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Why Do Nigerian Scammers Say They’re From Nigeria?

Here’s an interesting little research note from Microsoft Research [3] that tries to explain why scammers say they’re from Nigeria (found it via Reddit [4], 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 [5]), 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.