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Why Do Nigerian Scammers Say They’re From Nigeria?

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Here’s an interesting little research note from Microsoft Research that tries to explain why scammers say they’re from Nigeria (found it via Reddit, which has a load of really interesting comments). Most people know that email we just received from the Nigerian prince isn’t from a Nigerian prince (in theory, there are no Nigerian princes… it’s a federal republic, not a monarchy). We also know that the promise of sending us millions is also a lie, that we won’t help someone get out of jail if we send $10,000 (classic Spanish prisoner con), and most of us delete those emails.

Except not all of us know this. Not all of us delete those emails. The research note points out that it’s in the best interests of the scammer to make the email look so awfully bad and fake that only the biggest suckers respond. If you can’t see the scam, you’re more likely to fall for it. The scammer doesn’t want to waste time emailing and talking to someone who knows better. They don’t want to invest that time with someone who will “figure it out.” They want the most unsuspecting of marks, the person who doesn’t realize it, and they don’t need a high hit rate (number of responses) – they just need a high closure rate (number of suckers who send money).

It’s an interesting way to think about it and I wonder if the scammers are sophisticated enough to think this way. I think they are because anytime you do something for long enough, you’re bound to figure out a more effective way of doing it. And Nigerian prince scamming emails have been going on for a long long time… and people still fall for them, as absurd as they look.

{ 19 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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19 Responses to “Why Do Nigerian Scammers Say They’re From Nigeria?”

  1. freeby50 says:

    Interesting. I don’t know if I’d give the scammers that much credit. It seems more likely to me that they found something that works and just stick to it.

  2. Lee says:

    Sometimes people read too much into something. I bet they all just copy each others emails and the first one just that bad!

  3. Wilma says:

    I’m with freeby50 on this one. I get 3-5 of these things every month. Only one has been almost believable enough and no spelling errors. It is an interesting theory though.

    • Matt M says:

      They aren’t trying to make it believable, if they wanted to they could make it much more believable by writing about a business proposal or something like that. I actually believe the scammers are really smart and they do bring in a lot of money, proving their methods work.

  4. partee875 says:

    I agree with the article. I think that scammers in general are very smart people, at least the ones who keep scamming and are not caught. Sure any person can send those emails, but how many are successful? It’s the people who fall for it that are the idiots.

    • Matt M says:

      I do think they are smart but most of them aren’t caught because they are operating in lawless or dysfunctional nations such as Nigeria.

  5. Kev says:

    What about Russian women wanting to date me? Are those real?

    • Bar says:

      Yes, just give them a call and send them some money! 😉

    • bryan says:

      that will be the day!
      you can have some fun because the clothing in the photos they send gets skimpier and…..
      my friend wouldnt listen to me and pursued a chinese lady to the end (even awaiting at the airport)it cost him 22k and a lot of face.if its too good to be true…….

  6. Rick says:

    It’s really hard to believe that anyone would fall for that scam and actually send money. I would think that anyone who actually has money to send would be smart enough to realize that it is indeed a scam. These are probably the same people who voted for Obama.

  7. JR says:

    If you fall for the Nigerian scam, I have to think you are an Obama voter/Yes we can chanter, too

  8. Kev,

    Those Russian Women emails are absolutely real!
    Please give me you left over’s!


  9. Nigerian Prince says:

    Every time I get email from the prince I do respond. I do make an effort to waist as much as time and effort of the scamers. You can see some youtube videos of people making the scamers do stupid things.
    So I think the resurch could be right.

  10. craig says:

    The original snail mail scam many years ago that I received once was mailed from Nigeria. I still keep it among my collectibles.

    I’ve seen some very sophisticated emails. One that comes to mind was the fake person was killed in a plane crash. They even had a link to a real plane crash article online.

    But, yes, these days that are not very well done and they don’t hide the fact that they are mailed from the common public domains.

  11. Ron says:

    I’m on the wrong side of 65 and every week or 3 I get a new email from gorgeous women in their late 20s. They are all hell bent on marrying me. They are all real… Aren’t they???

    Once they get you reading their dream for you then you bond with them and they play your emotions. It takes a moderately sophisticated person to do this. But, suckers ARE born every moment and it only takes finding the next weakness in your lonely desire toward love that works to hook you if you play with them.

