Alleee and Franc's
INSOLITOLOGY

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O Nigeria, land of the scammers... Note the
city of Lagos, which has given the scammers a
nickname on the web, the "Lads from Lagos".
Nigerian generals need your help !



Internet scams are not, in and of themselves, odd. The insolitologist's field of study does not really include such mundane things as chain letters, commercial fraud, Make Money Fast emails, and so on. The only thing odd about them is perhaps why so many people believe them.

There is, however, a small category of scams which are part of the insolitologist's field of study. The most proeminent amongst those is the Nigerian scam, also called 419 scam. What is that, you ask ? It consists of mass mailings from Nigeria or a neighbouring country, offering you wealth in exchange for helping them getting money out of their country.

Here is an example of a Nigerian scam letters, which are sent by email or fax :

STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL

BUSINESS PROPOSAL:

Sir,

It is my great pleasure in writing you this letter on behalf of my colleagues. Your particulars were given to me by a member of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (N.E.P.C.) who was with the Federal Government delegation on a trip to your country during a bilateral talk conference to encourage foreign investors. I have decided to seek a confidential co-operation with you in the execution of a deal described hereunder for the benefit of all parties, and hope you will keep it a top secret because of the nature of this business.

Within the Ministry of Petroleum Resources where I work as a Director, Project Implementation and with the co-operation of four other top officials, we have in our possession as overdue for payment, bills totaling Thirty Two Million United States Dollars (USD $32m) which we want to transfer abroad with the assistance and co-operation of a foreign company and/or individual to receive the said fund on our behalf or a reliable foreign individual account to receive such funds.

The amount represented some percentage of the contract value executed on behalf of my Ministry by a foreign contracting firm, which we the officials over-invoiced. Though the actual contract cost has been paid to the original contractor, leaving the balance in the tune of the said amount which we have in principle gotten approval to remit by Telegraphic Transfer (T.T.) to any foreign bank account you will provide.

Since the present Government of Nigeria is determined to pay foreign contractors all debts owed so as to maintain good relationship with Foreign Governments and Non-Government Financial Agencies, we have decided to include our bills for approvals with the co-operation of some officials at the Federal Ministry of Finance (F.M.F.) and Central Bank of Nigeria (C.B.N.). We are seeking your assistance in providing a good company’s account or any other offshore bank account where the incidence of tax is relatively low and into which we can remit this money by acting as our main partner and trustee, or acting as the original contractor. This we can do by swapping of account details and changing of beneficiary information and other forms of documentation upon application for claim to reflect the payment and approvals to be secured on behalf of our company. This process is an easy task, being an internal arrangement with the departments concerned.

I have the authority of my colleagues/partners involved to propose that, should you be willing to assist us in this transaction, your commission/share as compensation will be US$9.6 million (30%), my colleagues and I US$19.2 million and the balance of US$3.2 million (10%) for tax and miscellaneous expenses.

The business itself is 100% safe, provided you treat it with utmost secrecy and confidentiality. Also, your area of specialization is not a hindrance to the successful execution of this mutual beneficiary transaction. I have reposed my confidence in you and hope that you will not disappoint me.

Please, notify me urgently your acceptance of our proposal STRICTLY by sending to me via fax numbers: (NIG): 234-1-7595384, 7595343, a letter of guarantee and the attached ‘specimen application’ duly completed to enable me commence the formal application to secure the necessary approvals for the immediate release of the funds into your nominated account.

I will also send to you a comprehensive break-down of the necessary procedures to facilitate the swift telegraphic transfer of our funds.

Thanks for your anticipated positive response at your earliest convenience.

Yours truly,

Mr Ahmed A Atubi


This is certainly one of the most coherent Nigerian scam letters - most of them are either 1. written in all caps or 2. riddled with more mistakes than a Special Ed kid's essay. The letters usually revolve around one of three basic themes :

  • I am the son/daughter/wife of the late General/President X. The new government has frozen his account, and I am now poor/under house arrest. Fortunately, a part of that money was saved/hidden and now I need your help to get it out of the country !

  • I work for the Central Bank of Nigeria. A rich foreign businessman has died and now his assets are floating in a bank account, soon to be snatched away by the government. Pretend to be his next of kin so you can help us get this money out of the country !

  • I am a high official in the Nigerian National Petroleum Company/Petroleum Trust Fund/Ministry of Petroleum. We have overbilled the government/a foreign company and we need your help to get this money out of the country !
    Variant : I work for the Central Bank of Nigeria. Inflated contract funds have been found and we need your help to get this money out of the country !
Image used by scammers to entice you
in believing piles of money are waiting for
you.

In reality, the only way you may see this
money is when you are invited to
Nigeria and become the victim of yet
another bait-and-switch game.

In all cases, a percentage of the money is offered, usually between 10 and 20%. Enough to make people salivate, given that the scams talk about dozens of millions of dollars. In all cases there is a convenient excuse for the person not to take the money himself (would attract too much attention, can't have foreign accounts, need a stooge to make the whole thing credible, etc). They are also invariably from someone important. This can lead to ridiculous cases, such as children of the late General who are found not to exist.

