Nigerian scam letters ain’t what they used to be
30 March 2010
“I am happy to request for your assistance because I believe that you are not going to betray the trust which I am going to lay on you”, the email began. I took another sip of cider and read on.
“My name is Miss LINDA ADO, 23 years old and the only daughter of my late parents Mr.and Mrs.Boni Ado.My father was a highly Reputable Contractor Engineer who operated in the capital of Ivory Coast during his days. It is sad to say that he passed away mysteriously in France during one of his business trips abroad on 6th.November 2006.Though his sudden death was linked or rather suspected to have been masterminded by an uncle of his who travelled with him at that time, but God knows the truth!Though I have not meet you before but I believe, one has to risk confiding in succeed sometimes in life. There is this huge amount of (Two million seven hundred thousand)U.S dollars ($2.7m) which my late Father … Kept for me in Suspense Account here in Abidjan.”
Miss Ado (a university undergraduate, no less) wanted me to take her money and her affairs in hand. As Nigerian scams go, the cash on offer was paltry, but we’ve just been through the GFC, after all, and there was a broad hint that I’d get the money and the girl. No doubt if I’d have replied to “Linda”, she’d have sent me a photo of a lovely dewy-eyed young lass. Come in sucker.
Someday, somebody will do a PhD on the changing zeitgeist of our time, as reflected in Nigerian scam letters. I first saw one of these things in 2000 when a “Strictly Confidential” fax from Dr Idris A. Boro, JP, of Lagos, Nigeria, rolled out of my fax machine.
Boro was a Nigerian bureaucrat and he had $28.6 million left over from payments to foreign contractors that needed somebody’s account in which to rest awhile. If he could use mine, I’d get 30 per cent. Could I please ring to fix the details?
In the PI game, we call these frauds “advanced-fee scams”. Those who are suckered-in are asked to send anything from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars in advance, to pay an official foreign currency transfer fee, or to bribe a reluctant official – there are many and elaborate variations. These scams are a whole creative industry in Nigeria and it is said the scamsters block-book internet cafes after closing time.
It beggars belief that anybody could be taken in by this guff, but the perps find sufficient numbers of greedy but unworldly folk to make the game pay well.
Over the next couple of years after Dr Boro’s effort the letters started arriving in a steady stream and email took over from fax. At first they were almost invariably from bureaucrats, clerics or rich and pious widows wanting, typically, to place between US$22m and $30m in my account, for which I’d get between 20 and 30 per cent.
By 2002 the very name Nigeria raised suspicions even amongst the stupidest recipients.
Things went quiet for a while, and then the emails started to come again. There was a new theme: the appeals now purported to come from the widows or offspring of various dead presidents, guerilla leaders and notorious dictators.
My favourite was from Basher Nzanga Sese Seko, the son of Mobutu Sese Seko, the evil Congolese dictator overthrown in 1997. “I presume you are aware there is a financial dispute between my family … and the present civilian Government. This is based on what they believe as bad and corrupt governance on my late father part. May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace”, Basher wrote. He was offering 20 per cent of $30m.
What fun. I wrote back saying that I was inclined to accept his serendipitous offer, but was a little nervous because Nigerian scamsters had given African transactions a bad name. Could he post to me, as a token of his bona fides, one of those magnificent African shirts affected by his late and much misunderstood father? I was hoping “Basher” would pop out the bazaar in Lagos and post me something spiffy, but alas, they saw through my ruse.
A year or so after the invasion of Iraq, there was a new ploy. An American soldier (whose name and rank differed from time to time) had “obtained” funds belonging to Saddam Hussein’s family – usually US$25m, mostly in $100 bills. The money had been hidden, but it could be moved out of Iraq using diplomatic channels. Would I like to park it in my account for a suitable fee?
What could be more blatant: would you like a cut of looted hard cash belonging to the Iraqi people? It was a blatant example of a key feature of the genre: the scamsters intimate right up front, that while their offer will make you instantly rich, it’s also probably, or even certainly, illegal. It’s clever psychology: by opening up negotiations, you’re entering a pact of silence. When you get cheated, you’re hardly likely to go to the law. That’s one reason why it’s almost impossible to estimate how much money the scamsters have taken over the years.
Another sly bit of psychology is the use of broken English and ritual references to God Jesus or Allah. This is calculated to disarm the reader. How could this simple, ill-educated pious person be anything other than trustworthy? Logically-speaking this sits uneasily with the intimation of illegality, but hey, the human brain (unlike the marsupial mind) can usually accommodate such contradictions without the alarm bells sounding.
Kids, if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.