 23, 2006, Lombardi pled guilty to securities fraud in connection with his role in a viatical and life settlement scheme in which 28,000 investors lost over $800 million.


Viatical contracts are legitimate products. The viatical industry began around 1990 as a way to help the terminally ill, most notably AIDS patients. In a typical transaction, the person holding a life insurance policy sells it to a third party “broker” in return for a portion of the death benefit. The broker then sells shares of the policy to investors, who collect a share of the death benefit from the broker when the original policyholder dies.

Unfortunately, promises of ‘guaranteed returns’ by unethical insurance agents have lead to losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars (in the last five years).

In 2000, the AARP noted that a A Florida Grand Jury found as much as 40-50% of the life insurance policies viaticated by viatical settlement providers may have been procured by fraud.

Reading about Lombardi and his recent scam convinces us that not much has changed in seven years.

David J. Phillips, Publisher

James says:

Actually... its GREED

What makes an otherwise intelligent, “reasonable” person for fall for such an email? Essentially .. its greed. Someone pointed out, they think “their” email is the legit one, but its greed that drives them to go…… I should do this.

If I’m feeling greedy I’ll just go by a lottery ticket, at least THEN I have a chance (however remote) of getting something out of it.

BTW… a fun website about this is:

Check out the hall of shame… very funny.

AddisonPeter says:

re: misanthropic humanist

While I agree that actual smarts has nothing to do with this, the lack of basic logic amazes me.

Why Would This Person Be Picking Me? The reasoning usually listed is flimsy if even given. This should be clue #1.

The Frequency: I get these things 5 times a week between 2-3 email addresses. Every one has a basic structure. Apologetic Opening, Basic Storyline that rarely if ever varies (Death/Imprisonment/Sudden Record Find) and then the basic close witha request to use a different email address (Thus asuming the one your receiving from has been pirated).
Just seeing this same basic letter over and over again I can spot them in seconds and flush them without remorse. How is no one else seeing this?

And lastly the publicity surrounding these scams. This scam has been written up in everything from the NYT to basic blogs all over the net. For the non-readers all the “Datelines” of the world have seen to this that its well publicized. How can they miss this?

I continue to be amazed…

Dave says:


Hey, we’re all down on those greedy people – greed is so negative – but what does it feel like from the inside? I’ll tell you – it feels good! Like I’m lucky! I’m going to get more noney than I deserve! I feel very very happy and excited! – just to help you all recognize it in yourselves – if you feel this happy in a transaction – watch out!

Karl says:

Nope, not an intelligence thing - an ego thing

It makes sense that high-flyers without tech savvy would be more likely to fall for 419 scams.

Ronald Reagan’s neurologist, a Harvard prof — these folks have a perceived achievement of status in life. With that achievement comes the kind of ego that believes strangers might approach them out-of-the-blue them with million dollar offers.

When I get a 419 mail telling me that I’ve been selected to repatriate the funds of a dead millionaire my first thought is “yeah right”. Send the same email to the (computer illiterate) county treasurer of Michigan and he might think it entirely plausible that he should be picked for such a task.

Clark Westfield says:

Intelligence / greed and fun

That “smart” people fall for these is evidence that there are different kinds of intelligence. One can be great at memorizing things, graduate from an ivy league school and still have no common sense. It’s the cliche of a guy who knows how to build an atom smasher but has to call AAA to change the tire on his car. Another factor is greed. Morality has no connection with intelligence. Myself? I get thousands of these scams, the dead people with no next of kin, dictator’s wife living in poverty, various lotteries that I never entered and all kinds of other permutations. I like to have fun with them when I have the time. Sometimes I’ll swap their letters and send them back. Send the Euro Millions Lottery letter to the next of kin scammer and vise versa. Sometimes I’ll just play dumb and ask stupid questions like “Are you sure this is legal?” I figure this slows them down I urge you to do this too. Ultimately I report them to their ISP which for some reason 9 times out of 10 is yahoo. Forward to I urge you to do this too.

Karrie (user link) says:

maininting that is an intelligence thing empowers

What you all fail to realize in your maintained superiority and intelligence is that the scammers RELY on the impression that you have to be stupid to fall prey. Anyone experienced in dealing with fraud knows that ANYONE can be scammed, given the right scammer with the right approach. Frankly, I don’t see much difference between blaming a rape victim for walking down the street with short skirt on, and the position that the fraud victims asked for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually... its GREED

Intelligence,lack ofit actuallt, is a factor. Not the only facote & not lawuasa a facot nut the % of idiots who get foolded by th sa sds en pop.lonilenenss0099i din;t knowhttas often the caswe but not alwigreed i dodn ”isit errr. if some onfeid want toit–it usnt a lack of greed that stopped me from faliing for it it was my near-absolute centainty thta it was a scam.

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