    Years ago in a singles group I used to get weekly mail from real stunners. Every time I posed across a year or so I could expect somebody tracking our inputs to send a new invite. They were always new to the site with minimal profiles and no prior discussion links.

    But, if they are uncovered in Nigeria… then where are they from??? Scammers are potentially from everywhere… Aren’t they? They will scam you on any topic and in any situation so why only consider ‘the Nigerian scam’? It’s only one of a million you can leap into now… Isn’t it?

    A decade ago now in Bali outside the Hardrock Hotel in Kuta a delightful Asian woman I was passing in the street suddenly asked directions to somewhere. I responded with “I’m only a tourist. I have no idea. I’m going to Macdonnalds if you want to come and ask there?” Over a coffee she said she was off to have lunch with her sister and invited me.

    This put me into a scam with a 10cm pile of American $100 bills in front of me that I could win at blackjack next. All I had to do was go and empty my bank account and put my meagre money pile down beside it all.

    The scar faced card shark running it had already guaranteed I won the last 10 hands in a row. When I got out of there I fled to my hotel and she kept ringing me all trip to come finish our game.

    Interestingly, this lovely woman bonded with me enough to surreptitiously also try to warn me during the event but I was on to it anyway. I never walk alone in Bali now.

    For another example, a 13yo girl started talking with me very suggestively online. Turned out she had run away from home and was very interested in her first sexual encounter.

    I responded with she could be desperately hurt by what she was trying to achieve and we shared a few emails directing her toward safe circumstances now. Years later I saw a story on the cops running this scam. I had no idea and could have spent those years locked up for a simple wrong answer followed.

    Err, anybody want to meet my gorgeous 18yo sister?

  12. Tom says:

    Having spent time as a youth in Nigeria, I can usually recognize their peculiar parse. I have responded to many scammers, verbally chastising them for giving Nigeria(ns) a bad name. I include some personal/geographic details of my earlier residence there for some credibility. More often than not I’ll get a response confirming that they are Nigerian, where they grew up and some specifics that verify that they are,in fact Nigerian. With very little effort they could be ID d I can’t buy into the sophistication theory. They’re there for an easy buck, but enjoy being conversationally engaged

  13. Mark Gillard says:

    G’day from Australia,
    Even one of our top lawyers here claimed publically with tears and all, to have lost a couple of million $ to the Nigerian Scammers… to be honest I think he used it as an excuse to get around imprisonment for money laundering / theft…and most of the public felt bad for him and the powers that be, warned people to be careful again……Hey I forgot , I win about $20 million a day in loteries as well….from all corners of the globe. i am just saving the meails till they total a $ billion then will collect on them all at once! Howdy from Downunder

  14. David says:

    The distracting crudeness of the message tends to put people off guard. I got taken in by a craigslist scam when I went looking for a place to live in San Diego. Somehow I wasn’t able to connect the highlighted craigslist warning to only deal with local people with the guy who claimed to have moved from San Diego to London leaving behind his nice two bedroom house to be sold by the realtor. It wasn’t selling and he wanted to rent it, or so his story went. In actuality he got the address of the house from an online real estate listing and listed it on craigslist for rent as if he was the owner.

    Since I had no idea that type of scam was taking place, the warning to only deal with local people went over my head. The details of the scam made the guy seem not very adept. He wanted me to use Western Union “because he didn’t yet have a bank account in England.” That made me question why he didn’t keep his US bank account until he got a new one but it still didn’t register that I wasn’t dealing with an ordinary Joe Blow from the ‘States who fumbles around financially every once in a while.

    If the e-mails had seemed smoother and more practiced I think I might have caught on quicker to what was going on. Fortunately he only managed to get one payment out of me. Thanks to someone who was alert at Bank of America I got suspicious before sending a second payment.

    The real crime is that when I reported it to the local police they didn’t even bother to forward the complaint on to London. I reported it to the FBI as I was told to do, but I’m pretty sure he’s still out there because the police simply don’t care what happens to their citizens any more. Out of their jurisdiction? You might as well have a license to commit crime.

    It’s also criminal that Western Union is still in business with the stupid, non-existent security they have in place. They don’t even ask for the address of the person they’re supposed to give the money to. I never used Western Union before and I never will again. Use paypal or something else folks. There’s a reason the scammers insist upon using Western Union.

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