As you may have noticed, the alleged operation taking place is always illegal to begin with. You are always asked to defraud the bank or the government in some kind of secret, confidential operation. This has the double effect of inciting the person not to tell anyone else, and to make one think that if he tells the police, he may also be arrested.

The claim is often made that they got your name from a local Chamber of Commerce or somesuch. The most obvious question becomes, why me ? Why contact a person from America or Europe, far removed from the troubles of Nigeria (or a neighbouring country), to move this money ? Why not entrust it to someone from another African country, or at least do business with someone having more power and money than you do ? Of course, this all assumes that they could get your name in the first place at all, which seems improbable.

From what we know, Nigerian scams are a big-time operation, one of the biggest industries of Nigeria. We also know that the scam operators are not alone in managing these transactions. Separate people handle the initial mass mailings, play the role of "the bank", and make the fake official-looking forms which are often sent to the unsuspecting victims. See our baiting of "Dr. Okafor" for some form examples.

Does anyone get caught in these scams ? Unfortunately, yes. According to various news sources, they have been running since 1989 and now bring in about 400 millions a year to Nigeria - a quarter of that total comes from the United States. According to a Smartmoney.com article, the scam has risen to the fourth place of top Web swindles.

They scam money by asking for advance fees in a bait-and-switch technique. That is, to get the money, you are required to give them more and more money in order to help the transaction progress. It ends only when you realize you have been had, or, in the rare cases who go to Nigeria to finalize the transaction, are kidnapped for ransom.
Here are some of the advance fees asked by scammers :
Aha American devil ! We
have your money now !

  • export or insurance fees to help move the money safely to foreign bank accounts
  • attorney fees, transaction fees or bribes
  • demurrage, storage or release fees by a Security Company
  • gifts, tender fees, cable and communications fees
  • a variety or processing, licensing or registration fees
  • advance fees, transfer taxes, performance bonds
  • a request to extend credit or grant COD privileges
  • $15,000 for an anti-terrorist certificate
  • fees for signing, VAT, audits, or for the National Economic Recovery Fund.
(from www.crimes-of-persuasion.com)

Who are these scammers ? High governmment officials are said to be part of these scams, but most are ordinary folks. Here are some examples :

"Ahmed Usman", no doubt
busy making some scam
forms.
"David Kabila",
looking good !
"Lily Precious". How much
do you bet a man sent it ?

(images from "Scam Joke Page", listed below)

How did we get these pictures, you wonder ? They come from a new digital pasttime, Nigerian Scamer Baiting. Scam Baiting in general has developed around the efficiency and relative anonymity of email. In the case of Nigerian scams, the sport is even more interesting because it exploits the scammers' dedication to get your money. They are ready to put up with a lot, because the stakes are high if they succeed.


The Nigerian Letters

No doubt the most entertaining of all in terms of sheer humour. He has already concluded 11 baitings, with more in progress. Side-splitting humour as Nigerian scammers try to get money from Kris Kringle, harlot Ronda Vu, and Lady Juanita Kanobe-Vader (with her husband Lord Vador).


Scam Joke Page

The most skillful baiter (or more exactly, baiters), with not only 14 baitings but a number of pictures and voice mails. They take the name "David Lee Roth", owner of "Finest Incense of Smegma Holdings Inc." - their motto : "Wow, that Smegma Smells Sweet!".


A public web cam image of a scammer
waiting in the rain in Amsterdam.
Image from "Nigerean Scam Baiting" site.
Nigerean Scam Baiting

"Alexander Kerensky" specializes in an unusual variant of scammer baiting : he tries to capture them on public web cams. It definitively has charm, but very difficult to pull off.


email from colonel zuba

Not only does this page contain a large number of scammers (although the exchanges are usually short), but this guy actually hacks into scammers' Yahoo accounts, and tells us of the exchanges taking place.


Nigerian Baiting page

Our own little page of scammer baiting.


Marked Currency / Defaced Black Currency / Black Dollar Nigerian Scams

This page details the usual bait-and-switch scam that is set in motion when you go visit your Nigerian friends. You are presented with defaced money and asked to provide the resources to restore it into good condition. Then, unusual accidents happen.


Dead Bank Customers

Scamorama's page which lists all the "bank customers" who die in fictional Nigerian scam stories, usually on planes. The moral of the story : don't take Nigerian planes.


While they are of tremendous interest, Nigerian scams are not the only scams of interest to insolitologists. Street scams are not only amusing but interesting from psychological point of view.
One of the speaker brands
sold by "White Van"
scammers.
A reviewer on Audioreview
says :
they sound almost as good as
the pocket speakers that came
with my discman.

The most unusual is called the "White Van Speaker Scam". There is a franchise operation, done all over the world, which buys cheap but impressive-looking speakers and then tries to get people on the street to buy them at high prices.

The cover story of the young men using this pressure sell method is invariable : they were installing speakers at some place and they have two extras which they are trying to sell to make a quick buck. The victim is shown impressive ads and documents, and is pressured to pay from 200$ to over 1000$ for miserable and badly-made speakers worth 100$ at best.


Scams Involving Speakers Sold From White Vans

Description, humourous explanations, and testimonies about the "White Van Speaker Scam", from crimes-of-persuasion.com.



review written by Franc, 08/2002.

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