Some years ago when I operated my own law firm, a client of mine (let’s call him Greedy Dude) asked for my counsel on a pending business deal. According to Greedy Dude, the deal was to happen like this: he would transfer $50,000 (USD) to a Nigerian bank account in the name of Nasty Shady Character (not the recipient’s real name, but you get my point). This money would be used to pay bribes to Seriously Bad Guys who would then release $40 million (USD) that belonged to Nasty Shady Character. Being ever so grateful for the release of funds, Nasty Shady Character would share the bounty and transfer $20 million (USD) to Greedy Dude.
I did my best to persuade Greedy Dude that he was being set up, scammed, tricked, conned, swindled. Call it what you will. I queried how Nasty Shady Character got hold of his name and contact information and why a stranger would so readily hand over a fortune to another stranger. I questioned the fact that he had never met with Nasty Shady Character, really knew nothing about him. I explained that Nigeria is notorious for these kinds of scams, so much so that they even have a name, the 419 scheme, in honor of the Nigerian criminal code anti-fraud section. I pointed out that there is zero assurance of the truth of what he’s being told and near certainty that the information fed to him is false. And I vehemently expressed my opinion that any and all money forwarded to Nasty Shady Character would be in vain. But I couldn’t break through. I was up against a formidable opponent: Greed.
Come On! People Actually Fall For These Schemes?
Here’s an email I received in my spam folder just the other day:
“Good Day Friend;
My name is Dr. Christopher Brown, A banker by Profession and Currently A Director of Finance Auditing and Accounting Unit in my Bank, Which the name will giving to you as soon as you respond for security reason.
I got your email address in my search for a reputable and reliable person to help me claim the sum of Fifteen Million Six Hundred Thousand United State Dollars ($15,600,000.00) Deposited in our Bank by one of our customer Eng. Mueller who die with his wife and two children on the 21Th day of April 2001 in car clash along Aflao express road.
Since his death no one has come up as his next of kin and all our efforts to locate any member of his family immediate family has prove Abortive that was why I decided to see if I can get anybody who has the same surname or last name with him via Internet preferably some one of the same nationality with him which I believe you have all the qualities we need.
Why I am contacting you is to present you to our bank as the next of Kin to the deceased customer. He was Drilling contractor with some Oil Companies here in west Africa. So it will be more acceptable and wiser to present you through paper work to the Bank for claim of the total fund.
I will give you all the necessary requirements that the bank may request from you and follow up the transfer of the fund into your account as an Insider. It will interest you to know that I and my partners has been keeping the account dormant to enable our plans for the funds to come through and this is the time and we are happy to locate you for the perfection of the transfer of the Fund into your nominated Bank Account to be given.
As soon as I get your positive response I will update you about the mode of disbursement and we will also need to know about investing in your Country as a way of helping your people who suppose are the original owner’s of this Fund, I suggest you get back to me as soon as possible through my confidential email (firstname.lastname@example.org) stating your wish in this deal.”
The email is so absurd it’s comical. Who would fall for an email riddled with poor English, a preposterous story fitting for a third rate B-movie script, and a promise of millions from an unknown person because, hey, this is your lucky day? Well, here’s the sad part: Greedy Dude was not the only one to get reeled in.
How It All Plays Out
The U.S. Secret Service, the agency responsible for investigating this kind of fraud, estimates that Seriously Bad Guys gross several hundred million dollars annually from their evil game, known to law enforcement as an Advance Fee Fraud.
The typical scenario goes like this:
1. DANGLING BAIT
First contact is an unsolicited email, such as the one above, intended to tug at heartstrings and appeal to a sense of altruism. The email will be full of bizarrely polite language, a sob story, and promise of a huge payoff. The name on the email will be a government official, businessperson, doctor, or a surviving spouse of a former government bigwig in Nigeria or another country whose money is temporarily tied up.
Once the soon-to-be victim takes the bait and replies, a second email arrives offering to transfer big time dough into intended victim’s bank account IF intended victim pays fees or ‘taxes’, in the range of several thousand dollars, necessary to gain access to the money. In exchange, intended victim is promised a share of the fortune that inevitably originated from an unclaimed estate, dying Samaritan, corrupt executive, etc., etc.
2. NATURE OF THE Game
Seriously Bad Guys are out to steal your money and/or identity. Never (this bears repeating), NEVER, will they send money to the victim. Instead, more and more emails will arrive, relentlessly asking for more and more money, accompanied by excuses as to why the transfer of funds to your account is delayed.
What The … Is Going On In Their Head?
Alright, so the vast majority of people who receive these emails junk them immediately. But there’s still a tiny percentage that take an interest. A small group of people who don’t see absurdity; instead, they see opportunity. And this opportunity is worth pursuing because the potential reward outweighs the risk. Owing to this sort of skewed, deluded and unfortunate perception, these people make for the ideal mark.
Here’s how David Maurer explained the mark’s mindset in his book, The Big Con:
“As the lust for large and easy profits is fanned into a hot flame, the mark puts all his scruples behind him.
He closes out his bank account, liquidates his property, borrows from his friends, embezzles from his employer or his clients.
In the mad frenzy of cheating someone else, he is unaware of the fact that he is the real victim, carefully selected and fatted for the kill. Thus arises the trite but nonetheless sage maxim:
‘You can’t cheat an honest man.’ ”
Keep Life Simple And Free And Honest
Giving the nod to that last line, honesty includes not letting greed take hold. The only reason the scam works is because the greed factor raises its ugly green head.