Nigerian scammers

Can anything be done about Nigerian scammers? I know there’s a website of people scamming them back, but I wonder if there is more that can be done than wasting their time or humiliating them. Particularly:

  1. Is the US government even interested in this crime? Is anything being done about it? Is there a place to report a scammer to create a sting operation?
  2. Assuming there is interest, can anything be done? Is Nigeria shielded somehow from international banking laws, or are there no international laws or means of enforcement?
  3. Can anything be done on a global scale? International pressure or sanctions?

I’m interested not only in scams where the victim is simply giving their money away but also ones that involve serious fraud such as being wired fraudulent money.

I haven’t personally fallen for these, but I’m starting to get annoyed by the more elaborate ones that go beyond simple spam emails.

The Feds advise contacting either them or the Secret Service, although if the scammer is in Nigeria there isn’t a tremendous amount they can do - the ‘lads’ as they are affectionately known are very clever (don’t be fooled by their pidgin English) and cover their tracks well, using friendly internet cafes for anonymity. Corruption is also a problem (and an attitude that helping stupid greedy foreigners who got scammed is a waste of time). This is changing though with Nigerian authorities co-operating with foreign authorities.

There are plenty of cases of 419 scammers being arrested once out of their native Nigeria though, just Google ‘419 scammer arrested’. This is sometimes why baiters get the lads to go on ‘safari’, i.e. to take a long and expensive trip.

It’s hard to know what might be done, beyond all of us engaging in some Serious Vicarious Outrage. Most Dopers would be bright enough (I hope) to not be taken in. But obviously, enough people (especially older folks, apparently) really do get taken in by these and other scams.

Here’s a thread from a few years ago, some of you will remember, in which Choie watches from the sidelines as her neighbor falls for this and apparently loses everything. She watches day by day, and blogs it here in her thread, as her neighbor gets “plucked like a chicken”.

Nigerian scams have been around for so long now it just stuns me that

1: They can still plow up people who never heard of them

2: That’s these very, very low information people have access to substantial sums of money

This makes me think of a story I once read in the International Herald Tribune about a fairly senior-level Nigerian banking official whose sorry task it was to travel around Europe to meet with businessmen and government officials about funding projects. The poor guy had a really frustrating job. He was completely legit, but half the time the people would laugh in his face when they learned he was a Nigerian banking official come looking for money. Got a lot of rejections from people who were sure he was trying to scam them. Took it all in stride though. I doubt I could stand it.

This was a big one -

Woman out $400K to ‘Nigerian scam’ con artists

Another one in the news over here was a wealthy Singaporean who fell lock, stock and barrel for a Nigerian scam. Finally he started getting suspicious, and when he voiced his concerns, the scammers in Nigeria assured him they were legit and invited him to Nigeria to see for himself. They kidnapped him the moment he stepped off the plane and held him for ransom!

There is more than just the need $50k to wash of the ink on these bills scam.

My sister in law, who is generally very smart, spent 6 months or so in an internet relationship with a Nigerian who claimed to be English and working on an oil rig. They texted, IM, skyped, etc. Of course, she is originally from China, so didn’t pick up on lots of things that should have tipped her off.

I don’t think she got fleeced for a lot, but at least enough to make it worth the Nigerians time. She planned a whole Hawaiian vacation around her “boyfriend” and his daughter joining our family vacation in Hawaii. She bought tickets for him, but reused these later herself. I’m not clear what she got scammed out of but probably not a lot. I did a thread on it at the time, and some very nice Dopers in the UK (SanVito) tracked down that the principal of a company was Nigerian.

here’s the thread:

The bit I don’t understand is, why do the scammers continue to describe themselves as Nigerian? “Scam” is practically the first free-association with “Nigeria” nowadays-- You’d think they’d get a few more hooks by saying they’re from Chad or Ethiopia or something.

The vast majority of the scam e-mails I get are purportedly from Cote d’Ivoire, the Philippines, Iraq, or even the UK. I get them in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and once even in Chinese. I get very few that identify themselves as being from Nigeria itself. (I’ve traveled extensively for work in Africa, including Nigeria, so my official e-mail has been floating around there for decades.)

After the Thai military coup of 2006 that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, an e-mail was sent around purportedly from his wife, seeking help in moving their cash out of the country. The writer was Noi Shinawatra. Not only is his wife not nicknamed Noi – that’s always a nickname, never a given name – but it’s a stereotypical girl’s name. It’s not too far off of just saying, say, Joe Blow in the West, or maybe Sheila in Australia.

It’s a litmus test. They know that if you see the word Nigeria and still respond, you are more likely to fall for scams.

I believe many scammers working from Nigeria make their email look like its coming from somewhere else.

On a related note: Why Nigeria? I assume there are con-men in Kenya, Brazil, Tasmania, and Alabama too, yet virtually all of the advance-fee scams seem to come from Nigeria. Is Internet scamming the national pastime of Nigeria and only Nigeria?

Somewhere recently I read a study on these Nigerian scams. Apparently, the poor English and such are designed to weed out those who aren’t dumb enough to send money, and save the scammer’s time and resourced. At this point in time, if you plow ahead with a Nigerian scam email, you’re more likely to be gullible enough to send money, so why change it up?

Indeed. You might get 1000 knockbacks, but then the one you finally do hook makes up for it.

Part of the economics of specialization. In the 1980s, the oil market collapsed in Nigeria, an scam-via-fax-machine was born. Once they discovered there were plenty of Western suckers, the business snowballed. I understand that the bulk of it is actually done by a particular ethnic group within that country, and that many of those in other African countries hail from that region as well.

Well you are correct that many of them speak English as a 2nd language. But many are also as dumb as a box of rocks: you don’t have to be especially clever to run a scam: you just have to push the right sort of buttons. Many of the vics are elderly and in a state of mental decline that they aren’t sufficiently aware of. The key is persuading the vic to suspend their better judgment, which is why they tend to try to establish some sort of personal relationship.

The OP:

  1. Don’t forget about the Russian scammers. They run some rather sophisticated online heists.

  2. Identity theft in general and these sorts of crimes don’t get sufficient attention from the authorities, IMHO. There are exceptions: Moneygram was recently fined $100 million for their rather negligent participation in these games. But I haven’t heard of any State Department programs which would hire, say, a few foreign DAs to crack down on this. Admittedly such a program would be guaranteed to make missteps, funding a few that are on the take, which is politically awkward. But I think these crimes deserve at least a modest government program.

The Wikipedia entry makes a guess about why this scam became associated with Nigeria:

They believe it became common in Nigeria during the 1980’s when the government was incredibly currupt. The name comes from that period. Variations of the scam go back much further, including one called the Spanish Prisoner:

They note in the first citation above that the most frequent places for the E-mails to come from are the U.S., the U.K., Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, South Africa, the Netherlands, and Spain.

I once kept an Excel spreadsheet of all the scam email offers I received and how much money each one was supposedly worth. I was well over 100 million dollars in less than a year before I got bored and stopped tracking.

Off topic…

I had a visiting Nigerian PhD student in my lab a couple years back. He was trying to arrange lodging for a few months. Time was getting short and he wasn’t finding anything, and was getting desperate.

I asked him to send me the email he was sending to prospective landlords. It read like the basest scam email that we’ve all experienced from Craigslist etc… I edited it and told him to have the landlords call me to verify his story.

This was an educated guy, whose (spoken) english was superb. Something about the way he came across in writing (and his PhD supervisor was the same way). Maybe its cultural?