Friday 09 May, 2014
The answer is ‘no.’ If you get an email from a desperate government official or head of industry in Nigeria who needs you to transfer money for them immediately, just delete it. No, they didn’t choose you out of everyone else; it’s a spam email sent to probably thousands.
Nigeria has become famous for its Internet scams. You’ve probably gotten these messages before. They ask you for a simple favor, for which you get a huge chunk of money. But once you email them back saying you’re interested, they just need a little financial help to get started. That’s how they get you.
Does Anybody Actually Fall for Nigerian Scams?
This type of scam is called ‘advance fee fraud’ or ‘419 scam,’ named after the law in Nigeria’s penal code that pertains to them. It’s so obvious and blatant that you may be wondering if anybody actually falls for them. Well, here’s a surprise – lots of people do. Nigerian scams are amazingly successful.
In any given day, hundreds of people fall for them and send the money. The United States Secret Service’s Financial Crimes Division gets hundreds of complaints about them each day. It’s estimated that these scams sucker people out of hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
A Sucker Born Every Minute
In a new paper called ‘Why do Nigerian Scammers Say They are from Nigeria,’ Microsoft Research’s Cormac Hurley uses mathematical probability models to explain why these scammers make so much money. He says that the reason they work so well is precisely because they’re so darn obvious.
Only the most gullible people, who would fall for it from the outset, are the targets. If you’re skeptical, you’re just going to waste the scammers’ time. You’re going to email them asking for more details and there’ll be some back and forth for a while before you send the money. Being so obvious cuts down on what he calls ‘false positives,’ people who will enquire for more info but end up not paying.