Sincerely- Your Nigerian Scammer. You probably have a dozen emails like that in your junk folder right now, but why, and why are most of these online scams all coming from one place? Welcome to another episode of The Infographics Show- today we’re taking a look at why so many scams come from Nigeria. Nigeria is a country in West Africa of 190 million people, making it one of the most populated countries in Africa. A nation rife with troubles, its human rights record is rated as poor per the US Department of State, online casino USA experts ranking and its government is plagued by corruption. The people face a stark divide between the haves and have-nots, with fancy neighborhoods directly bordering slums- and the police constantly patrolling to keep the riff-raff out.
To add to its troubles, Boko Haram, a violent terror group, is engaged in an endless war against the Nigerian government to overthrow the secular government and install an Islamic fundamentalist state. To date, Boko Haram attacks have left around 12,000 people dead and 8,000 crippled. In light of all these troubles its no surprise then that Nigeria is also home to the most famous of online scams- the 419 scam.
Named after the code in Nigerian law that makes fraud illegal, these scams are perpetrated online against victims who are conned into giving up their financial info or sending scammers money or goods. Despite an international crack down, Nigerian scammers continue to profit immensely mostly due to a lack of policing by Nigerian law enforcement. One Nigerian crime ring shut down in 2017 was worth an estimated $52 million dollars, and its estimated that Nigerian scammers have brought in up to $2 billion since their inception. Nigerian scammers vary in age, but are mostly males from their late teens to their mid-30s, and what they lack in technical sophistication versus their Western and European counterparts, they make up for with social finesse.
Nigerian gamblers are more focused on the social con rather than digital manipulation, using many of the same tricks used by confidence men around the world and mastering the art of building trust and a rapport with their victims. For many scammers, this ‘job’ is their only source of income, and scammers thrive amongst the more impoverished areas of Nigeria where job prospects are low- even with an education. Surprisingly, a large number of scammers are college graduates, but in a nation with such few opportunities and rampant corruption, these college grads find it easier sometimes to enter the con game than to live on the straight and narrow.
Many of these scammers also don’t consider what they do to be stealing, which they look down upon, but rather seem to not see their crime as financially devastating as it really is to their victims. Yet what they might not see as stealing has cost people all over the world millions of dollars and forced many family-run businesses to shut down. The victims tend to vary on the scam being used. The most common scam, the romance con, typically targets men and women 45 years or older. The perpetrators will stalk social media and dating websites for older men and women, ideally looking for widowers or divorcees whom they know will be lonely and have money saved up.
They then build fake profiles and begin to swap messages with their marks, slowly building confidence and trust- even going so far as to having paid accomplices speak on the phone with the victim pretending to be the person portrayed online. After a sufficiently long enough finessing period, the scammers will then begin to work their mark over for cash- typically an emergency will be faked, such as a hospital emergency and some sort of trouble with the banking system that won’t let them withdraw their own money. In one scam, a scammer conning a Swedish woman pretended to fly to Nigeria from the UK for a job interview with his son- once there the scammer claimed that he and his son had been held up at gun point and his son was shot in the head.
The doctors demanded a fee to begin the operation to save his son’s life, but because his bank had no branches in Nigeria he couldn’t get his own money in time to pay the fee. These high-stress and high-drama turns are commonplace and prey on the good intentions of marks they have developed a relationship with. Others however simply ask for help paying bills off- typically these are targeted at men who rush to rescue the damsel in distress they’ve fallen for. You’re all likely familiar with the Nigerian prince scam, which is another type of confidence scam, and while you might think that this scam is too old to be effective, you might be surprised to hear that an evolved version of the scam targeting large companies continues to be fairly effective. In this souped up version of the scam the scammers pretend to run a small company typically located in Ghana- as explained by one scammer, Ghana is less corrupt than Nigeria and therefore marks feel more confident about entering into business with someone located in Ghana. The scammers will coordinate a business meeting with representatives from the company they are scamming, even flying them out and putting them up in fancy hotels to make everything seem legitimate.
Then once funds are transferred- typically under the guise of an investment or acquisition of some sort- the scammers disappear, taking millions with them. A third type of scam involves duping victims into becoming ‘e-mules’, or the unwilling middle man shipping stolen goods from their country back to Nigeria. This scam uses many of the same confidence tactics of the romance scam, with individuals building an online relationship with a mark, who then is asked as a favor to receive boxes of goods which her or she must then mail to Nigeria. The items are typically either stolen or bought online with stolen credit card information, and by having the goods shipped to the mark, the scammers can protect their own identities. A fairly common scam, it can be difficult to punish the perpetrators even when reported as local law enforcement in Nigeria is underfunded and lacking in capabilities.
Yet another scam involves buying compromised credit card information from digital thieves, and then after amassing a large number of stolen credit cards, buying thousands of pre-paid gift or credit cards via which they would transfer the funds to themselves. American Express was recently hit with just such a scam, with scammers creating thousands of American Express Serve prepaid accounts using stolen credit card data. The scam cost American Express an estimated $1.6 million. But the world is slowly wising up. As two scammers commented to a Mother Jones reporter, ten years ago they could make up to 2 million aira- or $12,000 US- per con job, but as the US has wisened up they now make only about $200 US per victim. Thus many of these scammers have turned to scamming their fellow Nigerians, falling back on physical confidence scams familiar to any con man in the world.
White partners are often sought out and highly valued, as having a white partner lends credence to a scam. As one of the interviewed scammers said, “Black man believes that white man is reality.” Even though the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission works alongside Interpol to crack down on scammers, it can be difficult as widespread corruption makes effective policing nearly impossible. The scammers typically operate in large rings, and up to 30% of their expenses go to bribes and payoffs of police and government officials. As another of the scammers interviewed by Mother Jones reported, “We are not scared of any minister or president.” So why do so many scams come from Nigeria? Well sadly for the people of Nigeria there is a variety of social and economic factors that work against them.
Government corruption sees the poor exploited, and a lack of economic opportunity forces even those with college degrees to seek alternative ways to keep themselves and their families fed. Desperation has bred generations of online scammers, who’s only choices are to resign themselves to poverty or try to scam you to rise above it. Have you ever fallen for an online scam? If you were poor and had no options do you think you would turn to scamming others to survive?