From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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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.