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ETpro's avatar

Why do Nigerian scammers say they are from Nigeria?

Asked by ETpro (34247 points ) June 21st, 2012

We’ve all gotten them—the ones that slip past even the best designed spam filter. They generally start something like My dearest one! or Esteemed Sir/Madam! They go on to claim some fabulous sum of money is just sitting there in Nigeria waiting for you to claim it. The stilted language, odd punctuation, incredibly improbable offer, and origin in Nigeria all scream scam.

So why do scammers send such obvious teasers? It isn’t that they are stupid. Few now originate in Nigeria. Many are actually sent by US citizens perfectly capable of wording an email in ways that wouldn’t be so obviously an attempt to defraud us. If you’ve ever wondered why the scammers use such thinly disguised ruses in hopes of extracting your life savings, you might enjoy reading this article in Slate Magazine. The article draws upon a research paper published by Cormac Herley, Principal Researcher in the Machine Learning Department at Microsoft Research.

For more in depth coverage, you may wish to read the original research paper, upon which the article is based. It explains the statistical science in the scammers’ seeming madness, and provides food for thought on other promotional efforts aimed at finding the rare gem scattered in the abundant rubble of no value to the searcher (in this case, the scam artist).

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8 Answers

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Because who would believe them, when they are really from North Korea or Russia. . . .

Or Iran or Iraq?

mazingerz88's avatar

It worked at the early stage of the internet age. There was more naiveté then. Are they still at it? If they are then they have become as gullible as the people they have victimized. But who knows, maybe some folks out there are still falling for it. Hope not. I’m still waiting for my money from the poor Prince, see. I want my money back first. : )

josie's avatar

Without taking the time to read the paper (I am sure it is interesting, however), I have heard that the poor grammar and puncuation has a particular effect on the most naive and gullible of the readers of such emails, in that it in some way establishes credibility that properly written solicitations would not. Couple that with a third world origin and voila. The truely gullible are hooked!

ucme's avatar

His name is George, he works for British Gas…....no really.

raspberryjenn's avatar

Interesting subject matter! It’s certainly something to ponder. I’m always more interested in the people who actually fall for the scams than I am the scammers. The scams are so blatantly obvious! (The research article link seems to be fine, but the link to the Slate article is coming up 404. Just thought you might want to know!)

dabbler's avatar

Some say it is a filtering technique. Anyone with any sense will see the thing as a scam from a mile away. Money-in-suspense scams are widely known. From Nigeria they are even more notorious.
So anyone who responds to such a thing is especially likely to fall for the whole enchillada.

I find reports of scammer scammers fascinating. Here is one who looped the scammer into their response.

mrrich724's avatar

The are from Nigeria . . . or most of them are.

Chris Hansen, the host of “To catch a predator” did a special called “To catch a Con Man” or something like that. And he LITERALLY went to Nigeria when he followed up with one of the scam emails.

I think a huge population of the crime rings involved in those letters is literally in Nigeria! LOL

ETpro's avatar

To all, the correct link to the Slate article is this. My bad. I lopped an l off the end of it.

@Tropical_Willie Actually, nowadays many are from the US and Europe. They are a global industry.

@mazingerz88 It costs money to do. It wouldn’t be so prevalent if it were not still raking in boatloads of cash.

@josie That’s pretty close. It selects for the gullible simply because they are not put off by it. Scammers don’t wish to waste their time on people like “George from British Gas” was trying to scam in @ucme‘s link.

@raspberryjenn Thanks for letting me know I screwed up the link. I posted a corrected link above.

@dabbler That’s exactly what the Microsoft researcher concluded. It’s a filtering technique.

@mrrich724 Actually, Nigeria was ground zero for Internet scams several decades ago when their economy was in tatters and many educated professionals were unemployed. Now, the problem is worldwide, but the scammers still claim to be Nigerian for just the reason @dabbler cited. And naturally when the American media “covers” a story, they save money by not researching it but by just serving up with the public already believes. At least so long as the scammers keep claiming to be Nigerian, the “investigative journalism” piece might save a few dupes from falling for the fraud.

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