Youâ€™d think that by now, everybody would know better than to fall for any of the infamous â€œNigerian scams,â€ such as the 419 scams. (The â€œ419â€ designation comes from the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code that addresses fraud.) Yet Nigerian scams are alive and well.
The 419 scams come in several variations, with a common ploy being a spelling- and grammar-challenged email in which the scammer claims to need the potential victimâ€™s assistance to transfer millions of dollars in currency. Thereâ€™s often a dramatic story involving a
member of royalty, a powerful political figure, or at the very least, an extravagantly wealthy deceased relative. In return for assisting with the transfer, the victim is promised a generous percentage of the total. He or she is also asked to pay fees, charges, or taxes to expedite the international transfer; the fees often start out as modest amounts, but once paid, the scammer will continue to invent new fees that must be paid before the victim can claim the â€œreward.â€ What happens all too often, of course, is that once access to the account is granted the scammer ends up sucking the account dry, and the victim never sees a penny of the sum promised.
Over the years these crimes have been committed in person by con artists approaching unsuspecting strangers, as well as by traditional mail and, beginning in the 1980s, by fax. Naturally, the Internet made the scams cheaper and more scaleable. And although warnings about the scams are all over the Web and other media, people are still falling for them.
Contrary to the stereotypes, itâ€™s not just Nigeria.
Before we go any further, itâ€™s crucial to point out that the term â€œNigerian scamâ€ has gained traction in recent years as a generic term for this type of fraud. The truth is that Nigeria is far from the only country perpetrating the 419 and related scams. Other nations with a high incidence of originating this fraud are the United Kingdom, United States, Pakistan, India, the Netherlands, Spain, Russia, and several other African nations besides Nigeria, including South Africa.
Yet Nigeria remains the most visible offender, partly because the modern version of the 419 scam is often said to have originated in that country, and perhaps in part because some of the most notorious â€“ and ludicrous â€“ emails have concerned so-called Nigerian royalty. Who in their right mind would believe such tall tales? Apparently many do, to the point that many scammers claim to be from Nigeria even when theyâ€™re not. Fraud watchers have concluded that they do it because it is an excellent screening method. The reasoning is that anyone who responds positively to an email that all but screams, â€œLook! Iâ€™m a fraudâ€ is more gullible and more likely to fall for the scam. (The article linked to above references a 2012 report by Microsoft researcher Cormac Herley.)
This isnâ€™t to deny the role that Nigeria has played and continues to play in the 419 and related scams. So just what is it about Nigeria that makes it a haven â€“ real or virtual â€“ for scammers? There are five main factors.
Nigeriaâ€™s rich breeding ground for crime
- Complicit banks. The 419 scams and other types of confidence tricks are practiced not only by individuals but also by crime syndicates. They require a complicit Nigerian bank, which is still all too easy to find in light of the countryâ€™s lax banking laws. Although the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was created in 2003 to combat this type of fraud, it hasnâ€™t made a significant dent.
- Political corruption. Nigeria has been plagued by political corruption for many decades. Some analysts blame the pervasive corruption on colonialism, but in any case, Nigeria was ranked 144 out of 177 countries in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index (the most recent year for which data are available). According to a 2007 Time Magazine article, Nigeria’s leaders stole more than $400 billion between 1960 and 1999. Many Nigerians accept corruption, bribery, kickbacks and graft as unavoidable facts of life.
- Organized crime. There is a significant network of organized crime in Nigeria, with an emphasis on drug trafficking â€“ mostly heroin and cocaine. Organized crime syndicates are associated with political and military figures, helping to keep the grim cycle of corruption â€“ and political violence â€“ alive.
- Widespread poverty. The disparity between the very wealthy and everyone else is particularly stark in Nigeria. Although the country is one of the worldâ€™s largest oil suppliers, the vast majority of Nigerians do not benefit from the wealth generated by that industry. Most Nigerians live in a state of appalling poverty, making fraud and other criminal activities tempting for many.
- The prevalence of English. Since Nigeria was once a British colony, most Nigerians are able to communicate in English, even if their grammar and spelling leave something to be desired. English is the language of most 419 victims.
Some people go so far as to claim that Nigeriaâ€™s national character is one of corruption and dishonesty â€“ a controversial position to take. In any case, as noted above, the problem of 419 fraud is not confined to Nigeria. Those who fight scams and fraud continue to remind people that â€œif it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.â€
This is a guest post by Sarah Brooks from Freepeoplesearch.org. She is a Houston based freelance writer and blogger. Questions and comments can be sent to brooks.sarah23 @ gmail.com.